Red-n-Black

In my garden, red-n-black doesn’t lack–in bird colors. It’s that time of year, when the colorful migratory birds wing through Texas and (lucky me!) some visit my garden.

In early April, I always see one or more Summer Tanagers, Piranga rubra, who show up to snack on honeybees and native bees. These scarlet hunters are adept at catching the bees on the wing as both birds and bees flit through the garden.

If you look closely at this striking adult male, you’ll see something in his beak–it’s a honeybee.

In this shot, you can see the wings of the bee meal, the red menace in the process of whacking the hapless bee against the branch, effectively killing the bee and making it easier for the tanager to remove the stinger. That’s probably a good idea, considering that the bird is going to have the bee in its beak and down its gullet.

The snack is ready for the eating! I was able to capture these shots because my poor Red oak trees are late in leafing out after the snow/ice storm in February and is lacking in leafy lushness.

In a more colorful photo, the gorgeous guy perches in the freeze damaged, but partially foliaged, Mountain Laurel.

No meal is complete without a complementary aperitif, and what better drink to go with honeybee meal than pond water?

Or, perhaps it was just time to take a bath!

The brief April visits from this species is typically in the form of adult females and juvenile males, who are just as beautiful as this year’s male: golden feathers for the female and splotchy red and yellow for the youngster. Mr. Male was only here for a matter of minutes; I hope more of these tanager treats show up in my garden.

Another annual spring migratory visitor are Red-winged Blackbirds, Agelaius phoeniceus. I have a tough time catching these stunning birds as they’re quick with their seed and peanut eating, plus they fly off at the slightest movement. I was lucky to snap a photo of this handsome chap as he enjoyed a sip at the bar.

The male Red-winged Blackbird is a velvety, deep black, with underwing highlights of deep red and rich yellow. Their underwing colors are more visible when the bird is in flight, but significantly more challenging to photograph. But I’m content with this capture of his profile of midnight black, with bits of cheery color, and bright eye to complete the bird package.

Bird stories, garden stories–get your fill by popping over to Anna at Wednesday Vignette. Happy reading!

Morning Stretches

Enjoying the garden and its gifts has taken a bit of a backseat this spring as massive pruning after Snowpocalypse is ongoing and sometimes overwhelming. I’m nearing the end of the cleanup of my garden, but there is always more to do. Yesterday, instead of sawing, clipping, and composting, I spent some time rambling through my gardens, stretching my legs, camera in hand, at the ready. In the hullabaloo of chores, I haven’t focused on appreciating the resilience of plants as they’re bursting forward with spring growth, or spent time admiring the determination of honeybees as they gather for their hive.

This honeybee, pollen pantaloons (prosaically: corbiculae or pollen baskets) in full, golden glory, focuses her attention on a cluster of Giant spiderwort, Tradescantia gigantea. As I observed and clicked, she zoomed in, proboscis forward, to sip the succulent nectar from the sweet bloom.

Bums up! Soon, she leaned in to the depth of the flower. Is there more in there??

After nosing around a bit, she climbed out, those pantaloons even heavier with pollen.

Having worked one bloom, she headed to a neighbor, repeating her efforts.

It’s been an interesting month, this March 2021. I’m pleased that my garden has mostly rebounded (still waiting for you, oak trees!) but there was little time between the frozen, snowcapped devastation and the onslaught of spring growth to catch a gardener’s breath. Garden critters haven’t missed a beat, though. Their concerns are survival–food, cover, procreation–and so they remain active and in shape for their daily duties.

Joining with Anna today and Wednesday Vignette. Check out garden stories for this last day of March and happy pruning and garden watching!

Scar No More

Bee Daddy and I have hosted honeybees in our garden since April 2014. Our first two hives, the Warre hives Scar and Mufasa, provided sweet honey, pollinator entertainment, and a foundation of education about honeybees’ life cycles and quirky bee habits. I should add that honeybee education is on-going; those critters always present new and interesting issues which challenge their human colleagues. We lost Mufasa to a varroa mite infestation in December 2015, which you can read about here.

Scar continued honeybee life with little interference from its human admirers. The Warre hives were always difficult to maintenance, so we mostly let Scar be. If it was honey-bound, we’d take some to open up space for the bees to continue their obsessive honey-making, but otherwise we left it alone and busy with its bee goings-on.

In autumn I recognized that Scar was declining and I figured that if we enjoyed a typically mild winter, Scar would either rebound in spring, or not. What I didn’t expect was the week-long freeze, accompanied by a half-foot of snow with attending ice, and a couple of nights single-digit temperatures–snowpocalypse.

Poor Scar. It was so weak and had so few bees to keep itself warm, that during the frigid temperatures the remaining bees froze.

When we opened our two hives for the first check of the season a few weeks ago, all of Scar’s honeybees were dead. Huddled in between frames, clustered together on honeycomb, and dropped to the bottom of the hive–all of Scar’s bees were dead.

As sad as the sight was, for both Bee Daddy and myself, the most poignant was the clusters of adult honeybees over the brood, some capped, some uncapped. Even in their last moments, they were protecting the next generation.

In the photo below and toward the bottom right, you can see some bees with their faces at the opening of the cell. Those are emerging, newly adult bees. The rest of the reddish covering on the honeycomb cells are capped brood.

In this photo you can see adult nurse bees, bums up and visible, as they nurture the larvae in the individual cells. Looking carefully, you’ll notice milky coloring in some of the cells. Several show just a dab of milky coloring, while in others, the milky bit is more pronounced. Those are honeybee larvae.

We’ve taken what little honey there was, only netting about two quarts. With Warre hives, we must crush the comb for the honey to drip and it’s impossible to get all the honey. We have four containers with crushed comb and honey which we’ll lay out for the bees at a later date, when there is a dearth of blooms. The bees from our other hive(s) will slurp the honey, creating their own with it, and continue their hives’ lives.

We’ll remember Scar as a remarkably sweet little hive of bees. We almost (almost!) didn’t need smoke to calm them, they were so easy to work around.

Our remaining Langstroth hive, Woody, is full-to-bursting and very active. We’ll soon remove some frames of honey, as they had so much left over after winter. Woody is so full, I expect a swarm at some point and that’s normal spring behavior and just fine: more bees out in the world! We’ll also be getting another “package” of honeybees, a queen and 10,000 workers, in late April, brining us back to our two hives standard.

Just like everything else, death is a part of beekeeping. It’s always sad to lose a hive, but it is part of beekeeping.