At the beginning of June, I had the privilege to attend a course on bees at Malham Tarn FSC. Now Malham Tarn is a cool place -fab wildlife in fab scenery- and the FSC do a top job of looking after their guests. However, what I was really excited about was the fact that Steven Falk would be running the course - and he is seriously ace.
The weather was a bit cool too; it dawned foggy and drizzling on Saturday morning. In fact, the visibility was so bad, I nearly got lost on my dawn run round the tarn, which is not that easy to do, as there is only one track round!
Fortunately, the weather brightened up, and tempted some of the local bumblebee species out. One that I was really keen to see was Bilberry Bumblebee, a scarce upland species. We were lucky and found several nectaring on Water Avens in the meadow below the field centre. They are absolutely stunning bees, a veritable fruit salad, with a great big furry apricot of an abdomen and pale lemon yellow thorax.
Next on the menu was Moss Carder Bee, similar to your everyday Common Carder Bee- if it has been crossed with an Afghan Hound that is! Mike Hunter (Tees-side birder, orchid hunter and bumblebee fanatic), Steve and me took an evening walk on the fen (the others went off to have a rest) and I had the delightful sight of Steve leaping over a ditch to sweep up a Moss Carder candidate in his net. Crazy scenes! This isabelline fur-ball was really quite distinctive and the following day we saw a few more hanging out on the Water Avens.
Less easy was Bombus cryptorum, the enigmatic Cryptic Bumblebee. We found a few good candidates although the one below is probably B. lucorum - White-tailed Bumble. All in all, we nailed ten bumbles; Common Carder, Moss Carder, Red-tailed, Early, Garden, White-tailed, Cryptic, Bilberry, Tree, Gypsy Cuckoo and one solitary bee, Common Furrow Bee.
Lots of other good wildlife around vying for my attention, including a fishing Otter in the tarn (caused a twitch when I found that!), young and very squeaky Long-eared Owl chicks in the woods, Redstarts, Tree Pipits, and this rather fine Common Lizard, enjoying the thermal properties of recycled plastic boardwalk!
And as for Steven, well, you should never meet your heroes, right? Well, Steve turned out to be a thoroughly top bloke, very funny, completely manic, and with a knowledge for nature the size of a planet. And what is more, he has an incredibly generous nature, meaning he loves to share his enthusiasm and learning with everybody, no matter your experience or interest. Awesome! If you haven't got his bee book, then get it! And in the meantime check out his unbelievably cool Flickr sites - his pics are far better than mine!