Nature Notes – October 2018

The buzz last month (apologies for that, but it had to be said) was the appearance of very large numbers of small bees in several gardens and verges in Sweffling. These are one of the Solitary Bees, so called because despite the numbers, each individual bee makes its own nest rather than being part of a colony like the Honey Bee. The flower beds and verges where they were flying were peppered with small burrows, some with a cone-shaped entrance where they had been excavating the light sandy soil. Many solitary bees dig such burrows, within which they make a number of underground cells, and within each of which they lay a single egg. These are provided with a food supply, usually of pollen, which supports the development of the bee larva until it emerges as an adult next year.

These little bees – slightly smaller than the honey bee – are called Ivy Mining Bees (Colletes hederae). They are new to the British fauna, first recorded in Dorset in 2001, and had reached Suffolk by 2015. They have a golden brown thorax, and rather wasp-like black and yellow stripes on the abdomen. This is the latest of our Solitary Bees to emerge, and will be on the wing as late as November. I have mentioned the early species before, as being greatly important in the pollination of fruit trees. This one is late as it supplies its larvae with pollen from Ivy flowers, much touted in these notes for the value of their pollen and nectar for late insects (Hornets, hibernating Butterflies and many others). Since I learned about Ivy Bees I have been looking for them on the Ivy flowers, which are just opening, and sure enough there they are.

Another insect which is present later in the year is one of the Shield Bugs, called the Forest Shieldbug or Red-legged Shieldbug. As their name suggests, their bodies are the shape of a heraldic shield, broad at the shoulders and narrower at the tail. They are quite large, half an inch or more long, and the ones I see most are usually green, or green and brown like the Hawthorn Shieldbug. The Forest Shieldbug is apparently quite common in woods and gardens, although I have not seen it before. This year I did see it in some numbers, mainly on the leaves of Hazel bushes. They feed by sucking the sap from these, as well as from the leaves of Oak, Cherry, Apple and other trees. Look out for them, until as late as November. They are a dark, glossy bronze colour, with small yellow marks around the hind edges. (And yes, red legs, or at least a reddish-brown). There is also a square yellow spot in the middle of the back. This is where, in the bugs, the wings overlap and cross over, as opposed to the beetles where the forewings make a hard wingcase, and meet down the middle in a straight line.

The song of Robins is one of the few still to be heard at this time. The Robin pairs have driven out their grown young and in fact have split up, so that only one is left holding the old territory. This is usually, but not always, the male. The rest must move away, even migrating a short distance onto the continent. The territory is still defended as a feeding area, hence the unusual phenomenon of singing in the winter. Most unusually, if the defending bird is a female, it can still sing, although it does not do so in the spring. This autumn song, whether by male or female, is different in quality, often described as being weaker and more melancholy sounding. Have a listen, and see if you agree.

Geoffrey Abbott