, , , ,

How A Nomad Helped My Confidence

This week saw my first office day at the Wildlife Trust BCN as a Volunteer Communications Officer. Alongside writing a piece for their blog, assisting with a competition and learning more about how the communications team functions, there was a particular aspect to the day that has since become very memorable. The lunch break.

Now I didn’t have a very exciting selection of food for my lunch, but it was eaten outside in the beautifully warm spring sunshine. Brimstone butterflies (Gonepteryx rhamni) flitted through the garden, bees worked hard to collect pollen and a Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) called from a nearby tree. Being the keen naturalist that I am, I was mentally noting down the different species about – Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), Red-tailed and Early Bumblebees (Bombus lapidarius and B.pratorum), Rosemary Beetle (Chrysolina americana), 7-spot Ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata) and so on, all of which would be put into my wildlife records notebook. Further to being a naturalist, I am a pan-species lister which means that I am extra excited if I see something new to me. And during this lunch break, I did just that.

I was watching and photographing some bees on the rosemary (NB: I need some for my garden, it is brilliant for pollinators!) when I noticed another insect nearby. With its wicked looking markings, I thought that it was probably an ichneumon wasp species (Ichneumonidae). I snapped a few photos, taking care to get it from different angles, before it wandered off into the undergrowth. I decided against potting it, I didn’t think I would be able to identify myself and figured it would be better off in the wild.

So that was my lunch break, all in all, the type of lunch break I love. Warmth, sunshine and wildlife. I didn’t think much more of it until later. I got home and downloaded the camera photos onto my laptop, whilst flicking through my insect book to find Red Mason Bee (Osmia rufa), a species that I had seen for the first time recently and needed to put a tick next to in the book. I was in the Hymenoptera section (bees, wasps, ants) and as I flicked through, I saw something vaguely familiar – a group that looked like that insect from earlier. But it wasn’t the ichneumon wasp section, it was the Nomada bees group.

After a bit of thinking, and a sip of tea, I decided I would give the identification a go. If nothing else, it would show me whether this group is ever ‘doable’ from photos alone. Immediately I felt a little overwhelmed … the Nomada bees do look pretty similar to each other! Rather than trying to focus on each species at a time, I drew up a shortlist of potential species, casting aside species that I decided against – too much yellow on the abdomen, stripes on the thorax and other such characteristics.

I ended up with a shortlist of 6 potential species, and I turned to a more detailed, and wonderful, book (Falk – Field Guide to Bees of Great Britain and Ireland) to examine each of these species in turn. I slowly read through each description, flicking back to the anatomy page when confronted with technical terms (tergites, labrum, pronatal tubercules), crossing the species off if the description didn’t match the photograph in front of me.

In the end, I was left with one, Nomada ferruginata also known as the Yellow-shouldered Nomad Bee. The technical bits in the description matched up:  the pronatal tubercules were yellow (i.e. small yellow circular lump on the thorax), there were yellow spots on the tergites 2 and 5 (i.e. the yellow spots on different sections of the abdomen) and the antennal scapes were black (i.e. the first section of the antennae, closest to the head).

Nomada ferruginata ID features

I posted my thoughts on the UK Bees, Wasps and Ants Facebook group and on Twitter, and received confirmation that my ID is correct! Having looked on the NBN gateway, I can see that it is not a new species to Cambridgeshire, but it may be a new species for Cambourne. I shall dig further and find out.

Having identified the bee as N.ferruginata, I did some reading about it. Bees in the Nomada genus are commonly referred to as Nomads or ‘homeless bees’. This particular species seems to be quite a rare bee, listed as endangered in the Red Data Book but this probably needs to be revised. It is either being identified correctly more often, or actually experiencing a population increase with more records the last couple of decades (a new species for Worcestershire in 2008). It is a cleptoparasite on another solitary bee species, Andrena praecox, although one website refers a source that suggests that A.varians might also be a host species. A.praecox also seems to be quite a rare species as apparently the females are very dependent on willow catkins.

In conclusion – what I have learnt from the Nomad ID?

  • That not all wicked-looking Hymenoptera are ichneumon wasps.
  • That it is worth taking notice of the small, quiet insects that aren’t buzzing or fluttering about.
  • That some Nomada species can be identified from photos only, but only if photos are taken from lots of angles (I could have done with more angles). However, not all of them are as there can be some slight differences that require closer examination.
  • That a good field guide can make all the difference. Whilst my general insects book (Brock) led me to the correct group, the bee book (Falk) provided the technical expertise to narrow it down to the exact species.
  • That it is worth pursuing identification and I shouldn’t give up on species identification just because it looks difficult! I.e. I should be more confident in myself and my ability to work through the process of identification.

An Interesting Duo

Two exciting events occurred this week – well, in terms of nature, overall, lots of exciting things happened!

I went off to visit a reserve that I had never been to before – Mynydd Ffoesidoes. It’s a difficult one to get to, it involves driving to the middle of nowhere, going through a gate, then driving even further into the middle of nowhere! The weather wasn’t great either. Whilst it wasn’t raining, or even drizzling, it was very overcast and ridiculously windy! However that did make it very atmospheric.

A word of advice, if you’re thinking of going to Mynydd Ffoesidoes or another remote reserve, take the directions with you!

Friday saw me in the big smoke (London) attending a conference on invertebrate conservation, jointly run by the Amateur Entomologist’s Society and the British Ecological Society. It was a great day with a good range of topics (who knew that springtails and soil biodiversity could be such an interesting topic!), with my favourite being Zoe Randle from Butterfly Conservation on their citizen science projects and what the data has been used for. Particularly fascinating for me because I love citizen science and I contribute to some of BC’s projects so it was good to hear what has resulted from them.

One thing I did note from the conference was that there was only one woman speaker – out of a possible 9 (including the chairman). Whilst this might not seem much, I am noticing a trend in all the conferences I’ve been at this year. There is either a low percentage of female speakers, or none at all! Maybe this could be seen as being picky, but I would like to see and hear from more female speakers – as a young woman working in conservation, it does feel a tiny bit tedious to constantly be wondering where the female speakers are. I know there are plenty of women working in conservation, and in good level jobs, so why aren’t they appearing at conferences? Is it that they just don’t want to? Is it selective bias by those inviting speakers? Or unconscious bias perhaps? Any way, I am hoping to see a greater proportion of female speakers at the next conference that I attend.

This reminds me of the discussion at the A Focus On Nature conference, which caused a bit of rift in the attendees. Personally, I feel that women are often under-represented at conferences and do face the usual workplace issues that come with being female. That’s not to say that men don’t have issues, such as paternity leave for example – we need more equality for both genders.


Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it saved the French wasp

I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in south-eastern France during early November (it’s nice having connections!). Although I spent much of the time working on ecology assignments or trying out new recipes, I still had the chance to see some wildlife.

The first species seen were a couple of small birds – blue tits, great tits, a dunnock. Although these are fairly common species at home, I was still happy enough to watch them on the bird feeder, flitting back and forth, with the occasional squabble against each other. What surprised me was another bird, similar size to the blue tit and certainly of the same family – a crested tit! Although fairly common across Europe, in the UK they are only resident in the pine forests of Scotland. This was my first time seeing a crested tit so I was fascinated. With an unusual facial pattern, and its black and white crest, it is a distinctive species.

Crested tit on the bird feeder

Crested tit on the bird feeder

I’m lacking in equipment currently, so I don’t have a moth trap or sweep net, but I don’t let such things stop me from finding some invertebrates. A couple of butterflies were loving the warm sunshine (as was I, since London had been much colder!), such as the Painted lady below.

Painted Lady butterfly

Painted Lady butterfly

On the calmer nights, the window was often besieged by moths drawn in by the light. I managed to identify some, such as the Crimson Speckled moth (U.pulchella). However, I couldn’t find all in my moth identification book. Upon conversing with someone in the know, I found out that whilst the UK and France do share many species, the total number of moth species present in France is about twice as many as are present in the UK. Crumbs! Therefore some of the moth species remain unidentified (only for now though, as I’m determined to find out whom they are!).

Crimson Speckled moth ... caught in a wine glass! Well, naturally, I was in France!

Crimson Speckled moth … caught in a wine glass! Well, naturally, I was in France!

Unknown moth species (again in a wine glass!), possibly Streak, C.legatella?

Unknown moth species (again in a wine glass!), possibly Streak, C.legatella?

The moths weren’t the only nocturnal creatures about, there were also two animals in the courtyard who were rustling the fallen leaves and were very pleased when it rained later in my stay. These mystery rustlers were two rather large toads! And by large, I mean amongst the largest wild toads I’ve come across (thus not including exotic toads in zoos).

Not so impressed to see me

Not so impressed to see me

A number of other invertebrates were also found in and around the house, from small swarms of ladybirds loving the open window, an interesting red bug investigating my shoe and a rather odd looking red insect found in the sink! A noteworthy insect would be the wasp I found partway through my stay there. It had managed to get itself trapped in a small bottle, drawn in by the remaining sweet drink. You may have read a previous blog post where I mentioned that I have had a rather traumatic experience with wasps. However, curiousity about its identification overcame my fear and I rescued the wasp. I’m sure glad I did as I managed to capture this photo as the wasp recovered from its ordeal. If you were wondering, it is a common wasp apparently (V.vulgaris).

Wasp! Still makes me shudder

Wasp! Still makes me shudder

In conclusion, I had a lovely time in France and got to see some new species which is always nice. Below are a couple more creatures I came across. And in case you were wondering, I got the ecology assignments back – 80% and 90%, whoo!

Another unknown moth species. I reckon it is one of the Carpets, maybe a Mallow or Marbled? But might be a non-English spp.

Another unknown moth species. I reckon it is one of the Carpets, maybe a Mallow or Dark Marbled? But might be a non-English spp. And again, in a wine glass!

Ooh, pretty!

Ooh, pretty!

Everyone loves a blue tit

Everyone loves a blue tit