It turned out to be an interesting day, busier than expected as far as the bumblebees were concerned. Aside from a small update in pictures (below) we also met the head of Parks and Open spaces from our local council, and I also had contact from another leading bumbler (actually a co-founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust) with exciting nest box information. So let me deal with them in turn:
Parks and Open Spaces
Thanks are due to BCW for setting up a meeting with the head of Parks and Open Spaces for East Cambridgeshire Council, who came to visit us today. We discussed ideas and possibities for changing the way (and frequency) that grass is cut in our neighbourhood and the planting of wild meadow flowers in some locations. It was a good meeting and he was very friendly and ameniable, though with any such ideas one has to be cogniscent of the objections from other residents (such as "I pay my council tax to have the grass cut every two weeks in a perfect shape", or "I don't want wild flowers outside my house because I don't want them spreading to my garden".) Sadly it is very hard to please everyone.
However, there are definitely things that can be done. One simple idea is to leave uncut rings around the base of trees to encourage plants to regrow (and actually protect the trees from lawnmower/strimmer damage). These rings can be extended over time in a sort of "stealth" fashion to reduce objections. It seems where a small amount of natural wilderness has been allowed to regrow in other areas it has eventually been well received by residents, who eventually get to see the benefit.
The Queen bees were on great form - showing up just where we needed them to as we explained where all their favourite hangouts are. ☺
A new nestbox on the market
I was thrilled to be contacted by George Pilkington of Nurturing Nature with details of a new nestbox he has designed and launched. Turns out George is a conservation consultant and founder member of the BBCT and has been interested in our blog. He told me he was really wanting to tell us about his new nestbox, but couldn't until the design was protected - but one of its key features is the ability to protect from wax moth, which is a massive step forward. I wasted no time in asking George to send us one to add to our collection and try out alongside the other simpler designs.
He has also shared some of his ideas about how to encourage queens to choose a manmade nestbox to set up colony - some ideas we had already come to know of or devised independently, others are definitely improvements on our setup. I have made some immediate entrance tube modifications based on his suggestions (see later). Most intriguingly I am looking forward to advice on capturing queens without causing them stress, which inevitably puts them off using the box regardless.
Updates on our Cloche captives
Out two queens under our cloche have still not ventured into the nestbox so we are considering next steps (e.g. releasing them) as we do not want them to be unduly stressed or become frail. They do have adequate food supply, but we're not convinced they're using it. They may be getting too cold overnight by not using the box. We did see them both mooching about today though and we put some springs of heather on the ground (since they weren't flying up to the tall pots) and the Early Bee immediately tucked in.
Temperature wise the cloche is doing a great job - while it was 12 degrees in the garden is was 21C under the cloche, so this must be working in their favour. But after their initial introduction and buzzing we haven't seen any flying activity and that bothers me. To us humans it looks like a "mood change" and we saw the same thing with our "indoor" bees (disabled) last year. And of course, we know that recent research suggests that bees can potentially experience "depression" (a change in propensity to be active, really). We will monitor this carefully.
Our bufftail is beautiful though and she loves sitting on the ribbon in the corner for some reason.
garden setup changes
We've read numerous times that bumbles can be attracted to bright yellow and that it can be helpful if nest entrances are marked out like this. This is something we'd already done with our nests, but we got some of our own evidence of bees' interest in it when we saw yellow tape on our CCTV cables. I've now added tape to some canes to create a splash of colour as they fly past the garden - hopefully a little extra to tempt them in for a closer look. Never thought my high-visibility tape would be used for this. ☺
Based on George's pictures and suggestions we have also extended the entrance tubing on our nestbox, so that it is now disguised on the lawn (see the tiny yellow fleck in the picture below). We saw a very large queen nest searching over our lawn today and in fact after a few minutes caught her and introduced her to the box (without sealing it). Of course, she left fairly quickly, but it was interesting to see where in the garden she was and wasn't looking; which backs up for extending the entrance tube.
Our pussy willow tree is starting to blossom! It's a little behind some of those on the edge of the field - but not by much. I took a close up picture of one of the catkins - you can see why the bees are going nuts for them - look at all the access to pollen!
We're hoping that over the next few days we'll have a lot of queens showing an interest in it!