I installed the new (infrared equipped) camera in box 2 late last evening, so this morning we decided to swap boxes and put that box 2 at the front - since they are now both configured the same. (Well, except we need to add an internal tube to box 1, which is now at the back.)
It turned out to be one of our most exciting days so far, but more on that in a moment.
So, we now have a new improved configuration for our boxes, which has even less bedding material and a small internal tube (just made from about a 3rd length of toilet roll centre tube). Here it is:
This is just after I installed the new camera - in a much lower position which gives a fuller view along the length of box floor.
With both boxes set up the same we were able to install the above box as the new "main box" which is out the front. Then we set about setting up the box in the back again. We decided that it might be good to try it on the lawn instead of against the garage, because over the last few days we've seen a few bufftails mooching around the longer bits of grass. So, it was a case of "if the bee won't come to the beebox, the beebox will go to the bee!" We wanted to surround it with tall grasses that would encourage investigation and improve visibility from a distance. Since some of the species of Bumblebees are fussy about being underground we also thought the more we can make it look like a grassy hummock, the better. That also seems to be the trick the BBC employed in their brilliant video. Here's what we came up with.
And this is the view from above - designed to present some grassy tufts that look like they have some nooks and crannies to explore. (The foot is optional!)
It was fairly cool outside and we hadn't seen any bees on the lawn or out front, but shortly after midday BCW (bee catching wizard) surprised me by saying she would go look for a bee. She didn't disappoint and by 1pm had returned with a gleaming, vibrant bufftail. Here she is, a wonderful specimen:
At 13:15 she went into the box at the front and the excitement began. For starters we were thrilled that we could see really well on the new camera, and she was doing lots of moving around and exploring. We kept thinking she was going to leave, but no, she dived under another bit of bedding and rustled around and generally moved all the furniture about! It was amazing to see her exploring from side to side and end to end in the box. I managed to video some of it off the TV screen.
This behaviour continued on and off for a whole two hours. Towards the end of this time it looked like she was doing laps of the box, quite quickly, and coming up to the camera. All along I had been concerned that she'd feel warmth from the infrared on the camera and that it would be off-putting, but since she stayed two hours, I was thinking on balance this must not have been a problem. Reviewing the video again, though, I began to wonder: was the behaviour at the end of the video - coming up to the camera and going away to the end of the box - something to do with the possible heat coming from it? Especially since I have now mounted the camera lower in the box. It's a quandary.
There is no real way to know at this stage. Her choice to stay two hours seems significantly impressive; but it was cool when she left at 15:30 (about 14 degrees) - would we have expected this? And her activity was much more impressive than anything we have seen to date with other bees: much more exploring and digging around.
But the question it still leaves is, what behaviour should we expect from a Queen that really thinks she's found a great place for a nest? Would she leave it so soon? (And not come back, as is the case tonight; and risk another bee finding it). Would we expect her to explore and start moving bedding around, or would we expect her to stay still and just wait and confirm that the nest is not in use by any other animals (bees, mice etc.). Is our human smell offputting? (If she can smell it; is that what she's sniffing out?)
Her behaviour when leaving was the most interesting to date also. We have seen a few bumbles take off slowly and spiral away, which we thought might be some kind of landmarking; however, BB15 crept slowly from the box onto the grass in front, then took of very slowly and hovered and circled in small circles round the box area. This was much more like any kind of "landmarking" than we have seen before. But she still didn't do any big circles, which we have read about. So what's behind her behaviour?
In a way, every day generates more and more questions as we try to deal with the disappointment of another bumbling bumblebum that doesn't seem to want to stay! We're running out of time to be finding bees still out nesting, so the pressure's on to really try and perfect the nest, if indeed there is something we can still do it. Hopefully there's now a really chance that a bee will find the newly camouflaged back nestbox of its own accord.
Anyway - in the meantime, here's a picture of her wonderful lift off - which was incredibly graceful and controlled.