Here we are in autumn and I’m already thinking about spring. I’m thinking about it because I’d like to encourage more hairy-footed flower bees, also known as spring bees (Anthophora plumipes). They’re easy to miss because they move so fast, zipping from one flower to the next, emitting a shrill hum as they fly. In trying to get a reasonably clear photograph of a female, I ended up with several pictures of fuzzy black blobs that could have been anything.
One of the interesting things about these little bees is that the male and female are so unalike; the male has gingery hair and a buff tail while the female is almost entirely black, except for the yellowish hairs that cover her back legs and can easily be mistaken for pollen sacs. You can see them in the image above.
The reason that I’ve been noticing hairy-footed flower bees is that we have Pulmonaria officinalis growing in the garden, which is a great plant for attracting them. It is very easy to grow and I’ve divided and moved existing clumps so that we have more flowers in spring, and hopefully more bees, but am now considering adding some other varieties and seeing what the bees make of those. Pulmonaria ‘Moonshine’ with its green-edged, silvery-white foliage is tempting and I am also lured by the glorious blue flowers of Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’. Eye candy for us humans and food for the bees – can’t be bad.
Pulmonaria is a member of the Borage family and the most commonly occurring species in this area is Comfrey (Symphytum spp.) which grows wild on roadside verges, creating large colonies. I expect it is also buzzing with hairy-footed flower bees in spring, but it’s horribly invasive and I don’t want it in the garden here.
If you see hairy-footed flower bees in your garden next spring, you can find out more and record your sightings with the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society.
On a sad note, it seems that the male blackbird (Turdus merula) who used the garden as part of his territory is no more. We first saw him when we moved here in spring 2009 and he spent long hours in the garden and courtyard - resting, foraging, singing, feeding chicks - unconcerned by our presence and paying us the compliment of ignoring us except for the occasional glance, which always felt as if it said simply ‘Oh, it’s you’.
The final photograph of the blackbird as he sat singing quietly, one hot day in early summer
We last saw him in mid-summer when he came to the courtyard a few times, to eat and drink under the bench where we set out provisions for him. As summer went on, we saw him less often and his feathers were starting to look decidedly scruffy; then we saw him no more. Goodbye blackbird, thank you for your songs and your company. I liked you a lot.