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Assorted Wildlife, Beekeeping, Blackbirds, Bumblebees, Crows, Dunnocks, Honey Bees, Latin Literature, Magpies, Pliny, Robins

There’s an Air of Expectancy Around Here or Will They or Won’t They? (1)

Hieme conduntur-unde enim firmae puinas nivesque et
aquilonum flatus perferre vires? – sane et insect omnia,
sed minus diu quae parietibus nostris occultata mature
tepefiunt. circa apes aut temporum locorumve ratio mutate
est, aut erraverunt priories. conduntur a vergiliarum occasu
et latent ultra exortum – adeo non as veris initium, ut
dixere, nec quisquam in Italia de alvis existimat ante fabas
florentes -, exeunt ad opera et labors, nullusque, cum per caelum licuit
otio perit dies.


Bees, bumblebees (and something that looks like a junior bumblebee, acts like a humming bird, with a long proboscis–have to find out what it is) out and about, collecting pollen, scoping the territory. Twice their pre-winter weight in terms of hive population size, for both hives. Birds establishing territory, building nests, chasing each other about. Rabbits eating my artichokes. I am forced to regards frogs, toads and their spawn….This wildlife has more of a life than I do! And for that reason, I am dividing this post into two–part 1 for the bees and water life; part 2 for the birds

Apis mellifera

A lot of pollen gathering, water drinking, buzzing around the yard investigating throughout the warm days of March. Took mouse guards off a few weeks ago. We had been meaning to before then but hadn’t found the right time. In the main hive they had the traditional mouseguard-thin metal strip with holes in it. In the swarm hive, they had a customised guard that consisted of small metal bars. While the bees in the main hive had trouble squeezing themselves through the holes, at time losing their bulging saddlebags of pollen onto the brick below, the girls in the swarm hive had to become trapeze artists swinging themselves onto the bars into the hive opening. So, we knew we had to put them out of their misery, or else there little hive economy was in danger of collapsing. We’ve already had to give them a bit of a fondant bail out. We’ll see the true state of affairs if we are able to get inside the hive this coming weekend.

I do have to say that, thankfully, the spring bees in both hives are extraordinarily good-natured. I get pretty close to the hives to watch them, and even at their busiest they basically ignore me. I did have one alight on my shoulder today. It rested there for a moment and then flew off. Felt quite companiable there. I was either in her way, or she was just investigating. There are quite a few of them about the yard, and especially the conservatory, scouting around. Had one at the swarm hive bee fly smack into my head; that definitely was because I was in the way. But, whereas her grumpy pre-winter bee sister would get pissed off and sting me or nag me until I got the hell out, this mild-mannered spring bee just bounced off onto the water butt next to me.

Update:  We did open up both hives this weekend.  Happily (for them and us), both hives are thriving and double the population size going into winter.  They were still in the process of breaking down some of the fondant, although quite a bit had already been consumed.  As it seemed to have melted over the frames, we scraped the melted bits off and removed the other cakes still on paper.  The main hive seemed packed to the rafters, but for all that crowding in good humor (as I had observed above).  But we knew that we had to at least add a super to give them more room (and hopefully put any notion of swarming out of their little bee heads).  In addition to adding the super, we went one radical step further (for us) and decided to go to brood and a half.  We will see whether this will alleviate the crowding and give the queen some wander around space.  I have a few logistical issues with brood and a half, like what do you do with the half once you have finished examining it and then want to go onto the main brood box?  I mean, you have to be careful if the queen is wandering around in there, right?  I’ll have to consult my oracles.

Last year we didn’t perform this type of an adjustment until April/May.  This year I was determined to get an early start, especially as the frames looked pretty packed.  I know they say that if you start too early, there’s a danger that the queen will leave off laying in the main brood box and amble on up to the half and scatter her eggs around there.  But this doesn’t seem like at this point.

Before you ask, no, we haven’t identified the queen in either hive yet.  We will have to devote a session to Where’s Wanda? (get it, the female counterpart to Where’s Waldo? erm…)

We may even try, if we continue to get the good weather, duh duh, duuuh–to mow the lawn without our bee suits. Wish us luck.  (Update: Didn’t do it, not because we were chicken, but as we are facing down a hose ban inthis part of the country in a few weeks, we want to keep the grass as long and lush and green for as much time as possible, before it frazzles up in the all too likely continuing drought.

Oh and we have a few flying buicks-aka bumblebees-buzzing about. A few weeks ago, I went with my friends to plant auctions. I was on the lookout for wildlife friendly plants, but didn’t have to look too hard. All I had to do was follow the honeybees–they were all over the hyacinths. So we bought a few trays, and have to say that the honeybee madams are distinctly not interested (more attracted to the hellebores, snow drops). However, sister bumblebee was not only interested but collapsed into a coma of ecstasy inside one of the petals. I thought she was dead, until I nudged her a bit at which point she went staggering off into the undergrowth.

Ranae, Rubetae

This blog has grown beyond bees and Latin, to birds and now…frogs? I blame the birds and the bees: I saw about a month ago a call from the local environmental records centre for volunteers to observe and record wildlife in Fenland as part of one of their projects. So, I signed myself (and husband and two friends) up, figuring, well, this will be a way to get to know more about the birds. Essentially, thinking only of fur/feather variety of wildlife. When I ever learned that the first subject of examination would be frogs and frog spawn, I nearly croaked. It is an irrational fear, I know, for what really can a frog do you? We grew up in New Hampshire with frogs and other easily captured wildlife as playthings, subjecting them to jars, boxes, and mega-pieces of iceberg lettuce. But my friendship with frogs ended the day I was holding one, probably too tightly, and it opened its mouth. That’s all. It freaked me out, and have never been able to cope with an adult one since. Combine this with seeing one, sunning itself on a rock by the side of a pond, about the size of a full-sized, bloated Frisbee, and its a big irrationality fest. My cousin and I were rowing a boat across the pond on her family’s property, and I immediately started furiously rowing backwards, pretrified the thing would jump into the boat and cause a tidal wave.

So, this will be fun. The woman in charge said, “Oh, you’ll probably only see frog spawn, if that.” Yeah, right.

Bees keep within the hive during the winter—for whence are they to derive the strength requisite to withstand frosts and snows, and the northern blasts? The same, in fact, is done by all insects, but not to so late a period; as those which conceal themselves in the walls of our houses, are much sooner sensible of the returning warmth. With reference to bees, either seasons and climates have considerably changed, or else former writers have been greatly mistaken. They retire for the winter at the setting of the Vergiliæ, and remain shut up till after the rising of that constellation, and not till only the beginning of spring, as some authors have stated; nor, indeed, does any one in Italy ever think of then opening the hives. They do not come forth to ply their labours until the bean blossoms; and then not a day do they lose in inactivity, while the weather is favourable for their pursuits.

The Natural History. Book XI Ch5  Pliny the Elder. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855.  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0137%3Abook%3D11%3Achapter%3D5

Latin version:  http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/L/Roman/Texts/Pliny_the_Elder/11*.html



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