Marsh bees, and Bee Lining

Today’s weather was finally good enough for us to visit the bees on Langney Marsh. We also wanted to see if our tarp experiment had vanished in the floods, so Paul and I headed down under blue skies and a brisk and chilly breeze to see what was going on in the apiary.

We saw a heron, geese aplenty, and a few swans. Numerous gulls overhead, and corvids tumbling up high as the wind gusted around us.

On reaching the apiary, we saw that the hay bale windbreaks we’d put around the hives (in 2018 when we first took on the site) had completely disintegrated, and the Warré was sticking up looking rather vulnerable and exposed. To our amazement the tarp was still in place, but we didn’t peel it back as we want to leave it undisturbed for as long as possible.

On to the bees themselves. Needless to say there was absolutely no activity at the entrance, and both the entrance blocks had fallen out so I’m not sure if a mouse is taking advantage of the warmth and protection. I put in the block with a modification to allow a bit more room for them to get in with pollen pants but still keeping the draughts out. With some trepidation we removed the panel and the insulation from the observation window of the Warré:

Bees! Such a relief. We can’t replace the windbreak so we will have to wait for the willow saplings we’ve stuck in the ground to grow up, but we are going to use some hazel or willow poles to make a wattle support around the back of the Warré and the front of the top bar. We then checked the top bar, again feeling rather dubious as this was a swarm so lots of work to do, and the wind is whistling directly in through the entrance as they’ve not had a chance to propolise it. Again, bees present, so we quickly shut the panel and replaced the block:

We checked the rest of the apiary for signs of emerging forage but the young trees are all still in tight bud. One black poplar seems to have possible signs of life but the others have sadly perished. It really is a surprisingly hostile environment and we are so interested to see how these woodland creatures cope with the barren landscape. The saving grace must be the numerous gardens in the vicinity, and gorse plants along the bypass because there is absolutely nothing for them to consume on the Marsh right now. It’s important to remember that they have lived here for 6 years now so the accumulated knowledge will hopefully mean they can survive.

Over lunch Paul showed me his new bee lining box. Bee lining is a method scientists (notably Tom Seeley of Honeybee Democracy fame) use to calculate the whereabouts of wild bee colonies. By capturing a few bees, feeding them syrup then watching the direction they fly when you release them, you can wait for their hive mates to return to this source of ‘nectar’ and work out how far away the nest is. This can be repeated until the location of the nest becomes apparent. This is a way of communing with bees and gaining a greater understanding of where and how they forage:

It looks a bit like a rat trap which may have disconcerted the waiter somewhat…

We will be testing our beelining skills later in the season and hoping it will contribute to our knowledge of local bee nests.

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