We Don’t Know …

Back in the 1960s (if memory serves I could look … and, yes, dammit, I know I could probably look it up on the all-wise internettage but what the hell ?)

And, anyway that simple act would cause me to – entirely – lose my thread (“do you have something you wish to share with the rest of the class as any of my many teachers would have asked those grinning-wryly readers at this point. “No? I thought not!”

In the eager-beaver way of my rural youth I imagined all kinds of adventures on nearby Cannock Chase. Here was the Forestry Commission becoming public minded: involving said public, serving the public, allowing the public access to their land for the first time … indeed, actively encouraging participation. They had been engaged, their publicity machine said, in putting up nest boxes, bat boxes, trail markers and what-all else. So I was keen to be one of the first explorers of Forestry Commission wildlife trails ever; me, with my practical knowledge and my I-Spy badges for identification (not really but I saved the cards!)

Deer, red? Tick.

Deer, fallow: check.

Woodpeckers, green: yessir.

And I remember seeing what I thought – at the time – was a misguided (dying?) fat-assed bumble bee disappearing into a hole in the ground and asking why it wasn’t going home to a hive … Now I cannot remember whether I actually asked this question out loud, but I do definitely remember not getting an answer.

Cut to May, 2017.

Deer, once shy creatures rarely glimpsed on Cannock Chase are now, seemingly beyond control (if not yet beyond counting). They have been glimpsed in Walsall Town Centre and are residents now in the agricultural land around my mom’s house. Indeed last night she rang and informed me there had been a muntjac on the back lawn – first actual sighting down there but, of course, they must have been around for decades (shy etc.)

In our own garden, which I try to manage as wildlife friendly, we have, among other features, umpteen nest boxes for birds (the one placed high in the lime has blue tits present, the one on the house wall has, appropriately, house sparrows. Disappointingly the swallow decoy boxes have never been occupied. The purpose, I believe is to make other hirondelles think previous generations have built there, so encouraging new nests. Not so far, but I live in hope (also a small town in Texas).

There is a more ancient box by a Salix vitellina next to the packed-with-seedlings, lean-to cold-frame and, for a while it seemed a pair of robins were moving in. Clearly they had a change of mind and tried again in the wood pile.


About a week ago, strolling by, I noticed the moss, leaf skeletons and blades of dried grass seemed to have been rearranged; so, next time I wobbled down that way en route to shed I took a circumspect – but closer – look. And was surprised to find a trio of bumble bees marching around all over the surface of the material.

It seems they have taken over the site; after all, they weren’t to know I’d built the thing as an open fronted bird’s nest box were they? And I am pleased – and reminded about that little moment all of those years ago on Forestry Commission land.

Bumble bees are regular visitors to the garden, entertaining with their ought-to-be-impossible manoeuvres, that reassuringly deep buzzing flight and clownish ways of collecting nectar and pollen. Bumblebees are larger and hairier than their honey bee relatives. This means they can be about when the temperature is lower. This is, however important because they do not manage to build up a big stock of food in their smaller nests. They literally have to go out and forage – or starve. For this reason gardens (hopefully) like ours with a steady supply of nectar rich flowers and blossom are a god-send for bumbles.

In return – and at the same time – they are important pollinators of our crops. The nest, started by an overwintering queen, may not survive longer than a few months (depending on the vigour of the queen, the weather, predation and – I guess – luck, so I take the opportunity to take a peek every now and then, absorbed by the simple pleasure, taken by the energy and altruistic activity I observe.

Often there are two or three, walking about on the top of the pile, which doesn’t seem to have been added to, and, after a while, one will stir its wings and hover gently away. In my mind something like a Chris Voss version of a Chinook leaving on a mission.

Chris Foss (5)

And my mind is taken back to that naïve query on the edge of a forest car park. We never know what we don’t know do we?

*Much more useful and interested information on bumble bees at this site



One response to this post.

  1. Great to have made a nice nest for bumblebees 🙂


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