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Red Mason Bee Sealing a Nest

This year I have a bee hotel attached to the house which provides somewhere for solitary bees to nest. The most commonly seen garden solitary bee is the red mason bee (Osmia bicornis) which finds cavities, such as in walls or canes in which to lay its eggs. It adds some pollen for food and seals up the cell with mud.

Yesterday I managed to catch a female red mason bee sealing off one of the tubes in the nest box and took some photos. They are not amazing photos, my main excuses being failing light and rubbish photography skills; I was also watering the garden and getting some washing in at the same time, etc etc. A selection of photos in chronological order are below, with the time taken in the caption.

In the first photo, you can see the female deep inside the tube.


Twenty minutes later the start of a wall is in place and the bee has gone off to get some more mud.


A few minutes later and she’s back constructing the wall.


Again she’s off, and there is now a complete ring.


Three minutes later and the ring is closing in.



The female is back with more mud.


Now the hole is clearly too small for her to get in or out.


More work…


…and the hole is sealed!


The bee continues to add more mud for a better seal.


The last photo is from over an hour later and shows the cap jutting out from the wall, not entirely neatly.


There are now six holes filled up in the bee hotel. I understand that each of the holes will have a number of cells, one in front of the other. Next spring, the small males, whose eggs are laid near the front, will hatch first, followed shortly by the larger females. There are hundreds of sorts of solitary bee in the UK, although only the larger ones will use the bee hotel. I saw some leaf-cutter bees, such as the one below, last year.

Leaf-cutter bee cutting a leaf

They use mashed-up leaf pulp instead of mud to do much the same thing, so I hope they might pop by too.

Bumblebees in Sandy, 2012

Following on from my other enthralling posts about grasshoppers and bush-crickets, here is one about bumblebees. I always used to think there were two sorts of bee: honey bees and bumblebees. I later thought there are two sorts of bumblebee: buff-tailed and red-tailed. However, it turns out that there are loads of bumblebees: about 25 species in the UK, although some of them are rare. Like the grasshoppers, bumblebees can be tricky to identify as they vary according to whether they are male or female or what kind of female they are: queen or worker. There are also considerable variations within species while some different species look the same as each other: see the first one below which is impossible to positively identify from a photo, or at least my photo. I got myself an excellent book recommended by Emily Heath* and submitted records to Beewatch, which has tools for identification as well as well as adding to national distribution data. Like the orthoptera scheme they also email you with confirmation of whether you got it right or not. I saw seven confirmed species of bumblebee in Bedfordshire over the summer, six of those in Sandy, and four in the garden.

I have followed the book’s practice of using the scientific name of each species as there is no consistency in common names. And it saves me some hassle. I have also noted whether each species is a social bumblebee (queen, workers, and males living in a nest a bit like a honey bee hive) or a cuckoo bumblebee (only females and males: the females take over social bumblebee nests whose workers raise the cuckoo female’s young). I never dreamt that such things as cuckoo bumblebees existed.

Bombus vestalis or Bombus bohemicus

Bombus vestalis or Bombus bohemicus

Bombus vestalis or Bombus bohemicus

A cuckoo bumblee, but uncertain precisely which species it is. These two species are very difficult to tell apart without catching them and examining them properly. From the photo, the Beewatch people could not be definite which it was. In Sandy, just off Sunderland Road.

Bombus pratorum

Bombus pratorum

Bombus pratorum

A social bumblebee. In Sandy, in the garden.

Bombus terrestris

Bombus terrestris

Bombus terrestris

The buff-tailed bumblebee, a social bumblebee. In Sandy, in the garden.

Bombus rupestris

Bombus rupestris

Bombus rupestris

A cuckoo bumblebee. In Sandy, near the station.

Bombus hypnorum

Bombus hypnorum

Bombus hypnorum

Tree bumblebee, a social bumblebee. First seen in the UK in 2001. In Sandy, in the garden.

Bombus campestris (probably)

Bombus campestris

Bombus campestris

A cuckoo bumblebee. In Willington (between Sandy and Bedford).

Bombus pascuorum

Bombus pascuorum

Bombus pascuorum

Bombus pascuorum male

Bombus pascuorum male

A social bumblebee. In Sandy, in the garden. Beewatch confirmed the first picture and I’m pretty sure about the id for the male (ginger beard and very round body), which makes it the first time I’ve seen a male bee and known it was a male.

* Edwards and Jenner. Field guide to the bumblebees of Great Britain & Ireland. 2005

Bush-crickets in Sandy, 2012

Following on from my write-up of grasshoppers I’ve seen in Sandy, I would like to do the same for their close-relatives, bush-crickets. Bush-crickets are also orthoptera, but I find them more interesting. They are generally shorter but more bulky, larger, and have really long antennae, hence their old-fashioned name: long-horned grasshoppers; in America I believe they are also known as katydids. They are a lot easier to identify than grasshoppers: colours tend to be more consistent, although most of them seem to be green, but the females in particular have long ovipositors at the back whose shape tends to give the species away. Some of them tend to hang around on tops of leaves if you keep your eyes open- especially dark bush-crickets and speckled bush-crickets- and some have repetitive (dark bush-cricket) or long (roesel’s bush-cricket) songs which helps in tracking them down. Some of them have been living in our garden for years, which helps. All these photos were taken in Sandy, several in our garden.

Dark bush-cricket (Pholidoptera griseoaptera)

Female dark bush-cricket

Female dark bush-cricket

Male dark bush-cricket

Male dark bush-cricket

The dark bush-cricket is commonly found on brambles, sometimes sitting on top of the leaves. Their song is quite distinctive: a short repeated buzz. I once went for a run at twilight past about 100 yards of brambles. I’ve never seen any there and couldn’t see any then as it was too dark but I heard loads all the way along. The male and female  look quite different. Only the male sings and so is the only one with any wings to speak of, although these are hardly there either. The female has a clear long and curved ovipositor.

More on this at the Orthoptera & Allied Insects site and Wikipedia.

Speckled bush-cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima)

Female speckled bush-cricket

Female speckled bush-cricket

Last year I managed to get loads of this as they’ve been active and breeding in the lavender in our garden (e.g. this one from above, this one shedding its skin, these two mating, and so on) but they weren’t around so much this year, presumably because of there being less sun. Like the dark bush-cricket, they are also found on brambles, and I’ve seen them together a few times. The picture above shows the wonderful crazy eyes bush-crickets have, especially when their antennae are going all over the place. They are also, as one might expect, speckled, although it’s not as obvious to the naked eye as it is on a photo. Although you can’t see it here, the ovipositor is sickle shaped. It does sing but its wings are so small they are barely audible without a bat detector.

More on this at the Orthoptera & Allied Insects site and Wikipedia.

Oak bush-cricket (Meconema thalassinum)

Female oak bush-cricket

Female oak bush-cricket

This one lives in trees, but I found it on a path near the health centre in Sandy. If you go near a bush-cricket, they normally jump away more violently than their awkward walking would suggest. This one though actually walked onto my hand like a ladybird would. It kept walking and was happy to keep walking over my hands and my coat. I was on my way to picking up my daughter from school and it stayed on my coat the whole way there, while I was waiting, and all the way home. I put it down on the pebbles in the back garden, where I got the above photo. It was so tame, it let me put it on the rosemary and, when I’d changed my mind, onto the apple tree where I thought it’d be happier. I haven’t seen it since though.

You can see it has a straighter ovipositor than the two above. Despite the larger wings, it doesn’t sing at all but (apparently) drums its foot on a leaf.

More on this at the Orthoptera & Allied Insects site and Wikipedia.

Long-winged conehead (Conocephalus discolor)

Male long-winged conehead

Male long-winged conehead

Female long-winged conehead

Female long-winged conehead

This is one I tracked down by sound on a patch of waste ground near the railway line. This is one example of an insect whose range has expanded hugely in recent years, presumably as a result of climate change. They have an excellent name, and there is indeed a short-winged conehead.* The ovipositor is almost straight.

More on this at the Orthoptera & Allied Insects site and Wikipedia.

Roesel’s bush-cricket (Metrioptera roeseli)

I sadly didn’t get any pictures of these this year although I saw a few and heard loads more. These are relatively easy to find as their song is a long aggressive buzzing, so you can home in on them quickly. They hide in long grass, though, so it’s hard to get a camera near them without a blade of grass getting in the way. They are also somewhat more jumpy than the oak bush-cricket mentioned above so if you get too close and alarm them they jump and disappear in a flash. However, here is one from 2011:

Male roesel's bush-cricket

Male roesel's bush-cricket

It looks a little like a dark bush-cricket at first glance although it has a distinctive pale U-shape behind the head. The female has a sharply curved ovipositor. They normally have shortish wings, but in good sunny years long-winged (macropterous) individuals appear and the one above is such a macropterous example. You can see and hear this singing in this dodgy video I took.

More on this at the Orthoptera & Allied Insects site and Wikipedia.

Hopefully next year there will be more sun, so there are more insects and more light for the camera!

* It has short wings.

Grasshoppers in Sandy, 2012

I don’t recall as a child ever seeing a grasshopper or cricket except for some locusts in the school science lab. Like most nature I assumed I didn’t live in the right place, or that these things were too scarce, too shy, or hard to find. I’ve always been useless at spotting birds, even when pointed out to me. Trailing my own children round the countryside and waste ground round Sandy and trying to find where in the grass some insect noises were actually coming from, I discovered that these things are not that hard to find. Grasshoppers and crickets (orthoptera) are actually quite common, distinctive, relatively large, and also very inclined to stay still, which makes photography a hell of a lot easier. Although common, there are not that many species (36 breeding species*) in the UK, so identifying them is not impossibly difficult.

That said, grasshoppers are problematic to identify as the differences between species can be subtle (e,g. shape of the pronotum behind their head, wing length, bulges on wings, and the shape of the antennae), even with a decent photograph. However, I have started submitting records to the Orthoptera & Allied Insects Recording Scheme. I like schemes like this as it means I can contribute something to SCIENCE (especially in view of climate change which seems to be having real effects as some crickets in particular are quickly spreading north) while also getting expert confirmation of my identifications.

After getting the bug** in 2011, I was really looking forward to summer 2012 as I knew the good sites around Sandy and had a good idea what I was looking for. I was also hoping that I might know how my camera works by now. However, 2012 was a notoriously bad year for insects. I don’t think grasshoppers are in quite the same bad situation as they don’t feed on nectar like butterflies and bees, but I didn’t see too many, possibly more due to the rain stopping me going out to look for them as much as I would have liked. I did get loads of pictures of young grasshoppers (nymphs) so they must have been around.

I only saw two confirmed species of grasshopper. The first two pictures below are confirmed by the recording scheme. All photos were taken in Sandy, Bedfordshire.

Meadow grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus)

Meadow Grasshopper, Sandy

Female meadow grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus

This is a relatively distinctive grasshopper, although don’t ask me to explain why (parallel pronotal keels and short wings are a start). The ones I’ve seen have all had the good manners to be green which this species tends to be: grasshoppers have a tendency to be all kinds of colours, even pink (photo by buzzbee4826). This one has the misfortune to only have five legs, which seems to be a relatively common affliction.

More on this at the Orthoptera & Allied Insects site and Wikipedia.

Field grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus)

Field grasshopper nymph

Field grasshopper nymph (Chorthippus brunneus)

This seems to be the most common grasshopper in Sandy. When I think I’ve found something a bit different it normally turns out to be one of these. If nothing else, its wings are generally longer than the meadow grasshopper and the colours are normally all over the shop, none of which helps with identifying the nymphs. However, this photo was confirmed by an expert. The other photo is an adult, on a fencepost next to some vegetation growing over a path a stone’s throw from the house. Once you start looking for these things they turn up all over the place.

More on this at the Orthoptera & Allied Insects site and Wikipedia (although not a lot more).

Field grasshopper

Field grasshopper adult (Chorthippus brunneus)

* Evans and Edmondson. A photographic guide to the grasshoppers & crickets of Britain & Ireland. 2007. p. 7.

** LOL!!!

General Election prediction

Following my highly acclaimed* and wildly popular** predictions of Eurovision results, I offer my l33t sybilline skilz to the 2010 General Election tomorrow. All free of charge***:

The Conservatives will scrape a majority.

This is based on the principles that both the Liberal Democrat and Labour support will ebb away just enough and that David Cameron’s eyebrows have done a good job of looking serious while he says the word “values”**** a lot over the last week or so.

This is not to say that I hope it will happen. I hope the following happens, which is a little more complicated:

A hung Parliament with Labour the 2nd largest party: Labour form a government with the Liberal Democrats at least just long enough to enact proportional representation so that, whenever the coalition collapses (as it very shortly will, especially if Labour have to go through the rigmarole of appointing a new leader, which is likely as a condition of coalition in the first place) the Liberal Democrats have a serious shot at power in the next election or at least of heavily outflanking the Conservatives in a future coalition.

I think the Liberal Democrats would be foolish to enter a coalition with the Conservatives as they won’t get proportional representation with them, and they will then recede back into obscurity once the effect of the first TV debate fades and David Cameron’s eyebrows become yet more serious. Some of the implications of a Liberal/Conservative coalition are also quite dangerous. The Liberal Democrats, for instance, favour a referendum on membership of the European Union rather than, say, just membership of the Eurozone or closer integration. I don’t think membership of the EU is something that is even an issue anymore. Although they put a positive slant on it

Liberal Democrats have argued for a referendum on whether Britain stays in or leaves the EU. We are the only party confident enough to put the pro-European case to the British people on the big issue facing us – and let the people decide. Britain will only win the case for a flexible, democratic Europe in Brussels if we settle our arguments at home on whether we should be part of the EU or not.

…I fear what could happen in straightened times and in concert with a Conservative government. I am not as confident as the Liberal Democrats.

Anyway, this is by the by. More importantly, William Hill are running a book. As I write, the predictions are:

  • No overall winner: 4/7
  • Conservative majority: 6/4
  • Labour majority: 16/1

Interestingly, William Hill are also offering odds for the individual constituencies. For Bedfordshire North East the odds are:

  • Conservative: 1/500
  • Labour: 33/1
  • Liberal Democrat: 33/1

Normally, you’d say you’d bet your house on the Conservatives winning this one, but for 1/500 it’s hardly worth the hassle. No prices for UKIP or the BNP I see.

* I did correctly predict the 2007 result.

** Perhaps not.

*** I.e. not for prophet.

**** Sounds a lot like the equally meaningless and equally riding-for-a-fall mantra “back to basics” that John Major had introduced following his affair with Edwina Currie.

General Election candidates in North East Bedfordshire

The five candidates so far for the North East constituency are the following. So far no Greens or independents that I know of:

Alistair Burt (Conservative), the sitting MP since 2001:
Lives: Wootton, Bedfordshire (in Mid Bedfordshire constituency)
Qualified solicitor, and executive recruitment consultant (Presumably all former positions as currently lists no other paid jobs in his declaration of interests on his website)
Photo (from Flickr user Nick Treby):

Ed Brown (Labour)
Lives: North London? (The biography on his website implies he lives in North London: “Ed is also active in local labour party [sic] activities in North London and is a school governor at Brecknock primary school in Camden.”)
Photo (from Flickr user Nick Treby):

Mike Pitt (Liberal Democrat)
Lives: Cambridge? (The biography on his website implies that he lives in Cambridge as he is a city councillor there: “He has experience as a Councillor in Cambridge, where he is portfolio holder with responsibility for Environmental and Waste Services on Cambridge City Council.”
Maths teacher
Photo (from Flickr user Nick Treby):

Brian Capell (United Kingdom Independence Party)
Website: No website afaik but some information from a Bedford Today article.
Lives: Wymington, Bedfordshire (in North East Bedfordshire constituency)
Retired financial advisor and ex-headteacher
Photo (from Flickr user Nick Treby):

Ian Seeby (British National Party)
Lives: Broxbourne, Hertfordshire (“but does occasionally visit Biggleswade with a friend” lol)
Unemployed groundsman
Photo (from BNP Eastern Region website):

Interestingly, only the UKIP candidate lives in the constituency. Even the sitting MP lives just outside it. I would have thought too that the BNP’s attitude to immigration would extend to local matters and that a truly local candidate could be found. At least he visits Biggleswade with a friend. The Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates seem a little shy about where they live on their websites. The Lib Dem person will at least have watched some of the same local news on the telly as I have, with his Cambridge links, which is more than can be said of the metropolitan Labour candidate.

General information on the North East Bedfordshire constituency is available from the following sites:

UK Polling Report:
BBC News:

Some local campaign leaflets are available from I should really contribute to this.

New ECML flyover at Hitchin

The BBC mentions that Network Rail are finally looking at putting in a flyover across the East Coast Main Line at Hitchin so trains to Cambridge will no longer have to cross three tracks, including the express lines.   Cool beans. The Network Rail site has pictures, track plans, lots more detail, and a video.

Aside from the practical benefits of fewer delays, alternative routes, and so on, it looks quite impressive too. It is due in 2014 if all goes to plan, including planning applications in 2009.

What do you call someone from Sandy?

@ostephens on Twitter asked an interesting question:

How do you know the correct form for changing a place name to an indicator of it’s denziens? Eg London -> Londoner, Bolton -> Boltonian

I did manage to find some helpful-looking articles on Wikipedia:

  • An article on demonyms (“name for a resident of a locality which is derived from the name of the particular locality”)
  • A list of adjectivals and demonyms for cities. Sadly Bolton isn’t included in the list or any others I could find.

However, the first article on demonyms has, if not rules, then patterns of demonym formation for English names. The examples of Washington and Wellington (although not British place names) would suggest Boltonian (although the example of London>Londoner does not). A Google search would seem to suggest this is being widely used, and this is confirmed beyond doubt by an Urban Dictionary entry for Boltonian.

What, though, is the demonym for Sandy? What are people from Sandy, Bedfordshire called? @ostephens suggested Sandian, Sandite, and Sandpeople. I have been thinking about this and compiled a list of candidates, some of them based on the suffixes in the Wikipedia article:

  • Sand
  • Sandian
  • Sandyan
  • Sandeian
  • Sandyean
  • Sandine
  • Sandyine
  • Sandite
  • Sandyite
  • Sander
  • Sandyer
  • Sandish
  • Sandyish
  • Sandene
  • Sandyene
  • Sandard
  • Sandyard
  • Sandese
  • Sandyese
  • Sandi
  • Sandic
  • Sandyic
  • Sandivian
  • Sandinavian
  • Sandwegian
  • Sand People
  • Tusken Raider
  • Harenosian

Notes: Sand is formed after the pattern of Germany>German, Turkey>Turk. Sandeian is based on the form of the name used in the Domesday Book: Sandeia. Sandyean is based on the old name of Sandy before the railways changed the spelling: Sandye. Sandwegian would probably better suit someone from Sandwich. I am not sure what the singular of Sand People would be: Sand Person? For Tusken Raiders, see Wikipedia again. Harenosian is from the Latin for a Sandy place: I have probably completely misunderstood the translation of this word.

Interestingly, a Google search for the word Sandyite shows it to be used quite a bit for Sandy, Oregon. A similar search on Bedfordshire doesn’t do anything. Neither do any of the other plausible ones (that I could be bothered to look up). However, I do have three favourites:

  • Sandyite. Sensible favourite. It seems weirdly natural and is also being used in another Sandy. However, sounds a little like ready-made mortar.
  • Sandeian. Elegant/historical favourite. It suggests a nicer pronunciation: San-day-un rather than San-dee-un. It is also pleasantly hard to spell. Plausible alternatives I like are Sandyean (also pleasantly hard to spell and with some historical overtones), and Sandian.
  • Sandinavian. Say no more.

Any suggestions, comments, or actual knowledge?

Corruption in Bedfordshire elections?

I don’t think the Bedfordshire on Sunday quite meant what they wrote when they published the following paragraph about the upcoming Central Bedfordshire local elections (my emphasis):

The runners and riders for June 4 Central Bedfordshire Council elections have been announced and all potential councillors are being offered the opportunity to sell themsleves [sic] to voters on the internet.

I wonder if it would be an eBay-style format. That would indeed be a scandal to put the expenses controversy to shame.

Bishop bashing in Bedfordshire

I fear that someone with a sense of humour may have been writing for the Bedfordshire on Sunday this week. Under the unlikely headline Bishop of Bedford bashing world poverty the article explains:

Bishop Richard took up one end of a rope with members of the Bedford Athletic rugby team on the other. He was the lone ‘tugger’ against the combined forces of the rugby players.

I suppose we just should be grateful the rugby team weren’t bashing the bishop while he tugged alone on his end of the rope. You’ll have to read the article for the whole story, which is entirely innocent and in fact all in a very good cause.