Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The birds and the bees

click photo to enlarge
Think of the word "habitat" in the context of the UK and you picture either Terence Conran's furnishing store or the manifold wild places, the mountain tops, moorland, forests and woods, meadows, sea cliffs, lakes, saltmarsh, chalk downs, farmland, and so on. What doesn't immediately spring to mind are the suburban gardens, so lovingly tended by their owners, that ring our cities and large towns. Yet, in terms of our bird population, this is one of the most important and productive habitats of these islands. Many of the birds that are declining on farmland due to the intensification of agriculture are finding a home there, as are birds that previously lived in woodland and its fringes. Whilst it is true that some species such as the house sparrow and starling are declining, even in towns and cities, the green woodpecker, dunnock, long-tailed tits, carrion crow and sparrow hawk are typical of those increasing in numbers because of the richness of these urban oases.

Today comes the news that suburban gardeners may also be the people who slow, halt or reverse the downturn in our bee population. The varroa mite caused a decline of 30% in the national honey bee population last year, and this year the percentage drop looks to be in the high teens or low twenties. However, there has been a big increase in the number of suburban gardeners buying hives in order to make honey. They account for most of the recent 3,000 increase in the membership of the British Beekeepers' Association which now stands at 14,500. A new, plastic beehive, and the promotion of the hobby by its manufacturer, has also played its part. Who knows, if this trend continues, perhaps that most colourful of birds, the bee-eater (Merops apiaster) will start to make more than its presnt handful of appearances in our country!

Today's photograph shows one of the many bees that are currently buzzing around my lavender. As I got closer than usual to take my photograph I was surprised to see the variety in the appearance of the bees in my garden, and made a mental note to find out more about this interesting insect.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 150mm (300mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On