Monday, 28 July 2014

Refined Drinkers

It's been raining all day and it's still raining. There is rain on the grass, on the flowers, on the trees and shrubs, on the decks, on the clothesline, on -- well, on everything not under cover. Puddles of water are everywhere! So-o-o, why have the honey bees been bellying up to their regular drinking joints, namely the bird baths and the lily pond whenever the rain slacks off to a light drizzle? Is it a social thing? Are they too refined to drink just anywhere?

Drinking from the wet edges of a bird bath.

Drinking from a rock in the lily pond.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Slight Inconveniences

Early this morning I glanced out the kitchen window just in time to see a deer casually strolling across my vegetable garden. Hm-m-m, I thought, that seems a tad entitled. Which made me briefly ponder on the other slight inconveniences perpetrated by the flora and fauna surrounding my home. Just to name a few -- bumble bees nesting under my porch, birds pooing on my car (and sometimes on the laundry on my clothesline), skunks puffing out occasional odours and digging deep holes in the lawn, raccoons raiding the bird feeders, poison ivy lurking in shady nooks, wild raspberry canes reaching out to rip at my arms, wild parsnip madly propagating it's poisonous self across the landscape -- but wait!

Didn't I invite all of them here in the first place?

I absolutely love my jungle-like grounds and the shade and privacy this mini nature preserve offers. In any season, I can take a stroll outside and see, hear, smell or touch this vibrant zoological Eden with all it's fellow creatures, as deserving of life as any of my own species. Truthfully, the enjoyment of sharing my habitat with nature of all kinds outweighs the slight inconveniences by about a million to one.

Deer tracks beside young asparagus shoots.

A honey bee worker with frayed wings harvests a globe thistle bloom.

This mystery den under a brush pile may belong to a skunk.

Not a bee, but a tiny fly pollinating a strawberry bloom.

Honey bees tanking up at a bird bath.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Goodbye -- Hello

For the past couple of days I noticed that one of my three honey bee nuc hives was queenless. There was not a trace of eggs or larva to indicate that this new queen had been viable.

This particular queen was an unmarked, slim, black little lady. Even days after being placed in her new permanent wooden hive, she had not been released from her plastic queen cage by the workers that came with her. The sugar plug keeping her in the plastic cage should have been eaten but was still intact! Did they not like her? Was she worried they would kill her? Had she not successfully mated before being caged? When I opened the 'side door' to the cage I expected her to escape and plunge down into the frames. But no-o-o-o! She flew up, up and away. I left the inner cover open for a few minutes to give her a chance to return, then closed up the hive. The next day I checked to see if she had returned. She had, but I saw her fly out again and then come back. Very strange behaviour for a supposedly mated queen. Then, she simply went missing, never to be seen again. No point in putting up her picture on utility poles. Goodbye young lady. I hardly knew you.

So, today I decided to combine the queenless nuc with another queenright one. However, because the bees seemed strangely content in the so-called queenless hive, I had another look through the brood combs. Hello! I saw a big chocolatey-brown queen! The workers seemed devoted to her and were upset when I put the little marking cage over her and marked her thorax with a dot of leaf green non-toxic paint. This new queen must have hatched from a queen cell I saw on a frame some days back. She was bigger than the caged one and a different colour. A real beauty queen!

I'll give her some privacy for at least five days (hard for me to keep my inquisitive little fingers out of the hives) before checking her progress.

These were the queen cages that came with my nucs.

Slurping water from the stone aggregate bird bath.

The fuzzy thorax indicates she is young.

Currently, their favourite forage is my globe thistles.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Neighbourhood Buzz

Almost overnight a new subdivision has sprung up on the property beside ours. Well, when I say 'subdivision' I'm not really talking about dwellings for humans. It's actually a new honey bee yard of hives from a local honey producer. I'm guesstimating there is about thirty colonies in this one. The banquet of nectar and pollen forage that I've planted over the years for my bees will now suddenly have to be shared. And after all, my bees have gone far beyond their owner's real estate boundary themselves over the years. They will happily fly within a two mile radius of their hive if a sweet scent beckons or if a sister passes on the grocery tip with a sample and a directional dance.

A few days ago I bought a honey bee nuc from local bee breeder, honey producer and provincial honey bee inspector, Brent Halsall. He mentioned that in one of his mating yards, only one of eighteen queens returned from her mating flight. He suspects that king birds known to be in that particular area scoffed down the others. Queen rearing is a bit like spinning a roulette wheel!

When I brought the bees home and moved the four frames from their little nuc box to a permanent wooden hive, they were wonderfully quiet and docile. Not a hint of the usual confused and angry hum of bees being uprooted and forced into new digs. I think the reason for their good humour was that their young queen had time to acquaint with her entourage and they were nicely bonded as a unit.

The next day, I took an hour and half drive to the beautiful Rideau Lakes district to collect two more nucs from fifth generation bee breeder, Debbie Hutchings. Debbie said that this year was extremely challenging for her honey bee operation. Last winter was the coldest on record in Eastern Ontario in about sixty years and didn't moderate until very late into Spring. And as if cold, rain and strong winds weren't bad enough, her bees also suffered from vandals, agricultural pesticides and dragonfly predation. Apiculture anyone?

My hollyhocks are pumping out lots of protein rich pollen.

An Italian honey bee from the neighbouring bee yard.

Another Italian visitor. She is golden and larger than my honey bee stock.

Debbie Hutchings, a 5th generation honey bee breeder also teaches beekeeping,
raises sheep and drives a township snowplow.

Young bees take their first orientation flight before becoming foragers.

The sunbonnets on these hives were once part of my sister's privacy fence.

A new beeyard installed nearby.


Thursday, 3 July 2014

Feathered Cuties

Today the Yellowthroat Warbler was back and strutting a challenge to his own window reflection. The roof panels on this bird feeder are only two inches wide, which gives you an idea of just how tiny this cutie is. When viewed in a tree canopy, he all but disappears.

Photo composite to illustrate scale.

On a sunny day, one almost needs sunglasses to look at the American Goldfinches, currently in their peak breeding apparel of dazzling yellows.

And if Sir or Madam would like to see something in a more magenta hue, might I suggest a raspberry tinted selection from the Purple Finch Department?

A Purple Finch waiting his turn at the black oil seed feeder.