More than any other season, Spring is defined by firsts. First swallow, first cuckoo, first snowdrop, first frog spawn, first bumblebee queen. For me though, the arrival of Spring these past few years has been heralded by something a little smaller, hidden beside a very ordinary bench at Strumpshaw Fen. It would be excessively easy to walk past said bench and not realise that something extraordinary was happening under your feet, but this is very much the case- for you see, the loose sand under it is home to a colony of Andrena mining bees. With a whopping 67 species in the British Isles, Andrena are the most diverse genus we have here (I am therefore going try to save myself some embarrassment and refrain from posting what I think these are until someone can confirm it for me). The females forage for pollen and will leave it in a small burrow, alongside an egg which can feed on it as it develops into a larva (unless it gets stolen by one of the bee’s kleptoparasites).
At first I thought the clouds and cold a couple of weeks ago would dissuade the bees from showing themselves, but a more detailed look revealed a little face peeping from a burrow. After a few minutes, one slowly crawled out, adorably covered in sand which was shaken off as she went away to forage. Eventually they would come back, sporting little yellow bootlegs made of pollen. They’d stick their heads into the sand, and with their legs waving in the air, slowly get back underground. I know that bees rank highly on fuzzy cute insect scale – but these guys are such teddy bears that they immediately propelled themselves into top position (soz, Bumblebees). Without a doubt, my favourite sign that spring is finally here ☺️.