On Saturday last, we attended part of the Annual Bee and Butterfly Recorders weekend held on the Belmullet Peninsula here in Co Mayo and organised by the National Biodiversity Data Centre with BirdWatch Ireland hosting.
Belmullet is a special place. It’s wild and windswept and much of it is surprisingly flat, which means the Atlantic winds just howl across it.
There are many treasures on the peninsula including Erris Head which I wrote about last year. But for the recorders weekend the habitat we were most interested in was Machair. Machair is a flat, specialised and rare, sandy habitat formed from windblown calcareous sands.
Looking for bees
Looking at the photo you may think that it is nothing special, but a closer inspection reveals a mass of flowers! And of course that is what the bees (and butterflies, but it was so windy they were out of sight) were there for.
We were looking, in particular, for the Great Yellow Bumblebee. I hadn’t seen this bumble before as it is now restricted to just a few areas on the west coast. The species is listed as endangered in Ireland. Well, we did see it! And while it may not quite live up to it’s name – it was indeed yellow (with a single black band), but ‘great’ – well pretty small really. Still it was amazing to see it.
Great Yellow Bumblebee
To make the day even better, we saw two other bumblebee species that I have not seen before. The Large Carder bee, a beautiful blond and ginger bee. And the Red-Shanked Carder bee, which is black with a red tail and red hairs (quite hard to see) on its hind legs. The Red-Shanked bee is also rare and listed as having a vulnerable conservation status. While the Large Carder is listed as near vulnerable.
Red-shanked carder bumblebee
Like all threatened species, it is important that we learn as much as we can about these species, so that proper conservation management strategies are put in place to ensure their survival. Dr Tomás Murray, Project Co-Ordinator, for the NBDC had earlier emphasised the importance of monitoring this species (and all bees and butterflies). Anyone interested in bees or butterflies can become involved in monitoring, for more information follow this link.
How to use a net to catch your bee
A bee in the hand – well make sure it is a drone before you do!
Safer – bee in tube!
I would like to express my gratitude to all dedicated professionals and amateurs involved. I learned so much on the day.