Sunday, 21 July 2013

A Swarm Captured

Any guesses how many bees in this cluster?
Somehow every swarm event seems to happen when Sue is unavailable. Last time it was when I witnessed a cloud of our bees heading off over the veg patch, over the road and spooking a herd of cows as they disappeared over the fields.

And so it was that, late afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I found myself stalking the Little Owls. For an adult was sitting right out in the open and I could clearly hear its young calling from somewhere round the old, hollow ash tree. I kept moving around the base of the tree, trying to work out precisely where the begging calls were emanating from, when something else caught my eye.

There, on the fence, was a beard! A beard of bees. Not a huge swarm, but still an impressive cluster of bees loyally surrounding and protecting their queen.

I rushed inside to get the camera, the bee suit, the bee brush and the key to the garage where, somewhere, there was stored an old nucleus box in which our first ever bees had been delivered. ( A nucleus is five frames of bees, including a young queen and new brood. This is how you buy bees if you can't find a nice bee-keeper to give you a swarm. But it doesn't come cheap, running in at up to £240!)

I didn't know what to do first. If these were our bees, they have a habit of moving on very quickly indeed.
But they just might be a swarm from elsewhere. Whatever the case, they would be sending out scouts to find a suitable new home.

Now, theory goes that when the bees are swarming they are at their most peaceful, having gorged on honey to prepare for their journey and intent on protecting their queen, without whom their attempt at colonisation would be futile.
The "nuke (nucleus) box" - a suitable temporary home for the swarm.
So, suited up in my spaceman gear, I approached the beard. First I trimmed some of the long grass to clear the way. Some of the bees dripped off the cluster as I did so.
I eased the box into position underneath them, then took the plunge, sweeping them decisively off the fence. It worked!
Almost all the bees were now in the box.
But a few were left on the fence. Those which had fallen off the bottom of the cluster plus others appearing from nowhere - maybe scouts returning. They were clearly attracted back to the same place on the fence, presumably by the queen pheromones. I scooped as many as I could into the box, keen to collect as many bees as possible, not just to make the new colony stronger but also to make absolutely sure I'd not somehow missed the queen. She should have been in the middle of that cluster and was hopefully now exploring the frames of foundation wax I'd placed in the collection box.

The stragglers were attracted back to the very same spot on the fence.
But my lack of knowledge was making me worry. What if the returning scouts came back and led the swarm elsewhere? Anyway, I'd done all I could. I sealed the bees in until Sue got home from her evening meeting at school.  

While I had the bee suit on and the camera to hand,  I took the chance to take a few more piccies.





I quickly looked in the existing two hives but wasn't sure whether this new swarm had come from either of them. For both hives had been closed down for a couple of weeks since the first swarm. I studied the pictures on the camera and the new swarm looked very similar to those in the other hives. My guess was that this could be a cast swarm, a secondary swarm following a main swarm, during which a virgin queen splits the already depleted hive.

I had done all I could. Sue arrived home much later and gave the hives a quick inspection but was unable to come to any more solid conclusions than I.

Sue inspects the hives.


It didn't seem that the swarm had come from this hive... probably

So, from one very strong colony of bees not long ago, we now had possibly three hives, not forgetting that large cloud of bees which had deserted. This meant that our bees may well be very thinly spread, if we even had any queens in  the hives.
That evening we opened up the small entrance to the nucleus box so that the new bees could go out and explore first thing in the morning. Hopefully they would take to their new home and stay, but it was very possible that they would all debunk.

This sudden escalation to three hives made an emergency trip to Thorne's necessary as we would need another hive, plus a spare in case of another swarm. I got home and set about assembling the hives and building the frames. For any beekeepers reading, we have opted for a 14 x 12 brood box. This is extra deep and gives more room for the brood, rather than using brood and a half. We'll give it a try and see how it goes.

 


These are extra deep 14 x 12" frames for the brood box.
Assembling new hives and all the frames to go inside is a job I love doing, but it's very time consuming. I don't usually mind as I become absorbed in the task. I couldn't finish everything that first night, despite working till very late, but the bees could stay in their temporary home for one more day to get used to their surroundings.
So, after work the next day, I would finish the job and we would transfer the bees to their shiny new cedar home.

Well, that was the plan... until the mega went off.

ASCENSION FRIGATEBIRD, Islay.

The only previous record of this bird species in the UK was in 1953, a moribund bird which ended up in a museum. And it wasn't correctly identified as such until about 50 years after it was collected.
Now, 60 years later, there was another, photographed by tourists that morning sitting on the wall of the small harbour.

This was more than MEGA. It was MONSTER RARE.

All other plans paled into insignificance as my admittedly occasionally odd priorities suddenly changed.

By late evening I was heading towards Carlisle, racing to meet up with a team from the south who were heading up the M6. We had a ferry to catch in the morning.

My second trip to the Hebrides in as many weekends, with a short jaunt to the Farne Islands sandwiched in between during the week.
As if there weren't enough to keep me busy on the farm, late June and July were not keeping to their normal reputation as being the quiet time of the year for rare bird arrivals.



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