Swarm!

Don’t get excited, it happened four weeks ago and didn’t change much, though it was fun to watch.

Honeybee hives procreate by swarming and the swarming season lasts from spring into summer.  Swarming is the natural, normal act  of a queen leaving a hive, taking upwards to 70% of the workers with her in order to establish a new hive in a new place–that is how honeybee hives reproduce or procreate. Many people are frightened of swarms, but in fact, honeybees are at their gentlest when they swarm:  they have no home, honey, or brood to protect and are docile as they and their queen look for new real estate.  If you’ve ever seen photos of people with bee beards, those bees are swarming and are not in the least scary, they just look scary.  (Really dude? Insects–with stingers–on your head?  What are you thinking?!)

I mentioned in Sugared Bees, Anyone? that we found supercedure cells (emergency queen cells) in Buzz, so is that where the swarm came from?

Nope!

I don’t think so, anyhow…

What I witnessed weeks ago was an energetic and buzzy bunch of bees vacating the hive in droves, wings vibrating and roaring, and bees filling the air.

(Please excuse the lame video.  This swarming business was totally unexpected and once we (and they) were deep in, I hastily tuned to my camera’s video recording, which I’ve never used.  As if that’s not obvious.)

Within a few minutes, the bees clamored around a limb of the Red oak tree under which Buzz resides, where they clustered together with a measure of calm and quiet for about 20 minutes.

Snuggled up

Then, after a respite of tree-hugging, the bees were once again airborne, reversing their flight direction,

…and eventually, crawling back into the hive.

What??

The whole event, from the first mass of bees leaving the hive, to stragglers marching back in, lasted about an hour.  It was awesome!

But was it a swarm?  The bees left the hive in swarm-like fashion, but returned to their home base.  I think that’s a honeybee hive procreation non-starter.

When honeybees swarm, it’s the “old” queen who leaves to establish a new hive. leaving a new queen and some workers, both queens-n-workers ready for honeybee action and hive building.  That’s all fine and good, but in our Buzz, the “old” queen is a queen that we purchased last June who is marked (with a white dot for 2016–yearly color markings are an industry standard), and whose wings are clipped.

Clipped wings, folks.  She can’t fly.

So what happened?  Did she leave the hive with the worker bees and go into the tree?  Or, was it all some sort of honeybee joke?

We have some theories, but we don’t really know.

Once queen cells (the normal ones, not the supercedure ones) develop,  beekeeper wisdom is that the bees will swarm and there’s nothing that a keeper can do to prevent it.  My experience (which is limited) suggests otherwise. We’ve pulled off queen cells before and added space for the honeybees to grow and have avoided the natural process of spring hive swarming.  We attempted to do that with Buzz two weeks prior to the non-swarm swarm, but apparently, mis-timed or mis-applied our swarming-fix. So the procreation pheromones revved-up, the bees engorged on honey, and the word in the hive was GO!

What happens to a queen who can’t fly off with her workers, the ones that she messaged through her pheromone directive that it’s time to fly the coop? Maybe she waits at the front door, waving at them to come back, or perhaps, she plops off of the landing board and onto the ground, where her attendants surround her.

Lots of bees pouring out and onto the ground.

And might this be that clump?  The clump of buzziness was there for the duration of the tree-bound bees, but they crawled back into the hive with the others at the end of the adventure.

Bees clumping on the ground and near the entrance of the hive.

Fewer bees,

… and fewer still. They’re almost all back into their hive.

Imagine the bee-conversations taking place on that tree branch as the swarming workers are awaiting the arrival of their queen:

Do you bring Queen Buzz?

No!  I thought you had her!

I thought Beatrice Bee or Brittany Bee escorted her out!

Did we lose her?? Where is she?!!  Where’d she go?!!  Did one of those dreaded Summer Tanagers eat her?

Oh, man–look!  She’s still on the ground–what do we do?! No queen on the branch, what’ll we do?

BUZZZZZZZZZ!   I guess we’d better get back down there, Queen Buzz must have changed her mind.   Bummer, I was really looking forward to new digs.

And with that community decision, back into the hive they all went–presumably, with their brave, but clipped, queen.

What we know is that there was one “old” queen (who can’t leave the hive and who, for whatever reason, wasn’t  laying eggs) which is why there were supercedure cells in Buzz. What we saw when we checked a week later, was a brief glimpse of a queen–unmarked and presumably victorious over the others who would have also emerged from the supercedure cells–who disappeared down into her realm of hive frames.

Unfortunately, since that event, here as been little-to-no-new brood in Buzz. Obviously, the old queen is kaput and apparently, the new queen is not interested in fulfilling her queen gig–or she’s kaput too.  Maybe she just couldn’t find the right guy, or guys.  To save this hive, we ordered a new queen who will be delivered in early May.  I need to forewarn the new postman.

Woody hasn’t swarmed, but like Buzz, apparently had a queen who decided that egg-laying is for the birds after her initial early spring egg-laying frenzy.  Fortunately for us, BeeWeaver’s headquarters is in a neighborhood 15 minutes from my house and I was able (with a whining email to an accommodating and kindhearted apiary owner) to acquire a new queen for Woody.

With two new, strong queens, both hives should thrive–making bee babies and lots of honey.

These honeybees–they’ve produced much drama and no small amount of comedy this spring.

Honeybee forager working a Gulf penstemon bloom.

So it is when honeybees share the garden.

Sipping water from a birdbath.

Movin’ On: Wildlife Wednesday, April 2017

It’s springtime here in Austin, Texas and there’s plenty to relish, especially regarding the many gifts of nature:  pleasant temperatures, glorious sunshine and well-appointed rainfall, iconic wildflowers and other blooming beauties, and active and abundant urban wildlife. You don’t have to go far–there’s no requirement for lengthy drives into the Hill County or blister-producing hikes–to savor  the benefits of spring pleasures if you plant for wildlife in your own garden space.   When you grow native annuals, perennials and trees, as well as adapted non-native plants, you will reap a blooming bonanza in your garden.  Wildlife of all sorts will come, as they’re granted rest and reprieve, nourishment and protection, most especially during migration and into the breeding season.  Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday where we showcase wildlife and appreciate their place in our own back yards and in the larger world.

This past month I  haven’t observed the variety of migratory birds that I recall from 2016, but there were a few who made brief stops near the pond, or who rested in newly foliaged Red Oaks.  A pretty White-eyed Vireo, Vireo griseus, a lone and stunning Black and White Warbler, Mniotilta varia, a handsome Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis, and four female Red-winged Blackbirds, Agelaius phoeniceus,(obviously engaged in a girls’ day out), comprise the sum total of spring migratory birds gracing my garden.  With each observance, I either didn’t have my camera ready, or chose to simply marvel at the bird’s presence;  I have no photos of these birds to share.

My avian winter Texans visit the back garden less frequently and I assume that most have moved on to more northern gardens and greenbelts, with the hope of a mate and chicks.   I haven’t seen any Orange-crowned Warblers, Oreothlypis celata in several weeks, but throughout winter and earlier in March, one, or several, were daily garden charmers as they perched on limbs or hunted for insects from spring blooms.

Clinging to the stem of a Yellow bells (Tacoma stans) while surrounded by Giant spiderwort (Tradescantia gigantea).

This one poised to flutter to the bog area of my pond, which is a favorite bathing spot for all the birds in the garden, residents and visitors alike.

Jump!

If you look closely at the following photos, you can spot the smudge of orange, which male Orange-crowns flash in territorial warning when necessary, but which is drab and undramatic when life is simple and there are no threats to manhood, or perhaps I should say, birdhood.

 

I still see Yellow-rumped Warblers, Setophaga coronata, like these two breeding-plumaged boys, preparing for a buddy bath.

The photo isn’t the best, taken early and pre-coffee and through a window, but I was tickled to catch them hanging around. Do you see the difference between the two?

You’ll notice that the one toward the bottom has a yellow throat–he’s an Audubon’s subspecies and typically found in the West.  The other with a white throat, is a Myrtle subspecies and they’re more common in the eastern part of the United States and in Canada.  I have no clue why both were in my back garden, but it was a treat to see and photograph both in the same frame. More proof I suppose that Texas truly is a crossroads for migratory birds.

Too bad those blackberries aren’t ripe.

Butter Butts have been constant companions since November, but will soon be gone, making their way north to the upper mid-West and Canada for summer,  My early mornings won’t be the same without them.

 

One of the last winter Texans to leave for northern lands are the Cedar Waxwings,   Bombycilla cedrorum.  Such beautiful birds, they’re always in a flock, gabbing and preening, and usually situated at the top of trees, where it’s too blustery to get a good photo. Even if I managed something decent, it would be of their butts and who wants to see that?   I was on the phone with a friend when a couple of them dropped in to bathe and drink in the birdbath with the bubbling fountain. I told my friend that I HAD to hang up NOW so I could get some good, close shots of these dandies and she was gracious enough to let me go, forthwith.  She’s understanding about my various idiosyncrasies and I knew she wouldn’t be offended at my hasty hangup.

As I write, I hear their high-pitched keening in the breezes outside, their voices carried into the house, keeping me company.  Soon enough,  that keening will no longer linger in the breeze and will be silent; I’ll realize that they’re gone for summer.

I miss them already.

One day next November, I’ll hear their call again–high-pitched and insistent. I’ll be thrilled that they’ve once again joined me for winter and much of spring.

 

I take pleasure in the typical off-and-on visits from Lesser Goldfinches,                     Spinus psaltria, but they’ve been scarce this year.  I have delighted in several visits from a little band of American GoldfinchesSpinus tristis.  

Mostly, they’ve frequented the birdbaths,

First you see my front,

….then you see my back.

…the bog of the pond,

…or perched prettily in the shrubs and trees.

Until I downloaded this photo, I didn’t realize that there were two other goldfinches at the right edge of the above photo.  Like the Cedar Waxwings and teenage humans, Goldfinches tend to hang out in groups, though they’re quieter than the Waxwings–and the human teenagers.

If you’re fortunate enough to host these birds during their summer breeding, they will nosh at feeders, but prefer native composite (Asteraceae) seeds; flower seeds of the many varieties of sunflowers are finch (of all species) favorites.  The trick for attracting Goldfinches, as well as many other native songbirds, is to let the seeds develop after the bloom period.  Many gardeners want to prune back “spent” blooms because there’s nothing left  for pollinators and we’ve been “educated” that spent blooms are unattractive.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Flower seed heads are attractive and the second round of feeding on a plant comes after the bloom-n-pollination/nectar gathering time: it’s the feeding time for birds, mammals and other insects besides pollinators.  When you see a host of birds eating seeds at plants, it’s a lovely and affirming sight and that nourishing of wildlife is the purpose of plants.

While the migratory birds are movin’ on to their summer breeding sites, I’m left with my resident birds, like this bathing male Northern CardinalCardinalis cardinalis.

Well, that’s not so bad.

 

Blue orchard beesOsmia lignaria, are almost finished with their seasonal contribution to the world and my garden.

The few remaining adults left are packing away their eggs and soon-to-be-larvae. There are plenty blue bee babies cookin’ for next year.

 

My favorite native bees, the Horsefly-like Carpenter bee,  Xylocopa tabaniformis, are out in droves and pollinating up a flower-storm!

Stealing nectar from an Autumn sage (Salvia greggii).

More nectar at a Gulf penstemon (Penstemon tenuis).

Zoom!

Got it!

Uh, the pollen and nectar of the white Autumn sage are the other way…

 

Ubiquitous Texan Crescent butterflies, Anthanassa texana, are also making the rounds of blooming bounty.

 

This Pipevine SwallowtailBattus philenor, is battered–but not defeated–in its quest for nutrients from flowers of the Giant spiderwort.  There will be more of these gorgeous and useful insects in my gardens in coming months.

He may display rag-tag wings, but he works the garden diligently and for free!

Whether your garden enjoys migrating or resident critters, did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for April Wildlife Wednesday. Share photos and stories of your garden wildlife to promote and appreciate your region’s natural habitat and diversity. When you comment on my post, please remember to leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post so readers can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Happy wildlife gardening!