Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Ivy bees on the Great Orme (also a booted warbler)

Dawn this morning found me walking across the sands of Dee from West Kirby to Hilbre Island in great anticipation. The winds were set south-easterly, it was a cloudy start to the day, the Great Orme was nowhere to be seen (always a good sign) and yesterday there had been three yellow-browed warblers trapped and ringed on the island. It was looking good for a repeat performance. Unfortunately it never materialised, and the best we could manage were a couple of chiffchaffs, plenty of meadow pipits, a reed bunting and a grey wagtail. I had planned to stay on the island over the tide, but when news broke that yesterdays booted warbler was still present and showing well on the Great Orme, I decided to cut short my visit to Hilbre and left at about 10:45.

By 12:30 and courtesty of a lift off Hilbre by the friendly obs guys, I was watching this little beauty in gorse bushes right alongside the limestone pavement car park on the Great Orme, my first ever booted warbler and an exceptional record for the west coast.

It wasn't in the least bit timid and would occasionally fly towards me and land in gorse or on the ground just a few feet away.

UK Life list: 415, Year: 245 (Booted warbler)

I've often wondered why this species is called "booted" warbler. Not particularly apparent from in this photo, but on other pictures I've seen of the bird you can clearly see that its feet are a shade darker than its pink legs, giving it a "booted" look. You have to use your imagination a little though!

After watching the bird for a couple of hours I decided to head to Llys Hellig drive, or Millionaires Row as I believe it is also known. This is a narrow road on the lower slopes of the west side of the Great Orme with some big houses and some large gardens. There had been a couple of firecrests reported here and a briefly seen yellow-browed warbler. I managed to pick up a firecrest pretty quickly, but I couldn't find any sign of the yellow-browed warbler. I always struggle with yellow-broweds, there might be unprecidented numbers in the country right now, with even quite a few on the west coast this week, but I don't usually get a sniff of one. It's just one of those things, they avoid me or I'm doing it wrong!

However, there was plenty of ivy in flower along the road, and in between searching for crests and warblers, I turned my attention to inverts. Most of the hoverflies I saw were Eristalis species, mainly tenax, but I became aware that there were loads of these bees on the ivy. At first I had dismissed them as honey bees, but the bands on their abdomen looked a lot more prominent than those on honey bees and I took a few photographs. Sure enough, it turns out that these are ivy bees Colletes hederae, a species which was first recorded in the UK in 2001, in Dorset, but which has spread north over the past few years. Even so, Llandudno is by far the most northerly site in the UK for the species, and is completely isolated from all of the other sites by perhaps 100 miles or so. You can access the NBN Gateway maps here to see the full distribution of the species in the UK.

Feeding primarily on ivy pollen, this bee has to time it's flight period with the autumn flowering of the plant, making it the last solitary bee species to emerge. Only the female has a sting, which she uses only when seriously prevoked. These bees are completely harmless to humans and are a success story, being an important pollinator of ivy and one of the few bee species which is actually spreading.

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