I was getting ready for an early night yesterday. It was still daylight. Indeed, it didn’t really get dark at all last night as we head for the summer solstice in a couple of days. As I was drawing the curtains, I noticed, outside the window, a small white-tailed bumble bee worker, Bombus lucorum, chewing holes in the outside bases of honeysuckle corollas. Rushing outside with my camera, I managed to photograph a larger bumble bee higher up the climbing shrub doing the same thing. On examining several flowers, I noticed that most had the tell-tale holes of robbers bypassing the pollination fee and going for free nectar. Did you know that honey bees sometimes take advantage of this sneaky strategy and get free nectar from plants like comfrey, field beans and bell heather without returning the compliment by pollinating the plant?
Surprises at Wild Bee Tree.
For the past week, we’ve had warm, damp and almost tropical weather. The countryside is lush with rich vegetation and you can smell the heady aroma of elderflower in full bloom everywhere. On a walk to the bee tree I ran into the wee bee apprentice (Connie 8) collecting elderflower heads with her mother Rosy, and sister Evangeline (nearly 5). They were going to make elderflower cordial and I was invited to come over to the garden and sample some later. I helped them pick some flower heads wishing that I had time to make cordial myself.
We talked about the wild bees because the family is helping monitor the nest. They saw much activity the other day and Rosy sent me this video. I was curious to see if the activity was normal foraging or robbing behaviour.
Robbing on 9th June.
Until now, the bee tree has been quiet with little foraging activity and no pollen seen coming in for a long time. At nearly every visit the bees have been defensive and have stung us on 3 occasions. So, on 9th June I was surprised to see the nest entrance boiling with bees. However, I realised that they were fighting as couples of angry bees tumbled to the ground. Some of the bees were much yellower than the residents so I figured that large-scale robbing by another colony was going on. Interestingly, at the bait hive there was lots of activity too with visits from the yellower bees.
On the 14th June, I walked up later in the day around 8pm on a still, overcast, warm evening when daytime temperatures hit 17 degrees Celsius. To my surprise, I heard the low contented sounding hum of bees evaporating nectar, and the front entrance was full of fanning bees. The bait hive was empty though.
Another daytime visit on 17th June reassured me that all is now well. The bees were calm and too busy nectar collecting to bother bombing me as I sat on the wall watching. I’ve concluded that the yellow bees have moved in to the queenless wild nest
Elephant Hawk Moth Update.
The elephant hawk moth chrysalis has failed to emerge due to dying and drying up which is a disappointment.
I acquired another swarm. This time a secondary swarm with a virgin queen. I’ve seen heavy loads of pollen going in which reassures me that she has now mated. Both swarms had negligible varroa drops following oxalic acid sublimation which is reassuring.
I’m confident that there is no June gap here because forage is abundant and I’m hearing the colonies evaporating nectar in the still evenings. I’m not seeing bees collecting water at the regular sources either which confirms my thoughts.