"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Friday, 3 June 2016

A Bee Talk and Walk led by Steven Falk at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens

After visiting Coleshill Church on Monday I went along to a Bee Hunt at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens later in the afternoon led by Naturalist, Artist and Photographer Steven Falk who has recently written a super bee identification book (with illustrations by R C Lewington).

After a short talk on bees we set off into the gardens to see what species we could find. As we went to turn right it became apparent that quite a few people were running towards us and there were thousands of honey bees swirling round in the air in the direction of the Greenhouse. At this point the beekeeper who looks after the hives in the gardens appeared to take control of the situation but even so we walked in the opposite direction along the top of the Upper Wilderness. I don't think I have witnessed bees swarming before so it was quite a coincidence that the day before we had thousands of honey bees in our garden who eventually formed a swarm on a tree in the garden next door but one and I also read on Twitter of two swarms occurring at Ladywalk Nature Reserve.

I know that swarms occur when the queen bee leaves a hive taking workers with her but Wendy if you are reading this post do you know please if it tends to happen at the time of year?

Steven "at work" catching bees in the net for close up views.

Narcissus Fly Merodon equestris - this hoverfly (a bumble bee mimic) lays eggs on plants, such as daffodils, narcissi and bluebells, and the larvae move into the bulbs and consume them.

A Drone Fly Eristalis tenax. This hoverfly mimics bee drones (male hive bees) (hence it's name).

Male Early Bumble Bee Bombus pratorum - I was able to gently stroke this bee as the drones do not sting.

Honey Bee (I think!). Any mistakes with id are mine as, although I made a note of the species we saw, I failed to note which I took photos off so have had to rely on my memory and id guides at home.

As well as quite a few hoverfly species we saw Common Carder Bees, Early, Garden and Tree Bumble Bees, Honey Bees, Mason bees and tiny mining bees plus several other species I missed as I lingered (and failed) to try and get more bee photos. This walk and an earlier one recorded 15 species of bee altogether. The walk was so informative and I learned such a lot thanks to Steven who also kindly taught me several things I didn't know about the Canon SX50 as he uses the same camera.

The Gardens are doing a lot to help bees

A few photos from the walk round the Gardens.

Castle Bromwich Hall (a side view) - the Hall is now a hotel.

Upper Wilderness

Birthwort growing in the gardens - this is a rare plant in the wild in Warwickshire.

Batty Langley Vegetable Garden

The Gardens are full of pollinator friendly plants - here a type of Comfrey

Blue Borage


Then onto the Extra Gardens which are outside the walled gardens.

Cow Parsley

Germander Speedwell

Yellow Rattle

Ragged Robin

A pair of Blue or Great Tits are nesting in the cone!

Red Campion and Green Alkanet

One of the three ponds

Then back into the main walled gardens - thankfully no sign of the Honey Bee swarm.

Aquilegia/Columbine/Granny's Bonnet



I was really pleased to get my bee book signed - thanks Steven. There is another bee walk(s) on 21st August which I shall definitely be attending. A great way to spend a few hours.


Millymollymandy said...

That must have been so interesting - I'd love to walk around with someone who could ID bees (and hoverflies)! Love all those wildflowers too. One thing I noticed in England everywhere I went in the SW was Red Campion - we don't have that at home, only the 'boring' white one! I'd love to have the pink variety in my garden or even to see it wild here. I've never come across Alkanet either.

Ragged Robin said...

Millymollymandy - thanks very much Mandy. I was thrilled when I discovered he was leading the walk :) He is SO knowledgeable and has also written a book on Warks Wildflowers (which I have and will take along next time in the hope he may sign) and took many of the photos in a hoverfly book I have. You remember how much I moaned about the fold out screen on the Canon - well he showed me how you can fold it back on itself so its actually at the back of the camera under the viewfinder making it easier to use - he loves the Canon SX 50 :)

Interesting about white campion in France - could you order some red campion seed and try and cultivate it? We have the red and white types in our wildflower meadow and they hybridise! Alkanet is great for bees and I was thrilled when it self-seeded in our garden from somewhere nearby. It is spreading too - I suspect it can became a problem but if the bees love it who cares!

Rosie said...

Sound like a fascinating talk and walk and great to get your book signed. I've seen a few of what I think are honey bees in the garden recently. Castle Bromwich Hall looks an interesting building and I loved all your photos of the wild flowers especially the blue borage and the bistort. I've just noticed your last post which for some reason I missed so I'm off to read that now and will come back later to comment:)

Ragged Robin said...

Rosie - Thanks so much - glad you enjoyed. The Hall (owned separately to the gardens) has a fascinating history and I was able to go on tours before and after renovation - it was so interesting.

Please don't worry re: missing posts. It happens to me as they don't always update on my blog list. I have a long history with problems with my computer and not being able to follow people and now more difficulties as I am not on Google Chrome plus so rely on the blog list!

Have a good weekend :)

Wendy said...

A wonderful post about my favourite little creatures - the bees! I love to see swarms (as long as they aren't my own honeybees) so I would be delighted with the sight of these. This is very much the swarming season for honeybees as they've built up since the spring and now have the impulse to reproduce. As you say the the queen will go off with roughly half the hive leaving the remaining bees to raise a new queen. So the old queen would have been somewhere in the middle of this swarm. Most swarms are great to be around because the bees don't have anything to defend (and so won't attack) but I'd still wear a suit among them as there are always exceptions!
I love your photos of the other bees, too. What a fantastic walk and talk to go to. And I love all the wildflowers as well.

Ragged Robin said...

Wendy - Thanks so very much and special thanks too for all the bee information - I thought of you and your bees at the time! I was so lucky that Steven Falk was visiting a place not that far from me.

I think the bees at the gardens were stinging people (perhaps there were some aggressive one's among the swarm). The bee keeper seemed to be donning his protective head gear very very quickly!! How I wish I kept bees something I would love to do though would go on a course first!! Just started reading the most delightful book called "The Bee-Kind Garden" by David Squire which is full of fascinating snippets :)

Pete Duxon said...

hope some of your tits fledge!

Ragged Robin said...

Pete Duxon - Thanks Pete!! As you may have gathered started with 9 and down to 3 :( Another poor year :(

Toffeeapple said...

My back lawn is covered in Germaner Speedwell, such a vibrant shade of blue/lavender.

I would love to do a bee walk like that but, as I am allergic to Honey Bee stings, I would have to stay at home. I am glad that you enjoyed it and got your book signed.

Ragged Robin said...

Toffeeapple - Thanks so much for the comment. I would imagine your back lawn looks beautiful. My grandfather always used to call Germander Speedwell "Bird's Eye so whenever I see it I think of him.

That is such a shame about the bee sting allergy - you must have to be so careful. To be honest I don't think I've ever been stung by a bee or a wasp - I just seem to attract gnat bites :(

amanda peters said...

Sorry RR, have misted this post, remember you said you were going, looks like you had a lovely time. not sure about the swarming bees though. Book on my list to buy great you got yours signed.
All the wild flowers are wonderful to see, was it just last month there was nothing much out, every were is covered in flowers. Having said that I think bee numbers are down (even though we have a Bumblebee nest in the roof) and there has been very few hover flies in the garden. I would like some Bistort for the garden.
Amanda xx

Ragged Robin said...

Amanda Peters - Thanks Amanda. Please don't ever worry about missing posts I know how difficult it is to keep up with blog posts. There were several people getting stuck especially the beekeeper! He was trying very hard to get his protective headgear back on!!

Good news re: bumble bee nest in roof - we had Tree Bumbles nesting in ours a year or so back. There have been more around here since hot weather started around last Friday but before that numbers much lower than usual and the same with hoverflies. I have a bit of bistort planted in a bed round the sundial. Lovely plant and bees adore it!

Millymollymandy said...

Hi Caroline - another plant I don't know at all is Alkanet! I've heard it is very good for bees. I'm not sure about where I could get red campion seeds - not sure if I could be bothered at present anyway. My garden, even without veggies, is really getting away from me, but I have to tell myself that it is not the most important thing in the world right now. :-)

I always have the SX50 screen open like that - it never gets closed. I can switch to 'live view' by pressing display when I want to take a photo of a butterfly up close - sometimes it's easier to hold the camera closer to the subject than your whole face attached to the viewfinder. I use the viewfinder normally though.

Ragged Robin said...

Millymollymandy - Thanks so much. Was lucky here as the Alkanet self-seeded itself and yes the bees adore it :) I have heard it is very invasive though! Try not to worry about your garden - you will get there eventually and after the awful year you had last year it is so understandable. Just do a bit at a time as and when you feel up to it and you will get there in the end. If you want any Red Campion seeds let me know (we have lots of plants in the wild flower meadow) before September when OH cuts it down. Otherwise google wildflower seeds and there are lots of nurseries (here in the uk at least) that specialise in them.

Folding the viewing screen to the back of the camera under the viewfinder rather than having it sticking out at the side as son does has helped a lot. But I agree with you I much prefer the viewfinder. I never use the liveview screen on my dslr although to be fair the viewfinder on that is much better than on the Canon. Finally, feel I am slowly getting the hang of controls and how to switch settings on the Canon -probably because I used it when the Olympus lens was away for repair. As everyone kept saying it is using it and practising that is important.Must find time to keep on going through manual!