The Newest Buzz: Bee Mama Missives

At the beginning of 2018, I wrote about the de-bugging of Buzz, our Langstroth beehive who met its end late last summer.  Buzz lost its queen in spring of 2017 (who knows what happened?) and we were never able to successfully requeen the hive (we tried, we really tried!).  The hive declined because there was no mated queen replenishing the population of workers and once the hive reached a weak enough tipping point,  it was invaded by wax moths.

Yuck.

I cleaned Buzz in winter and in mid-April, two weeks before we left for a trip, we rehived our beloved Buzz.

A package of honeybees await release from their traveling cage. I wonder if they’re staring at their new home?

It’s a good idea to feed newly hived honeybees for the first month or so.  The feed is a 1:1 sugar/water mixture and helps the girls establish a solid beginning in their new home.  When we feed our bees (with a new hive, during a severe drought, or at the end of winter, before much is blooming) we use boardman feeders which are placed outside the hive, on the entrance board.

Buzz doesn’t need much sugar-water now, but I’m still supplementing a bit using a boardman feeder.  She has made such progress in comb-building, egg laying, and honey production, that we’ve recently added a second box. Go Buzz!

Our trip was couple of weeks long and we didn’t think that asking pet/house sitters to change the bees’ sugar water would be met with much enthusiasm.  It’s one thing to ask folks to care for cats and even an elderly dog, but honeybees?  The ones who sting when they’re annoyed? That’s a whole different ball of wax.

Instead, we opted to purchase an internal feeder which holds about two gallons of sugar-water.  We’ve liked the boardman feeders and they work fine when we’re around, but the internal feeder holds significantly more liquid and that’s perfect for when the beekeepers are out-of-town.

The feeder holds a deceptively large amount of fluid.  The openings are feeding tubes.

You can see the top of the sugar-water.

The feeder tubes are plastic, with tiny holes along the sides.  Bees hold on to the sides and drink, drink away.  Before we left home, our industrious bees imbibed two full rounds of sugar-water feed and I filled the box with two more gallons of the stuff the morning we left.

Honeybees love their sugar!

Once we decided that the internal feeder was the way to go while we were gone, we picked up our bees at a farm south of Austin and rehived our dear Buzz.  We had purchased new frames and hammered them together, so we slid them in the box.  Initially, we only placed four frames because we left space for the internal feeder,

…and for the box of eager, beaver honeybees.

BeeWeaver Apiaries sends their packages of honeybees (one mated queen with 10,000 workers) with a can of sugar water so that the bees can eat-n-drink as they’re transported from BeeWeaver’s farms to the pickup sites, and then to their new homes–like my back garden!  I popped out the can,

…and the bees were ready for their new digs.

I dare you to stick you hand in there!  Actually, I did. I needed to manuever the queen cage out of the hole, so an ungloved hand is the best tool for that job. The girls were very nice. They don’t become cranky until they have larvae and honey to protect.

The queen cage is affixed to the top of the bee box.  The queen is sequestered in the little cage, but her workers have access to her and her pheromones.

They adore their Dear Leader.

Queen honeybees have longer abdomens than worker bees. They have to store those eggs somewhere!

I hung the queen cage between two frames.  She must eat through the sugar fondant (the white end of the cage, above), in order to exit the cage, meet her subjects, and get going on her only job:  to lay eggs–and lots of ’em.

Settled in:  frames, honeybees, queen, and sugar water feeder.  All good!

After rehiving, we covered the box and high-fived one another on the newest Buzz!  A week later we checked Buzz; the queen was out, some comb was built and the bees were off to a good start.  At that point, we removed the traveling box and added the other frames.  

 

While doing our bee thing with Buzz, we opened Woody for a quick look-see and found that she had honeycomb, but also lots of cross-comb in her top box.

Because it’s messy and difficult to deal with, we scraped off the cross-comb.  Since then (mid-April) we’ve checked Woody and have noticed the same issue: comb placed inappropriately.  To clarify, it’s really an issue for the keeper; cross-comb is perfectly fine for the bees, they don’t care where or how they build honeycomb, they’re just driven to do so.  We’ve since figured out why they were building cross-comb, but more about that later. There’s always something new to learn–or be reminded about–with honeybees!

 

Their comb-building might be wonky, but the egg-laying is perfect!  Look at all these baby bees:  snuggled in their cells, just waiting to grow-up and be bees.

Grown-up honeybees who forage on lovely, nourishing flowers,

Honeybee nose-deep in a Gulf coast penstemon (Penstemon tenuis) bloom.

…and sip water from bird baths or ponds so that honeycomb is made and their homes are successful.

Bird Parade: Wildlife Wednesday, June 2018

The month of May sees the peak of spring neotropical bird migration as they wing through Texas from Mexico, Central and South America, and head northward to various parts of North America.  Their destinations are the summer breeding grounds of far North America, and as they travel the long distances, they rest and feed in trees and rejuvenate in water features, both.   I was fortunate to observe some of the avian visitors in my back garden before I left Austin for a chunk of May, and once I returned, witnessed the tail-feather end of the songbird parade, replete with color and decorations, as they bathed briefly at the pond and flitted high in the trees.

Celebrating Wildlife Wednesday, here are the migratory birds of the past month, no longer in my garden, but hopefully safely raising families in their northern, summer homes.  I’m not going to pretend that this month’s WW is anything but birds.  The migratory birds are gone, but not forgotten!

A female juvenile male American RedstartSetophaga ruticilla,  eyes the pond, ready for a cooling dip.

I suspect that there were more Redstarts when I was gone, as they’ve been solid visitors, even into late May.

 

A male Yellow WarblerSetophaga petechia, hops along the rocks which border the pond,

…then chills his toesies on the the wet rocks.

 

Several juvenile White-crowned Sparrows, Zonotrichia leucophrys, hung out near (you guessed it!), the pond.

Each would splash and flutter, then flit to nearby branches for drying.

Eventually, an adult White-crowned visited my backyard bird resort, though he/she preferred pecking at seeds on the back patio. I haven’t seen this bird in my garden before (that I’m aware of), I’ve only seen photos, but recognized it immediately.

 

A sunny afternoon highlights the coloring of this Russet-backed Swainson’s ThrushCatharus ustulatus.

 

On another day and at the pond,  a different bird, an Olive-backed Swainson’s Thrush contemplates a splash.

The frontal coloring is more aligned with its Russet relative.  I think these birds have the sweetest faces.

 

There’s nothing common to me about the Common YellowthroatGeothlypis trichas,  like this cute male.

The flash of yellow darting through the garden alerts me to visits from this little warbler.  Usually, I’ve the females in past migration seasons and they’re a little blander, but still darling.  Like the Redstarts, I’ll bet there were more of the Yellowthroats in my garden while I was gone.  I’m sorry I missed them this spring, but I’ll have another chance in the fall.

 

Another new bird for me was a parade of Nashville WarblersOreothlypis ruficapilla. This isn’t a great shot (taken from indoors), but you can make out the reddish-brown cap, sported by males.  There were quite a few of these tiny birds who found their way to my back garden.

Check out the polite line-up of Nashvilles as they troop to the public bath!

 

With their vivid fusion of blue, green, yellow, and red, male Painted Buntings seem to have flown straight out of a child’s coloring book.

So begins the description of (perhaps) the most beautiful of North American birds. I was fortunate to enjoy quite a few sightings of male Painted BuntingsPasserina ciris.

I also saw a female Painted Bunting, along with her seed-pecking buddy, a female Indigo Bunting, but they were just outside a window, through a screen and I didn’t have the camera handy.  Their nibbling from my native plants (they were eating seeds of the Rock rose, Pavonia lasiopetala), affirms my garden choices.  As well, I observed male Painted Bunting picking the tiny seeds from a Mexican feathergrassNassella tenuisima.  I’ve always loved this plant,

The blue, metal bird doesn’t eat the seeds of the Mexican feathergrass.

… but have never witnessed a bird eating its seeds.  Beauty, plus value for wildlife–that’s a garden win!  

Unlike most of the birds profiled in this post who breed far north of Texas, the Painted Buntings and the Summer Tanagers, breed relatively close to Central Texas.  Both visit my gardens, but only for brief periods.  This female Summer TanagerPiranga rubra, is an insect hunter and each late April and early May, I see them, perched above my honeybee hives, snatching bees on the wing (both the birds and the bees)!

This striking, but mottled fella is a juvenile male Summer Tanager.  I didn’t see the scarlet male this year.  Too bad, but I was thrilled to host mom and her son–except for the bee-eating thing!

 

The “black-throated” part of the name is visible, but you can’t see the green sheen on the back of this Black-throated Green WarblerSetophaga virens.

It’s a bird I first saw last year and enjoyed only a brief glimpse of this spring.  It migrates and breeds in eastern North America and Canada.

 

My winter-visiting Orange-crowned WarblerOreothlypis celata, left some time ago, but another passed through, probably having spent the winter somewhere further south of Austin.

The Orange-crowned Warblers aren’t the flashiest of warblers, but I’m charmed by their chirps and welcome their company during the winter.  I was surprised at observing this one so late in the season.

And those are the birds of  migratory May.

What wildlife happenings did you share in or observe this past month?  Please post about your wild happenings and leave a link when you comment here.  Happy wildlife gardening!

Hot. Pink.

Central Texas bounced through spring, skipping over late May and June, and landed, smack dab, in July.  Or so it seems when venturing outdoors.  It’s hot here, hotter than it should be in late spring, and hotter than this perspiring gardener prefers.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the heat–in July, August, and I’ll even tolerate it for some of September.  But as the temps creep ever closer, day-by-day, toward 100F / 38C (in the forecast for the next few days), this toasty trend heralds the coming of the The Long Hot of summer here in Austin.

The heat is a little early for my taste, but as the saying goes:  Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.

These Rock rosePavonia lasiopetala, are also hot, hot, hot, but in the pink sort of way.   I’m certainly not complaining about them.

The sunflowers nod their approval of Rock rose.

Most of my Rock rose began blooming toward the end of April and are still pinking-up the garden.  I’ll prune them in the next few weeks as they bloom best on new wood.  They’ll continue to flower in our hot weather and with minimal water, but the flowers will close in mid-afternoon to conserve moisture.

We all hunker down in the heat.

Rock rose mix nicely with other early summer bloomers, like Big red sage, Salvia penstemonoides, and YarrowAchillea millefolium.

I transplanted the Big red sage in the fall from my increasingly shady back garden. They’re much happier here.  The Yarrow is also blooming better now that the front garden receives more sun.

 

This little guy looks like he’s waiting for me to leave, so that he can enjoy his breakfast of petals or leaves.

Look closely at the pollen grains on his legs.

I prefer seeing this little gal.

Slurp, slurp with her little bee proboscis.

 

Summer has arrived: time to don hats, slather sunscreen, gulp water, enjoy (or tolerate) the heat,

…and value the flowers of summer.