Dancing With Bees: A Journey Back To Nature is an extremely readable natural history non-fiction book.
Written by Brigit Strawbridge Howard, this is her wildlife journey with British bees. I was very surprised to learn that there are ‘at least twenty thousand different species of bee’ on this planet. Of those only 9 are honey bees and 250 are bumblebees, the rest belong roughly to two other groups, sting-less bees and solitary bees, but all are important pollinators.
Brigit briefly talks about the large scale commercial beekeeping in North America and questions the wisdom of transporting bees thousands of miles, for various reasons. It certainly opened my eyes and I was intrigued by the alternatives of wild beekeeping.
The largest part of Brigit’s book is taken up with her study of bumblebees and solitary bees with a few interesting characters thrown into the mix. From her allotment and her walks mainly around the Shaftsbury area of Dorset, she talks about the habitats and flowers which each species like, followed by wonderful descriptions about the bees that she spots. There’s also information about their mating and breeding habits.
Everything that I read made me very excited about spring. I want to be more aware of the bees that visit my garden. Some of their names were fun; who wouldn’t want to see a hairy-footed flower bee? Or the handsome ‘moustachioed’ male of this species. I also enjoyed travelling with Brigit to the Outer Hebrides in search of the great yellow bumblebee, a rare species whose habitat is declining. The islands are now on my bucket list of places to visit, particularly to see the wild flora known as the machair.
Brigit also talks about cuckoo bees; as the cuckoo bird lays its egg in the nest of another unsuspecting bird, so does the cuckoo bee. Each variety is associated with a specific variety of host bee which it often tries to imitate. I had never heard of cuckoo bees.
Finally I must mention the clever heath potter wasp which creates a small clay pot and attaches it to the stem of Heather. The female fills it with food for her future young and lays a single egg inside before sealing the jar and then moves on to make another; it was just amazing to read about.
I discovered this book while browsing the internet; the title and book cover appealed but I could never guess at the wonderful detail inside. I am now an even bigger bee lover after reading this, I can’t recommend it enough, especially to nature enthusiasts.
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A naturalist’s passionate dive into the world of bees of all stripes–what she has learned about them, and what we can learn from them.
Brigit Strawbridge Howard was shocked the day she realised she knew more about the French Revolution than she did about her native trees. And birds. And wildflowers. And bees. The thought stopped her quite literally in her tracks. But that day was also the start of a journey, one filled with silver birches and hairy-footed flower bees, skylarks, and rosebay willow herb, and the joy that comes with deepening one’s relationship with place. Dancing with Bees is Strawbridge Howard’s charming and eloquent account of a return to noticing, to rediscovering a perspective on the world that had somehow been lost to her for decades and to reconnecting with the natural world. With special care and attention to the plight of pollinators, including honeybees, bumblebees, and solitary bees, and what we can do to help them, Strawbridge Howard shares fascinating details of the lives of flora and fauna that have filled her days with ever-increasing wonder and delight.
On January 17th I heard buzzing! Here is a photo of a Buff-tailed bumblebee which I chased around my Mahonia bush so that I could get a picture of my first bumblebee of the year.