Over the winter I have been attempting to learn how to identify all of the 270 British bees. So I was looking forward to early March when I could go and find and sketch the living insects. The beautiful Andrena clarkella is one of the earliest to emerge and is a specialist collector of willow pollen. This year I saw the first on 4th March at Bovey Heath.
The males can be seen patrolling the nesting area and also flying in a distinctive zig-zag fashion up the sunny sides of trees as they search for females. The larger females are mated soon after emerging and quickly set about digging burrows. In early March there were no willows flowering but the females found nectar on other flowers and dug their burrows in preparation of the flowering of the willows by mid- March.
The females are very distinctive with a chestnut top to the thorax with a black head and abdomen with orange hairs on their hind legs. They are quite furry and obviously well-adapted to cold spring days. The males are much slighter with pale powder puff faces. The males live just a few weeks but the females can survive for two months while they provision their nests. Later in the season the females can be seen flying in to the nesting area with yellow pollen loads attached to their hind legs.