Watch the flower
Wool Carder Bee females are likely to be spotted shaving Lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) hairs or feeding on the flowers. Megachile willughbiella loves cranesbills, campanulas and everlasting peas. Anthophora plumipes is strongly attracted to Lungwort and Comfrey. It also works the other way round: some plants are visited only by a reduced number of species: only a handful of garden species will visit foxgloves or honeysuckle.
Pay attention to detail
A large male bee patrolling campanulas is probably a leafcutter bee, Megachile willughbiella. To make sure, follow him as he flies, as he will settle regularly in a sunny, exposed place after bouts of patrolling (below).
A little bee flying from leaf to leaf, settles and walks sideways along the edge of the leaf briefly, like she is checking it, flies to the next leaf and then starts cutting an oval shape piece with her jaws.
Just finishing cutting the piece. Note that the same leaf has two other cut pieces.
In this shot you can see how she is holding the rolled piece of leaf with her legs and jaws
Spot the bully
I watched the first Wool Carder Bees of the year a couple of days ago in the local wildlife garden. Two males patrolling and feeding in a patch of Betony.
Watch how the bee feeds on a flower. Leaf cutters (Megachile species) carry their abdomen tilted up, especially females, and rotate on the flower collecting pollen (see top shot). Look under their abdomen, you will see a broad brush of hairs. The color of the brush can help identify the species. They collect pollen on their rear legs and transfer it to the brush as they move over the flower. Megachille willughbiella females have a red and black brush, while M. centuncularis have an all golden one. Note that the hair color can be obscured by the pollen! This little video I took earlier today shows how she collects pollen on knapweed, a current favourite plant for bees in the garden.
Don't forget the little ones
Many bee species are small, you might have taken them for small flies in the past, but now that you are watching flowers up close you start to notice them. These two photos show flower preferences in two small Osmia species, which I only found in the garden this year. How could I have missed them before?
Osmia caerulescens, the Blue Mason Bee, likes labiates like French Lavender, Sage or hedge Wouldwort
Osmia leaiana loves KnapweedsWatch the seasons
Solitary Bees fly during relatively narrow periods, maybe two or three months in the species that have a single generation per year, so the time of year is often informative. Anthophora plumipes flies from March to early June, whereas Anthophora furcata has a short flying season in June and July.
There is so much to learn
As you become a beewatcher, you will develop a thirst for learning about the lives of these little critters that share your garden. For some of the species there is little information available, even common species have structures or behaviours that still remain enigmatic (what is the purpose of Megachile willugbiella boxing gloves or Anthophora plumipes hairy legs? why are the scopas of bees different colours, do they provide information to other bees, maybe when mating?). There are some resouces that I treasure, like my Bees of Surrey book by David Baldcock, or the BWARS site, and various bee identification forums, but as these are mainly concerned by identification and recording, I still want a beewatchers field guide.