Mark Cocker

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Photo of the Month


Photo of the Month

A great new adventure began in 2012 when I acquired a little over five acres of neglected fen woodland on the banks of the River Yare. The intention over the next years is to upraise its wildlife community through practical work and with the support of others. Blackwater Blog is a way of recording these slow-won achievements and celebrating this glorious patch of wild Norfolk. It is also a place where I can dilate on something that engages me.


As the afternoon light fades at just 4.38 pm and the thermometer reads 7 degrees I'm guessing this will be the last invertebrate that I post this year. Winter is upon us. But what a surprise! I have a favourite bank of ivy that overtops the hedge on the lane just near the house and I always love to stop to investigate the insects nectaring on its blossom in the autumn sunlight. I have done several Guardian pieces on this spot and have loved ivy since I saw blackcaps feeding on late fruit in Greece in 1988. I realised then what an extraordinary upside-down plant it is: flowering in autumn, fruiting in winter. It supplies important food at difficult times.


As I stood there among the glorious wreath of insect drone, made by Eristalis hoverflies (bee mimics), two wasp species, several glorious hornets, the freshest red admiral I've seen this year, a solitary buff-tailed bumblebee and a plethora of flies including blue- and greenbottles, there - unmistakably - was an abundant but new bee species for the parish.


I sensed it was one of the difficult-to-identify Colletes species but the moment I opened the book there it was, Colletes hederae. How appopriate, the Ivy Bee. The real surprise was the fact that the species was only named for science in 1993 and recognised in the UK in 2001. Since then they have spread like wildfire ( as far north as north Wales; see the BWARS map) and my guess is that they were here earlier but, as so often happens in natural history, the thing was only recognised once we had a strong pre-existing search image. Testament to this process, no sooner did I find ivy bees nectaring on the ivy, I happened to glance down while walking round the lanes and found a breeding colony of them elsewhere. What to look for: a rather 'lazy', sluggish honey-bee-sized insect with five concentric cream-yellow or whitish hoops around the abdomen and a fuzz of golden hairs on the thorax and legs. Even its presence on ivy is acknowledged as a useful pointer.  

© Mark Cocker 2018



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