I mentioned a week or two back that a queen shrill carder bee Bombus sylvarum had been seen on the RSPB reserve at Dungeness. This week the first small workers were observed, foraging on tufted vetch. The photographs below, by Dave Walker (for which many thanks) show some of the key characters of this very rare bumblebee.
It has a tail sparsely covered with ginger hairs, and as you can see on the photograph below the thorax (where the wings emerge) has two yellow bands, separated by a band of black hairs (not just black skin, as might be found in rather worn specimens of other bees).
What often gives the species away before you see it, however, is the higher pitched buzz it makes as it manouvres through the vegetation, looking for sources of pollen and nectar, most frequently from legumes and labiates.
The appearance of this bumblebee two years running is a real conservation triumph as it was last seen in the RX area in the 1980’s. That it arrived without introduction is fantastic, showing that initiatives to put pollen and nectar back in the countryside are working.
Ten years ago this, the rarest bumblebee in England and Wales, was slipping towards extinction. Thank goodness for environmental stewardship, conservation management on the RSPB reserve and the focus on bumblebees that has perhaps helped to drag this bee back from the brink of extinction. However to be really secure it needs to become established over a wide area in the RX area. This is one of the reasons why Nikki Gammans is working to encourage land managers to put wild flowers back in the countryside. To determine if this process is working we need eyes and ears in the countryside. If anyone thinks they have seen this bee anywhere in Romney Marsh and Rye Bay please let me know using this link.
One final bit of good news. Three scarce bumblebees managed to recolonise the RX area last year. Only two had been seen this year, until this week, when Nikki found a red shanked carder bee queen.