A sunny afternoon brought the bees to my garden in hordes today. They LOVE our cotoneaster. (Incidentally, moths do too, and if it stays calm I might chance my sanity at some moth-hunting tonight.)

A bee that was present today in good numbers, and which I noticed for the first time on Sunday, was the Early Bumblebee, Bombus pratorum.

Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) queen, 15 May 2012

The Early Bumblebee catches the nectar-filled cotoneaser flower

The above photo is a queen bee; the next one (which I took on Sunday) is the worker. All workers are female and those of this species, as you can see, often lack the yellow band on the abdomen that is present in queens.

Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) worker, 13 May 2012

Note the big cream-coloured pollen baskets on her hind tibiae

A pleasant surprise came in the form of three Honey Bees, Apis mellifera – up to now all I’ve had are hoverflies impersonating honeybees.

Honey Bee (Apis mellifera), 15 May 2012

The honey bees finally arrive

I think my favourite bees have to be the most yellow ones: the Garden (B. hortorum) and Heath (B. jonellus) Bumblebees. I thought I had Garden in the garden today but on closer inspection it had a yellow face and short head, which means Heath – the first I’ve noticed this year. Not only that, but it was a male bee, the first of any species for the year (no female bumblebee in Ireland has a yellow face, wich is how I knew it was a male).

This meant that it had no sting and so I was able to handle it (in order to see its face properly) without fear. I’m afraid I not only annoyed but exhausted it – when I released it it had to sit and drink nectar for a while to get its energy up before it could fly off. Thus immobilised, I was able to get a decent photo of it.

Heath Bumblebee (Bombus jonellus) male, 15 May 2012

This one was so nice I’ve uploaded a high-res photo. Click and behold.

Early Bumblebee, Honey Bee and Heath Bumblebee take my 2012 year list to 8