The ivy is flowering

Rear honey bee

WARNING – This post contains a heavy bee content.

I know only too well that not everyone is so besotted with bees as I am, so you are warned.

In fact, I am not sure I know myself what drives me to wait with baited breath in the hot sun beside a hedge of ivy. just because I want to catch a glimpse of Colletes hederae.


There are lots of honey bees and other insects, like the ladybird that catch my eye and I click out of restlessness.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Butterflies are just as much drawn to the nectar source as the bees, but they are not what I am looking for today.

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)
Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

The trouble is when I cannot see the bee I am looking for I get distracted by the other visitors.


I haven’t seen as many chafers this year but there is one on the ivy.  Click.

Bumble on Common Toadflax

The cute bumble on the toadflax gets her picture taken too!

Bee mimic

And I cannot help marvelling at the best bee mimic I have ever seen.  It only lacks a pair of long antenna to be just about spot on.

Male Coletes hederae

Just as I was wondering if I was missing them, I saw my first, and I think probably a male Colletes hederae with his long antenna.

Female Colletes hederae

And there are more, a female this time with plenty of pollen on her hind legs.  They do not fly until late summer and should stay around into October. They gather pollen mainly from ivy which seems an odd strategy but as it is late flowering they will have less competition from other solitary bees (but not from honey bees) and perhaps less problems with parasites.  They are ground nesting bees, digging tunnels often in large groups.  I have never found a site near me but there must be one around as there is plenty of ivy.

I am delighted to see them again and I won’t be passing any ivy now on our walks without checking it out.  I don’t understand why it gives me a thrill to find them, but it does.

Female colletes hederae on ivy

It is worth the wait to see them again, even though my nearest and dearest find it all rather strange.

49 thoughts on “The ivy is flowering

  1. Doesn’t seem too bee heavy to me…
    very handsome bee with those markings.
    A lot of people keep their ivy too well cropped for it to flower….
    prefering the leaf shape instead…
    not realising how important this late source of nectar and pollen is….
    this post redresses the balance.


    1. I must confess I try to keep the garden ivy free because it grows so strongly here and would soon choke everything. I do not feel I am depriving the wildlife,though, as so much grows in the woods nearby. Amelia


    1. Our days are still warm and sunny but the night temperatures are considerably lower. There are a lot less bees but the butterflies are remarkably resilient and there are still lots in the sunshine. Amelia


  2. Perhaps these days we have a better understanding of our fragile eco-system and that everything has its purpose – especially insects like bees. Though I confess that still have no time for mosquitoes and earwigs….


  3. solarbeez

    No apology should be needed to talk about bees! “We can live without honey, but not without bees,” someone famous said.:) I’m glad to see the ivy blooming (yours is about a month ahead of ours) because the bees need something around this time of year.
    You mentioned a while back that Michel (I think) was going to help you get started with beekeeping. How exciting! Will you be using a Warre hive? I think Abbe Warre was a Frenchman. When will you be starting? I’ll be expecting to see more “bee loaded” posts then. 🙂


    1. Michel has a problem with his back just now but when he is better I want him to come and see where we can site it. There is a small river at the bottom of the garden and the plot is narrower than long. I don’t want it too near the house as both my husband and married daughter are allergic to bee stings. The first hurdle will be finding a safe spot. I would like one that looked nice. Michel has found the wooden ones and the plastic ones just as good. Amelia


  4. Great post – I saw that Speckled Wood butterfly all the time when I was in France recently, but I didn’t know what it was, so thanks for that. It was interesting to read about the Colletes hederae. I Googled it to find out if it could be found here in Scotland. Apparently it only appeared in the southern UK in 2001 so I think it is unlikely – still I am going to check the ivy just in case.


  5. You’ve reminded me I must check our ivy for C. hederae. You know of course that the bulk of visitors to ivy (50%) are flies (my real interest and just as challenging as the bees). I’ve written a blog post called Dining at the Ivy which I’ve scheduled for when the ivy starts here, to show the diversity of flies that come.


    1. I did notice the diversity of flies on the ivy, some really amazing ones I never see anywhere else. My problem with flies is their diversity – I find it mind blowing. If you get a good bee wing shot and a few details you can get to a genus level and perhaps a few likely species. With flies there are just too many out there. I’ll be posting a blog soon you might be able to help me with. Amelia


    1. Ivy is beautiful but it is a case of “not in my back yard” for me. I just could not cope with it here in the garden. It is enough for me to manage ripping out what creeps in and what the birds drop. Some of the woods here look barren on the ground as the ivy has choked out all the ground vegetation in the shade. Amelia


  6. Bees are a whole new field for me to explore, Amelia. I saw a bumblebee the other day which was very different from the ‘normal’ ones. But I have no idea what it was. You’ve thrown down a gauntlet! Dave


    1. Bumble bees are very difficult to identify apart from one or two common ones. They are such lovely bees I am going to try harder next year. Do you think your bumble could have been a tree bumble bee? They came to England in 2001 and are gaining more and more ground. They are quite common in Surrey and in urban areas but less so in rural districts. You might also have seen a new queen and they are much bigger than their workers. Amelia


  7. Fascinating! I have been lurking by clumps of flowering ivy here in Devon with my camera and so far I have seen flies, wasps, honeybees and butterflies but no ivy bees. The locals think I am barmy and one of them even asked me “are you alright?” I think she thought I was watching her house. Philip


    1. The best places to take photographs is if the ivy is growing over hedges or other growth, as once it gets up to the top of trees it is out of eyesight and camera reach. However, in the UK I can imagine people staring into bushes are viewed with great suspicion. We are well known around here as the strange people who like walking and they do not even stop their tractors any more when they see me lying prostrate by the side of the road. Amelia


    1. Thank you. You can often hear or smell the ivy blossom before you see it if it is high in the trees. The bees and more are attracted to it and you can hear the buzzing of the bees. The perfume is very strong too but it is strange and not the usual floral perfume, you might not have realised it was ivy. I admire the ivy outside the garden, inside it can become rampant and uncontrollable for me. Amelia


    1. It is really worth watching the ivy when it is flowering, there is a lot more in it than bees. The Colletes hederae are a very similar size to honey bees and seen from a distance are easily confused. The close-up photographs show up the differences more clearly. Remember, honey bees have hairy eyes. Amelia


  8. I understand completely. Some time ago I stumbled on a ground bee nest in a copse near my home. I was delighted. My family have given up on coming for walks with me because of all the photo stops.


    1. I think taking photographs teaches you to look at things and it makes you see more, so that is worth the inconvenience of the photostops. It is thrilling to find a wild bee nest. If you remember where it was it is likely to re-appear at the same time the following year. Amelia


  9. Pingback: We see our first Ivy Bees! | Philip Strange Science and Nature Writing

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