Saturday 21 October 2017

French Honey bee swarm in August - too late to survive?

Honeybee swarms that issue from colonies that live in hollow trees, cavities in stone walls, roof spaces and such like are always of interest to me as they have invariably developed the ability to survive without all the treatments and manipulations that beekeepers generally use and to my mind these are the survivor bees we need for the future.

This little piece is about one such swarm…….

To my surprise I was called to a bee swarm on the 18th August this year which is extremely late in the season but these things do happen and after asking the caller a few questions to verify it really was a swarm of bees I prepared a ruchette, (which is a small hive or nuc box in English), popped it in the car and set off.

Sure enough, when I arrived there was the small swarm clustered close to the ground attached to an Oleander shrub about 20 metres from the persons’ house where it had come from. Remarkably the roof of the house has three separate bee colonies in it, one on each eave and one in the ridge and they have apparently been there for several years which goes some way to disproving the widely held view that left to themselves honey bees won’t nest close together – these are no more than 6 or 7 metres apart in total.

Click photos to enlarge

A small swarm at that time of year will almost certainly be a swarm that the colony has produced in addition to its main or prime swarm that will have been larger and earlier in the year. The conventional wisdom is that secondary swarms or after-swarms are issued in the first week or so following the prime swarm and contain a virgin Queen and although normally the first virgin Queen to hatch will kill the others in their cells before they hatch this isn’t always the case and exceptionally over a period of some weeks there could possibly be a 3rd, 4th or even 5th swarm all lead by a Virgin Queen if the issuing colony is severely restricted for space or genetically inclined to swarm which can apparently be the case. There are other reasons put forward for after-swarms but that isn’t really important here as this particular very small swarm had a mated Queen and didn’t issue until the 18th August, (April – June being the normal time period for swarming here).

Housing the swarm in the Ruchette was easy with a little persuasion following which I took them back to my place.

Next there is the tricky matter of giving them a fighting chance of becoming a viable colony at this late stage of the year, something they would be unlikely to have without help. When a swarm moves into its new home it has nothing, no comb, no stores and no brood. This is a period when the bees must work hard and fast in constructing comb, fetch both nectar and pollen to enable the raising of new bees. Even if conditions are good it will be nearly 4 weeks before there will be any new bees during which time the size of the colony will be diminishing as bees die. In this case that would take us to the middle of September when the season is more or less finished apart from Ivy, a few garden flowers and perhaps some flowering cover crops / green manures, phacelia, mustard, fodder radish being the most widely grown, certainly not enough for so few bees to provide themselves with winter stores.

With this in mind the following morning I immediately put a top feeder on with syrup and continued keeping it topped up every day until the beginning of October when I started giving them slightly diluted honey using a simple modification to the inner cap of the feeder by drilling some holes in it to make the honey available to the bees.

All this feeding has given the bees the ability to increase their colony size and bring the ruchette up to winter weight with stores of honey before the end of October. All I can do now hope that they will get through the winter, especially as they are from an unmanaged colony which as I mentioned at the outset tend to have good survival traits.  

Fingers crossed, Chris

Hawk moths in France - a simple guide

In the UK the Sphingidae family of moths are commonly called Hawk moths and in France they all use the word Sphinx as part of their common name.

The simple list that is linked gives their names in English, Latin and French, the caterpillar food plant, annual generations and migratory status, (if any), and a link to photos & distribution for each species on Lepinet.


Sunday 2 July 2017

Owls in France - List of names

In France there are 9 species of Owl and unlike the UK they have a name prefix that divides owls with visible ear tufts from those without visible ear tufts. 

It seems even most French people are unaware of this as they only learn the name and not the reason why. Most of these owls have other popular names including many of which that are local. 

Full list with names in French - Latin - English can be found here in PDF format you can save.


Thursday 23 March 2017

Spring bees in France - solitary and bumble

Living where we do it's highly unlikely that I will see anything but the most common species of either solitary bees or bumble bees and even those are under increasing pressure as almost all the available land surface is constantly plowed for the production of cereals and crops for the animal feed industry. It's mainly the ground nesting species that are suffering although increasingly people also spray insecticides on the solitary species that nest in the outside walls of their houses or block the tiny holes and spaces they use. Many people also spray ground nesting bees in their gardens but I'm sure in most cases this isn't malicious but simply because people don't know what they are or the important role they play in our environment.

Of course even the common species are a joy to me and I see a reasonably large number at our place. Here are a few I've managed to spot so far this spring which given the rather poor weather it isn't too bad. 

Click on or tap photos to enlarge.

Male Andrena fulva, Tawny mining bee, not managed to get a decent photo of a female yet, perhaps when the rain stops.
Solitary bee - Tawny mining bee France
Female Andrena haemorrhoa, Early or Red tailed mining bee. Females of this species are easily identified by the combination of a foxy brown thorax and foxy brown tip to the tail.
Female red tailed mining bee France solitary species.
Female Andrena nitida, Grey patched mining-bee.
Solitary bee France Andrena nitida female
Andrena gravida, Banded or white bellied mining bee. Probably a female judging by size alone and what a stunningly pretty bee. 
Solitary bee Andrena gravida France
Male Andrena cineraria,  Ashy mining bee. A species that may be benefiting from the extensive cultivation of Oil seed rape in the region, (or in much of France), as only takes pollen from certain Cruciferous plants, (mustards, rapes, charlocks etc).
Solitary bee  Andrena cineraria France
The above Ashy mining bee was found about 20cm, (8 inches), from this Nomada lathburiana, Lathbury's Nomad which is a "cuckoo bee" or cleptoparasite for the Ashy mining bee. The Nomada female detects incomplete host cells which are still open and being provided with food and places her egg in it. When the Nomada hatches it will destroy the egg or the larva of the Andrena species and consume the provisions. 
Solitary cuckoo bee France

Male Anthophora plumipesHairy footed flower bee having a few moments rest from feeding and trying to defend a patch of violets from other males. Haven't seen any females yet this year. 

Male hairy footed flower bee France
Queen Bombus pratorum,  Early bumblebee or early-nesting bumblebee.
Bombus pratorum France
Xylocopa violacea, Carpenter bee. Always plenty of these here, (just let one out of the house that came down the chimney). A docile bee that frightens some people that don't know what they are. 
Xylocopa violacea France

Now when is that rain going to stop so I can go outside and get on with the garden, (and play).


Monday 30 January 2017

Pine processionary moth and Napoleon 3rd of France

So now it's warmed up a bit following that rather nasty period of cold weather there are the inevitable sightings of Pine processionary moth, Thaumetopoea pityocampa, caterpillars and all the usual corresponding scare comments that we, our children, our dogs, cats and horses will all die if they so much as get near them and that the vets and hospitals all over France will be unable to cope. Let's face it there is nothing like a bit of shock and horror to lighten up our dull winter days.

Of course this is not to say that the caterpillars can't be a problem and that due diligence is required when walking anywhere near Pine trees, equally that logic would normally dictate that if you have a Pine tree in your garden and knowing this potential danger it may make sense to remove it - there are very few parts of France where they belong naturally. 200 years ago in most places you would have been hard pushed to find one in most areas and it is another example of how commercial / economic interests with the demand for softwoods and quick returns have changed both the landscape and the environment dramatically. We see a similar issue with Poplars being used in wetlands.
It was in fact Napoleon 3rd that in effect put in place the possibilities for this species of moth to spread across France with..
"la loi du 19 juin 1857, également appelée loi d'assainissement et de mise en culture des Landes de Gascogne, va encourager le drainage, la plantation de pins, le développement de l'économie sylvicole, tout en condamnant en l'espace d'une génération le système agro-pastoral"

which roughly translates as......

"The law of June 19, 1857, also called the law of sanitation and cultivation of the Landes de Gascogne, which will encourage the drainage, the planting of pine plantations and the development of an economy based on siviculture, while at the same time condemning in the space of a generation the pastoral system, (of small sheep farming that was carried out on the wetlands)."

Since that time Les Landes has become a massive region for the production of pine and there are corresponding plantations all across France all heavily infested with this Pine processionary moth. This combined with garden planting and climate change has made this one of the most successful species we have in France today.

As a footnote, the sheep farmers on the mairais or marshes of that region at that time would spend their days watching their flocks on stilts, now that's something to think about.

Berger landais


Sunday 1 January 2017

Large creamy white grubs in French gardens - Stag beetle, Rose Chafer & Cock Chafer

People are always asking on Facebook and elsewhere what the large creamy white grubs or larvae are that they find in their gardens and hopefully this page goes some way to answering that without all the complications of seeing how they crawl. 

Go to the link:

Stag beetle, Rose Chafer & Cock Chafer


Monday 5 December 2016

Adders in the Réserve naturelle nationale de la vallée de Chaudefour, France

The Common Adder is not found in the warmer parts of France and is generally to only be found in the north and east. As such I thought this information about Adders in the Réserve naturelle nationale de la vallée de Chaudefour, France maybe of some interest. It certainly sounds like a great place to visit if nothing else.

The Vallée de Chaudefour is a glacial valley in the heart of the volcanic massif du Sancy in the Auvergne National Park with a unique range of species many of which are unique to mountain environments. It has no less than 976 species ranging from mammals such as chamois, mountain sheep and marmots to the Apollo butterfly, (Parnassius apollo), rock thrushes (Monticola saxatilis), and a population of Common Adders, (Vipera berus).

The Chaudefour Valley which is between 1137 and 1854 m above sea level has 820 ha of terraced landscape was classified as a National Nature Reserve in 1991. The syndicate of structures that manage the park together with the ONF, (Office National des Forêts), put in place a program that ran from 2011 to 2016 to record and document the adder population.

The inventory has been realised by Frederic Durand, of the Société d’histoire naturelle Alcide-d’Orbigny. The methodology consisted of field surveys with a systematic search and in all 248 Adders have been counted inside the reserve and 19 outside the reserve. They have all been identified, named with an individual tracking record. The colouring, the patterns of the head and arrangement of cephalic scales allow individual photographic recognition, rather like finger prints in humans.

The effective boundary between where the Asp Viper is to be found at lower altitudes and the Adder is directly on the boundary of the reserve where a hybrid pregnant female was found and is the third known case of such a hybridization identified in France.

In June of 2016, officers from the departmental ONCFS, (Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage), for the Puy-de-Dôme participated in a day of recognition where 1 Grass snake  and 19 Adders were measured, weighed and photographed.

The ONCFS officers were able to practice finding the vipers which can be hard to find, especially males, (females that bask on rocks to thermoregulate are usually easier). They also had the opportunity to handle the snakes and discuss the monitoring program with specialists, (sounds like a fun day out).

The implementation of this virtually unprecedented comprehensive monitoring program and the relatively large number of snakes detected where they were thought to be scarce is very interesting given that overall this species is rapidly becoming threatened in much of its range. In general the loss of habitat and fragmentation of the population elsewhere has pushed this species from the status of "least concern" to "vulnerable" category on the 2015 red list. 

Principle source ONCFS

Office National des Forêts  ONF

Réserve naturelle nationale de la vallée de Chaudefour HERE

Adders in France HERE

Cheers, Chris