White hair and bald patches

Something unusual is happening in my nest box. Last year, wrens nested there, and I was able to watch their comings and goings. I was hopeful for another bird this year, maybe I would see a robin.

This year, though, the nest box is full of bumble bees. Early in the year I saw one bee coming and going. This was the queen and she had chosen my bird box. It was here she laid her eggs, fed the hatching larvae and kept them warm. When the female workers were fully developed, they took over her job of foraging and she carried on laying eggs.

I wasn’t bothered, at first, because the bees were not too evident. I could see them on our cotoneaster flowers, when I sat on our swing seat, nearby. I watched them going in, with pollen and nectar, through a hole that the wren popped in last year.

But now that we are in June, strange things can be seen. For a start, there are a lot more bees coming and going. The box faces east and as soon as the morning sun heats up the box, there they are, rushing backwards and forwards, until it rains or until nightfall. It’s slightly unnerving to sit on my swing seat at night and hear the loud buzzing coming from the box. There must be hundreds in there.

Then something even more strange has happened. The male bumbles are dancing outside the box. All day long, there they are in a never-ending jig, facing the entrance. They are waiting for the newly hatched virgin queens to come out. I have seen one emerge and it was hotly pursued by an eagerly dancing male.

These are tree bees, they arrived on our south coast about 18 years ago. They do no harm and are not aggressive and even the alarming swarms of males are innocuous because they have no sting.

You can easily identify a tree bee – it has a bald patch on the back of its head and a white hairy bottom (even though it is not old).