There is nothing quite like seeing wild creatures. Movies are informative and provide beautiful imagery, but nothing can replace actually being right there yourself. Such was the case with our backyard a week ago.
At about 2:30 PM on this particular afternoon, I was passing by the kitchen window and noticed that the air above our nearly half acre backyard was busy with a crowd of bugs. They were moving rapidly, creating a thin haze with their numbers and movement. I wondered if they were something like Mayflies or dragonflies, such as we have enjoyed before. Their bodies were both shorter and thicker in proportion, though. The glint of their wings in the sun reminded me of flies and I shuddered at the thought. Then we noticed that a black lump of something was forming on the underside of a lower branch of my small apricot tree in the middle of the yard. It quickly passed softball size and was soon the size of a house cat. The “haze” was thinning, and we ventured out onto the back patio.
From this vantage we could see that our visitors were bees. A lot of bees. The mass on the tree was a huge wiggling colony. We decided it was time to take some photographs.
None of the bees were aggressive, but their buzzing, as well as past experience with stingers, encouraged us to keep some distance away. They seemed to have only one purpose in mind; they wanted to congregate on my tree. I re-evaluated my idea of mowing the lawn that day and called to share the excitement with my parents. Mom proved once again to be an excellent web-researcher and promptly provided me with two websites for reference.
The recommended course of action was to call a bee keeper. The Canyon County Extension Office very politely gave me four possible contact phone numbers. One of the bee keepers answered the phone and confirmed that, yes, he would very much like to come get the bees. How would tomorrow morning before sunrise work?
The North Carolina State University/A & T State University Cooperative Extension website (“Bee Swarming Season”) gives a very nice explanation of what the bees were doing in my yard. As it predicted, they were soon all settled down for the night. When Greg came home, he was able to walk right up to the tree for some close up photos. Since he survived, most of the rest of us took a closer look and marveled at the living lump.
The bee keeper arrived at 7 AM the following morning. He lives in Middleton, a nearby town, and is a hobbyist, only keeping a few hives for honey. He said that many of the bee keepers ship the bees off to California, so I was glad that I had ended up with him and that the bees would stay local. He approached with his empty hive box and placed it under the tree. I could see pieces of old honey comb in it. Then he donned his protective gear.
The next step was to gently knock the bees onto the screen-forms from the hive. Most of them fell obligingly, like fluffy scoops of cake batter. This was the advantage of coming before the daylight had awakened them to activity. After a while, some of them even began flying into the hive themselves. He said that if they had been on a smaller branch, he would have cut it off and held it right over the hive to bump them in all at once.
We lost track of time while watching him. In part, we were fascinated with his methodical, patient strokes. There was also an element of holding our breath, wondering if the bees would all of a sudden revolt. They never did. After he put his tools down, and removed his gloves and bee hat, he waited a while for some to fly into the box. He even used his bare hands to flick several more off of the tree.
There were about 40-50 bees left when he was done and gone. They must have been woken up enough to go buzzing around, but they came and waited on the branch for a couple more days. A few dead ones were seen on the ground, but we don’t really know what happened to most of those that were left behind. The beekeeper said that if somehow he hadn’t gotten the queen in the hive, they’d all be back, but he’d just come get them again. They didn’t come back to stay, but they can visit my garden any time they want to.