Nature’s Notes for Wildlife Wednesday (August 2015)

fuzzy wuzzy
moar pollen please

Blessed Bee

It has been said that honey bees came from the tears of Ra, the Egyptian sun god.

I can see them plummeting to earth, discovering their amber wings and then gently flying the remaining distance. They probably did a little synchronized dancing on the way down.

Touched by the divine they remain forever blessed. In turn they create their own dripping miracle: honey.

It all sounds so golden age. But now that the heat of August has driven me inside, the natural world has become more a place of imagination than one I actually spend much time wandering through. A story about bees falling sweetly to earth seems about as reasonable as anything I might encounter out there.

Honey bees have a long history of mystical, religious and spiritual significance.

bee robber
mesolithic cave paintings of women (and some men) bothering bees have been found on a variety of continents

Like the Egyptians, the ancient Hebrew speakers also connected honey bees with divinity. Their word for bee connects to “davar” meaning a word, thing, or object and “dabar” meaning speak. Perhaps honey bees are one of JHVH’s living poems.

I know that when I discovered the bee colony living in our backyard it really did feel like a momentous event — like we had received a precious gift from the universe. After reading and hearing many stories about other people’s accounts of bee visitations I had to notice that that feeling of awe seems to be a common response.

Since their arrival, the whole world has become slightly more personal. Every honey bee I see is one of ‘our’ bees; they will never again be anonymous insects.

 

Squirrel Box Update

Here’s the history. Some time in late June a swarm found our empty squirrel box. They liked what they saw and decided to move in.

I was so worried that we might be unworthy of the gift or that something bad might happen to the bees that I put up a poll asking for your opinions last month. (Thanks for sharing them, btw.) I thought it was interesting that your collective answers mirrored my ambivalence about what I ought to do.

My main concern then was that the squirrel box might be inadequate since it is so much smaller than commercial bee hive boxes. Since then I’ve learned more about …

Bees and Squirrel Boxes

Thomas D. Seeley, a genuine scientist, also wondered: how much space do feral honey bees need? To answer the question,  he went around bothering and killing a lot of feral colonies back in the 1970s. (Since he seems to love bees so much I can only guess that he did his work before non-destructive means were invented.) He found wild colonies occupied areas that were much smaller than the hives provided by beekeepers.

“The average nest cavity was only about 20 centimetres (8 inches) in diameter and 150 centimetres (60 inches) tall; hence it had a volume of only about 45 liters (41 quarts) … Some of the colonies even occupied tree cavities with only 20 to 30 liters of nesting space, though none was found in a space smaller than 12 liters.” Honeybee Democracy, 2010

The volume of our backyard squirrel box is 29 L — meaning the situation is not nearly as bad as I imagined.

The main problem with squirrel boxes as bee nests is the front opening. It is far too large and leaves the bees vulnerable to predation. Tina, from My Gardener Says, suggested covering the opening while they slept. I am not afraid of the bees at all. I’ve had enough life experience (including a motorcycle road trip where a bee and I happily shared a helmet for many highway miles) to know that they are supremely gentle beings. I’d go up there and cover the entrance in a flash but the box has over time become quite inaccessible. I’ve thought about rigging some kind of safety harness together to climb the tree … but … you know …

While I dither, the bees have been busy. So far they have covered about 1/5 of the opening with what looks like beeswax. At first I thought it might be propolis but I have discarded that idea. The colour is wrong. And propolis wouldn’t be as stable as wax; it begins to get sticky at 20 °C (68 °F). Even our overnight lows exceed that temperature.

Lesson learned. I’ll just file the experience under the category: Wild Animals Really Do Know What They Are Doing.

(Yes. I should help them out by covering that space. And as they say here in Austin: “I’m fixing to do just that.”)

Thanks to Rambling Woods for hosting Nature’s Notes each Tuesday AND Tina from My Gardener Says who hosts Wildlife Wednesday each month. This week I thought I’d be lazy and just link the same post to both. =)

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33 thoughts on “Nature’s Notes for Wildlife Wednesday (August 2015)

  1. Hurray for the Squirrel Box Bees! When I was growing up, we had an old whiskey barrel [from where, I have NO idea], and a large swarm of honey bees decided that they had found paradise. In went a black cloud of bees, and there they stayed for seven years or so. We knew their flight path, and stayed out of it, but if you came around the other side, you could see them up close, landing on the open bung hole, fanning the hive when it got too warm, and smelling that wonderful honey-mead scent of a happy buzzing home. [Sometimes on my blog I feature a Special Guest Bee, so if you want to see some of the native folks of the Northeast, please do!]

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    1. I really enjoy your blog! An old whiskey barrel sounds like a PERFECT feral bee home. I am not at all surprised to hear they lasted for 7 years. That is so cool.

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  2. Hi Debra, thanks for stopping by on my blog. I know it isn’t quite the nature blog :-) but nature is an important part of my life (when I am not playing in other realms). It helps me ground and restore myself when I’ve been either “too far out” or been too much sucked into the rat race of this world. Whatever, whenever, in my own way, I love to give back to nature what it does for me.
    Reading your post made me realize how much I sympathize with the bumble bees in our yard. While I am happy for the rain (for the plants) I feel sorry for the bees that have just been working their butts off in the lavender to get some nectar and now get caught in the rain. Poor things. I got inspired by your blog and read more about them (not the bees – since I found out we have mostly bumble bees). AMazing little creatures!
    Anyway, though I don’t write much about nature since my interest has recently been more “off planet”, there might actually be something in my latest post that is of interest. Perception from a dog’s view :-)
    check it out, if you like!

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    1. I have looked at your blog and I really like it. How people connect to the world around them and make sense of it all interests me a lot. Every person brings a unique perspective and that variety fascinated me. You are so lucky to have bumble bees! They are awfully cute.

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  3. I’m excited over YOUR excitement and love for these bees, and I enjoyed reading your background information. It’s interesting how something can grab our attention and bring us closer to nature, closer than we already thought we were! I hope everything works out, in every way, with your hive. :)

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    1. Thanks. Naturally, I am hoping they will not only survive but even reproduce in the spring. It really has been a lovely thing. I always liked bees but now it all feels quite personal.

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  4. Truly beautiful story about your bees. I so love them too. One of my favorite places in the summertime is next to our lavenderbushes, watching busy bees. In the morning, just sitting there, sipping a cup of tea it’s the most relaxing and best way to start a day….kind of like meditation. Usually I feel uncomfortable to sit around and watch others work but in this case I am fine.
    Anyway, I wanted to share a link with you…it has been quite a while when I found this info and I never investigated it fully because I thought our neighbors wouldn’t let us keep bees….but I remember thinking it would be a wonderful idea. Maybe of interest?
    http://www.honeyflow.com/

    PS: I really like your blog. Beautiful stories and pictures…and good info. I’ll stop by again – and perhaps will see you around too.

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    1. Wow. Thanks so much, Gia. Bees do have much to teach us. That’s an interesting link. Personally, I am not in it for the honey. I’ve never developed a sweet tooth so the backyard bees have nothing to fear from me. Your blog is SO interesting. I will definitely see you around.

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  5. Aren’t bees just the best! When we had our hives (borrowed) every bee I saw I was sure was ours too. I was so sad to see them go, this will be our first spring (when it happens) it several years without our own bees. There are other hives locally and the bumble population is quite good too. I’m sure those bees are very happy in your squirrel box. No doubt they have their guards on hand to for any unexpected / wanted visitors. Lovely post :D

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    1. They ARE the best. I am absolutely and totally in love. I am sorry to hear you will be hiveless. But as you say, there are also native bees to love. Our bees may like having a home but I am not sure about how HAPPY they are with the current extreme temperatures. hahaha In the evening they spend a lot of time hanging out as a mob on their porch and I just know they are grumbling. =)

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  6. What an interesting post and how sweet of you to take such an interest in them. I saw Tina’s comment. I didn’t know that sugar was good. I keep shallow water dishes for the bees and even the wasps… Thank you for linking in… Michelle

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    1. I think sugar is ok as an emergency food and might ironically be better than processed honey. When honey is brought to a certain temperature it creates a chemical that can be harmful for bees. That said, I think it can only be used as something like a famine food. Honey has all kinds of nutrition that is probably lackng in pure sugar. I do have some local organic honey tucked away for them. I wasn’t thinking so much of problems in forage but in case of a catastrophic disaster — like if their comb gets robbed or destroyed. Thanks again for running this meme. I am really enjoying reading your posts and the links.

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  7. Thoroughly enjoyed reading about early bee legends and learning of your bee adventures with your squirrel box. How nice that they chose your yard (maybe a little birdie whispered it was JUST the spot they were looking for!) … no coincidences! :-)

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    1. I didn’t realize before that people could be bee-havers rather than bee-keepers. I always thought it was an expensive hobby involving a lot of equipment and fussing. Now I know all it takes is a box in a tree.

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  8. I don’t have any hiving going on around me but I do feel quite connected to your bees, and Tina’s, too. Weird perhaps but bees inspire affection and I’ve always enjoyed watching them. I’m happy you and she have reached agreement on a next best step and I’m looking forward to reading all about it and celebrating a successful bee-helping effort. Meanwhile I’m throwing a little extra water on anything that is brave enough to flower these days hoping it will help keep the forage varied for the mostly native bees I tend to see.

    You’ve not mentioned it so far that I recall – but you did know that our name source (Deborah) in Hebrew means “bee”! Of COURSE we are drawn to them. : )

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    1. I managed to slide through July without irrigating anything but enough is enough. Everything is calling out for mercy. Thanks for cheering on the bee efforts. I am absolutely in love with them. I did know our name means bee and when I was growing up I kind of wondered that my parents named me after an insect — heh —

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  9. Lazy is good, especially in this heat. :) Bees are quite remarkable. Miraculous, I’d say. They will seal openings with their “stuff”, but I like to help mine along–they work so hard, after all, it’s the least I can do. I’m glad your bees are doing well. If it remains really dry and you get concerned that they might not be able to find enough to forage on, feed them some sugar water–pure white sugar and water, nothing else. Keep it in a shallow dish. Also, make sure they have plenty of water around. Nice post–as always!!

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    1. Thanks for understanding. (And looking forward to your post tomorrow plus people’s links.) There are huge stands of the wild sunflower nearby that are covered in honey bees so for the moment I am not too worried about forage. I am keeping an eye out for the Texas Kidneywood which should be next. If it looks delayed I have some organic honey ready. Just in case. I didn’t know sugar was ok to give them. (Noted for the future …) I have been supplying them with fresh water at least twice a day though. While there is a creek across the street I wanted to make the water haul a little easier thinking that water has just got to be a heavy thing to carry. The dish is right under their nest and shallow with small rocks for them to perch on.

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