Nature notes – Bumblebees and blossom

A buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) feeding on blackthorn blossom (Prunus spinosa) in the Beddington Farmlands nature reserve in Sutton, London.

28 February 2021 – Beddington Farmlands, London

Spring continues to shake Beddington Farmlands’ wildlife and trees awake. Gangs of magpies chuckle at me as I walk through the wetland on a warm, bright evening. A pair of juvenile long-tailed tits, scruffy and humbug-striped, dash across the path at head height, barely a meter from me, before settling on a sycamore twig and resting for a moment. I rest too, the better to enjoy spring’s redecoration of the wetland.

The landscape has changed a lot in a short time, as rising warmth encourages crocuses, daffodils, snowdrops and tree blossom to paint the Farmlands in bright new colours. The wetlands’ blackthorn bushes look especially impressive – clouds of white blossom dotted with buff-tailed bumblebees. Drunk on scent and dusted with pollen, the bumblebees drift from limb to limb, pausing to drink their fill. There’s focus and hard work in the bees’ patient foraging; even so, the lazy pace with which they float from one twig to the next feels on a par with the evening’s quiet and warmth.

Only after a full year of paying close attention to the changes in the Farmlands can I really detect the ticking of a seasonal clock here. It marks the changing months with blossom and leaves, swifts and swallows, dragonflies and bees. Spring is an especially intense season, and demands my full attention as I watch the bumblebees dancing on the blackthorn – but I find myself thinking ahead to swift-laden summer skies and kestrels camouflaged in autumn treetops. Winter, too, has its charms: many of the blackthorn flowers that bob in the late evening breeze will grow into tart dark sloes, destined for my winter brandy. This, I realise, is thanks to the bumblebees’ pollinating feast. Today has its echo late in the year.

This Christmas, I think I’ll raise a glass to the bees. For now, it’s enough to watch them at work as the sun begins to set.

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