Wednesday, 29 June 2011

You cannot be serious?!

As Murray mania grips the nation, it seems that even birds of prey aren’t immune to the draw of Wimbledon. RSPB staff in Scotland were stunned to find a tennis ball in one Red Kite nest at the beginning of this year’s world famous tournament.

Image: Ewan Weston

Red Kites are well-known for lining their nest with items taken from humans. In recent years, experts have found many weird and wonderful things including underwear, tea towels, lottery tickets, socks and an England flag.

If you want to see a Red Kite yourself, why not visit one of the RSPB's Date with Nature viewing sites? They are all around the UK and also include viewing sites for other birds of prey like Peregrine Falcons and Ospreys. For more information visit

Live images of a Red Kite nest in Aberdeen can be viewed the RSPB website.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The perils of bumbling

Today a most wonderful "new" book arrived on my desk. Bumblebees by D V Alford. Published in the seventies; it is still one of the bibles of bumbling. It contains one of the few reliable keys to this tricky group (I'm told).

It also contains this rather charming quote, which I can confirm from bitter experience to be true: 
Perhaps no genus presents more difficulties in determining the species than Bombus; there are males, females, and neuters of two sizes, and the hairs with which they are clothed vary in colour with age; it is therefore only by examining their nests that the species can be ascertained, and perhaps not then with constant or unerring success. - John Curtis (1835)
I bought the book on Amazon, and the seller kindly penned me a hand-written note to tell me that the book had belonged to his father, an enthusiastic beekeeper. Which reminds me to wish you (where appropriate) a Happy Father's Day.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Elephant Bee

We are busy as bees here at BirdGuides... filming bees and dragonflies. You will not be surprised to hear that a guide to British Bumblebees is in the works. We are producing it with our partners at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Habitat Aid. The title will include a stunning set of illustrations by Richard Lewington.

We have also nearly completed an app that will help birders discover the wonderful world of dragonflies. This project is a partnership with WildGuides, who produce excellent photographic field guides. Over the past couple of days we have been running around Scotland failing (yet again) to film the elusive Azure Hawker. It is still early in the season, so watch this space.

The trip was not a total fiasco. We did manage to acquire some useful footage of this fine creature:

This Bombus hortorum (you can tell because it has a yellow band both above and below its waist). It is about to perform one of the clever tricks it is famous for... drinking nectar from foxgloves. And after chasing this particular bee around the shores of Loch Maree, it settled for a moment hanging upside down beneath a flower and showed me how it manages to reach the deeply hidden sugary treat. B. hortorum has an incredibly long forked tongue. It is about as long as our arms relative to our bodies. And about as long, in proportion, as an elephant's trunk.

Thursday, 2 June 2011


Finding a notable species is always nice. The other day, in my garden in Liverpool, I noticed a Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum; I was aware that the species, first seen in the UK a decade ago, was spreading north so guessed the sightings would most likely be "of note" since, I presumed, this individual would be somewhere near the north of the species' range.

Bombus hypnorum

I sent off the details of the record to BWARS who very kindly sent me back some information about the species. Below is a map, up to date as of last Thursday.

I have added the location of my record in blue onto what was previously an empty space. So, Bombus hypnorum is certainly a recent arrival in this area!

Over the next few days I kept an eye out for more, and indeed I managed to find plenty more; it seems the Tree Bumblebee may not be that rare in Liverpool after all, perhaps just overlooked.