One of my favorite blogs, TrogTrogBlog, is written by Christopher Wren, a beekeeper and nature photographer living in northern England. Anyone who manages to take photos of wild bees has my immediate attention, but Christopher is especially talented. He says:
My interest in bees began seriously when I started keeping honey bees three years ago but spread to bumble bees and solitary bees through my photography. The blog started last June mainly as a way of sharing the photos I took and things I saw with a wider audience. You’ll see it covers all types of natural history and not just bees, but at this time of year I could put bees in almost every post.
This particular post appealed to me because of the wall. Just think, a wall 400 years old was built around the time European settlers first came to North America . . . and the solitary bees love it just the same.
Thank you, Chris, for letting me run your story, A Wall of Bees.
This beautiful old cob wall stands alongside a lane leading to the church in the village where I grew up—Nether Heyford in Northamptonshire, England. The wall is probably more than four hundred years old and is home to thousands of solitary bees, each with its own separate nest. I walked past it hundreds of times when I was young, on my way to ring the bells in church, without realising its secret.
Cob is an ancient material used for building walls and houses. It uses a mixture of clay, straw and water and is strong and thermally efficient. Locally the mix included stones and animal bones. Several of the older houses and cottages in the village have cob walls.
When I visited the village last week there were dozens of bees flying in front of the wall. Most of them were female hairy-footed flower bees (Anthophora plumipes), with only a couple of males (I think most of the others will already have died off after mating). The females were bringing pollen and nectar back to their nests and they hovered for a few moments before finding the right hole and diving in.
There were also quite a few cuckoo bees, Melecta albifrons, a specific cleptoparasite of Anthophora plumipes. They were easier to photograph as they were settling on the wall and walking around from hole to hole trying to judge which nest to invade. Interestingly the incoming flower bees paid them no attention. Melecta bees have a different shape with a flatter abdomen and no scopa (pollen-collecting hairs) on the back leg. Most have prominent white patches on the abdomen and legs although some almost completely black. They also have brownish wings and a much quieter buzz than the flower bees.
I also saw a few tawny mining bees (Andrena fulva) at the outer and lower edges of the wall.