Realising Good Friday was to be the pick of the Easter weekend weather I set out in determined fashion to see if I could find any new species of bees at Abney. After about four hours I had seen: Buff-tailed bumblebee queens, honey bees and lots of Hairy Footed Flower bees (mostly males but a few females had begun flying). There were also quite a few butterflies on the wing. I counted 4 commas, 3 brimstone and a peacock. But still no new bees.
I eventually gravitated toward a large area of lesser celandine (Ficaria) that is currently carpeting the ground in yellow near the defunct water fountain at the Stamford Hill end. Here I was lifted by sight of a lovely Mourning bee (Melecta albifrons - PHOTO). Still not a new species but an uncommon sight. This is a cuckoo (cleptoparasite) of the Hairy Footed Flower bee.This renewed my energies and my fifth hour of hunting proved the most productive. There was a slightly frost damaged small hawthorn in flower (in March!) and on it I caught site of a small mining bee. I recognised immediately it was probably a species I'd not seen at Abney before but before I could react it had rejected the poorly hawthorn flowers and was off!
However this increased my determination and during the next hour I did succeed in finding 3 new, very small bees - all new to Abney; 1 new to Hackney and which I've never seen anywhere.
Gywnne's mining bee (Andrena bicolor) is a small (i.e. not as big as a honey bee), fairly common early flying solitary bee. I found males and females at Stoke Newington's East Reservoir last year and had tentatively identified it as being in Abney from photographs I'd taken a few years ago. But this was the first time I could closely examine and confirm the species as present with both a male and female seen.
The other two species were even smaller. Both strecthed my identification skills over the Easter weekend. Even with Steve Falks fantastic new Field Guide and his amazing Flickr site positive identifications took me a few hours. Natural history is a wonderful science because you can approach it at any level, from watching butterflies and enjoying flowers, to painstaking microscope work. All of it is enjoyable and the knowledge acquired gradually increases (though sometimes painfully slowly and not without frustrations).
Ultimately discipline (hours of field work and more hours pouring over text books, websites and under the microscope) is what yields answers. Thirst for knowledge drives the discipline, and an a stuborn intellectual rigour not to settle for maybe. Not that all this hardwork is necessary just to enjoy bees or wildlife in general. A less scientific approach has plenty of rewards. It's just that if you want to know somehting very specific, such as which bee species live in Abney's wonderful woodland nature reserve, you have to put the time and thought in to get the right answers. Alas there are few who do this, not least because the intellectual and personal rewards cannot pay the bills and there are precious few willing to pay for professional entomology.
SO after all that: the new species are Furry-claspered Furrow bee and Little Nomad bee. The latter (Nomada flavogutatta) is a tiny 6mm, thin insect most would never guess to be a bee. It's another cuckoo, this time of small mining bees. I've found it at East Reservoir before but never at Abney. The rather long windedly named Furry-claspered Furrow bee (or Lasioglossum lativentre) was completely new to me, Abney and Hackney. Looking at the NBN Gateway/BWARS national distribution maps the record is certainly a new hectad and it appears the bee has never been recorded anywhere in north or east London. The species is not rare but is decidedly local in its distribution, and its discovery is yet more proof of Abney's regional importance as one of London's most valuable nature reserves.
Not a bad way to spend Easter weekend (and I've not told you about musketeering on Sat & Sun).
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