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Thursday 31 March 2011

Spring is here and so are the Hairy Footed Flower Bees!

At last there has been sun and warmth. It has felt a long time coming, but over these last few weeks I have been able to snatch a minute or two to appreciate the beauty of spring, the light green mist of new shoots on the bare branches and the sumptuous snowy flower laden branches of the blackthorn. I have been able to bring armfuls of white sheets in from the line, smelling of sun and light ( a rare thing to do in the USA) and at last, I have seen more bees.

Male hairy footed flower bees everywhere! Just everywhere. What a huge pleasure it is for me to be able to see them whizzing about. They have a very distinctive high pitched sound and adopt a very characteristic pose when resting on a leaf or stone, their gorgeously fringed legs outspread to the side.


Anthophora plumipes male on the elaeagnus.

I stood for an hour watching them. The only chance I had to photograph them was when they paused to rest on the elaeagnus. They seemed to love the big flat sunny leaves but only stopped for a very short time before rushing off again chasing each other round and round the bush. They are not easy to catch with my slow camera and slower operator! What I did notice was how they would check me out, hovering just inches above my head, looking directly at me. before whizzing off again. You can see their yellow faces. Really quite delightful!

And today in the village on some pink pulmonaria, I saw the females, smart little black bombs with ginger legs. Chris took a couple of long shots and managed to catch this little bee with her extraordinarily long tongue unfurled. Interestingly she seems to be holding her tongue with her front legs.. as if steadying her aim and approach.

HFFB tongue

And landed, head in a flower


Spring is truly here. The evenings are light and blackbirds fill the dawn with song.

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Wednesday 9 March 2011

Homes for Solitary Bees.. Do it now!

It’s March and I see from BWARS that more bees are being spotted and so it’s time to get your solitary bee houses out and sited in safe and convenient places. Being here in the UK for a few months, I hope to get or make one very soon. I have been looking round the garden for a suitable location. A sunny south/southeast wall or hanging spot and at least a meter from the ground. There are some very nice looking bee houses for sale but of you prefer a DIY approach it is not too difficult.

Do have a look these excellent pages about making bee houses on Marc Carltons’s “Foxleas” site.

He has very good and comprehensive information about how you make them and why you make them the way they are, and as well as small houses he advocates larger and more luxurious homes

“It is easy to make a larger house for solitary bees. I first saw one like this in Switzerland in the early 1980s. Since then I have seen them on several occasions in Germany and Switzerland, but curiously they are rare in the UK. It is time to put that deficiency right!”

marc carlton Foxleas

This is a section of a large “house”. A series of rather nice insect apartments with different sized holes to suit different sized occupants. I think I will be going for the bundle of hollow sticks approach this year. I hope someone will come.. anyone really…and as Marc says:

“Various other sorts of parasitic solitary wasps and parasitic bees will find your bee house once it is occupied, preying on, or taking over, the nest cells of mason bees. Don't worry about them, they are all part of the fascinating community of insects.”


With a bit of luck it will be home to some of these… a sketch for my next painting, a little osmia bee.

osmia sketch

Marc Carlton’s bee house instructions at

** Also see Gary´s post on his excellent insect and bee houses! here at Gary's Garden

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Tuesday 1 March 2011

February Fill Dyke

Over a week back home and there has been little sun. After 8 years living in sunnier climes I am not enjoying this dreary weather. My father (93) and I gaze out of the window at sodden sparrows and waterlogged blackbirds who sit hunched and immobilised as if pinned to the bare winter branches. We alternate optimistic and gloomy homilies ..

Rain before 7, fine before 11”. It always works” He says

Come 11 it is still raining

“From January up to May, The rain it raineth every day”

Oh God …..that’s depressing

“It’s brightening up! I can see the sun is coming through!”

No, not really. It’s just “grey” now as opposed to “profoundly grey” and the lounge light is reflected in the window because the sky is so dark outside.

“If February brings no rain, 'tis neither good for grass nor grain”

Hmm…making the best of a bad job. How very stoic.

“But its only to be expected at this time of year. You know, ‘February fill dyke!’ ”

Yes, indeed, in this county of dykes, ditches and drains I suppose it is only fitting that they are filled and ready for the growing season. Living abroad, I had missed the seasons and in the steamy suffocating heat of a Florida summer I had once pined for "drizzle". Short of other conversation Dad and I pondered the origin of “February Fill Dyke” and found this very wet picture by Benjamin Leader.

February Fill Dyke 1881
Benjamin Williams Leader 1831-1923

“A famous Victorian landscape, February Fill Dyke was greeted with lukewarm reviews when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881. With later showings in Manchester for the Royal Jubilee Exhibition, it became very popular. The scene is actually a November evening after rain. The title is taken from an old country rhyme;

February fill the dyke, Be it black or be it white;

But if it be white, It's the better to like.”

…Manchester City Art Gallery

The saying, according to the Oxford English Dictionary has its origins in the 1600’s:

1557 T. Tusser Husbandry D1
Feuerell fill dyke, doth good with his snowe.
1670 J. Ray English Proverbs 40
February fill dike Be it black or be it white; But if it be white, It's the better to like.

Confined to the house I had been going through the few old bits and pieces I had stored here and found this little pen and ink illustration I made from eons ago. A water filled hoof print from a time when a pretty little grey mare and I used to brave any kind of weather. I can well remember squelching along the dyke tops and down the farm tracks in those bleak and icy February days. It seemed fitting.

February Fill dyke hoof print.

And as an odd little coincidence we happen to be in Manchester for two days. We went to the excellent City Art Gallery… and there, amongst other, dare I say rather dull, English landscapes was “February Fill Dyke”. The Gallery has some wonderful exhibitions particularly in the craft galleries, with some fabulous Grayson Perry work. It made me really want to get back to ceramics.. ah…so much to do and so little time. And now that March is here maybe more sun!

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