Going Cuckoo

A beautiful day today, we thought we were definitely on for some bees today to test out the latest version of our boxes. There was some tidying up of the irrigation system to do - I consider this part of the project, as the irrigation is needed to cope with all the additional bee-friendly plants we've brough into the garden. 

The other job was to get the camera feed from the rear nestbox into the house. Yesterday was the first day it went live and for expediency I just wired it to a temporary TV in the garage. The infrared cameras I'm using in the nest boxes come with about 20 metres of cable, so there was plenty to run it round the edge of the garden. This camera is now routed into the house and main TV. This allows us to view the box with extreme convenience and we can even use "picture in picture" mode to keep an eye on things while watching other things.

rear nestbox cam shown PIP on main TVWhile I was doing the technical work, BCW was out looking for bees. Finally I was able to head out too and catch up with her. As we met she was excitedly to tell me she had just let one go. I couldn't believe what I was hearing! Then she explained she was certain it was a "cuckoo" bee - a cheap imitation of Redtail, with no pollen baskets on its legs. Rather cheekily, a "cuckoo" bee seeks out an existing nest and lays its eggs in there and does none of the work of rearing its young. So, there is no point trying to get one of these bees to nest, as they don't! However, their behaviour does give some pointers as to where they'd expect other bees to have their nest. We actually caught 2 today. 

BCW was standing at the corner of a field where she had seen lots of bees. Some of these appear to using the corner as a landmark for their journeys - they fly across the field to the corner, then zip off on the next leg of their journey. If you are standing in the corner at the time they will sway left to right as  they take you in (probably wondering what this strange tree-like thing that has appeared in their field), then swoop a few circles round you, then shoot off on their way. This behaviour is quite predictable and reliable.

The behaviour today seemed different - not so much outright nesting, but more foraging and "flying through" so although BCW had seen about half-a-dozen bees, it was only the cuckoos that had been in catchable situations. I guess some of the bees we are now seeing have already set up nest and are stocking up for a bit of child-rearing!

I went to the corner of the adjacent field, rather unhopeful of catching anything as it was dry and muddy and cracked, whereas we have seen the Bumbles searching in embankments. However, within 5 minutes I was rewarded with a redtail searching amongst the mudy cracks. I couldn't believe my luck and when she finally landed I was able to catch her with ease. She was quite placid and we decided to take her to the main nestbox at the front.

BB16 - redtailShe went into the box without any problem and the view on the two cameras in this box was amazing - the first time we have been able to test it. The infrared works a treat and the clarity is excellent. I'm really pleased with it. 

Unfortunately she only stayed about 5 minutes. She didn't really explore the box at all, even though we had hoped a redtail would be less fussy than a bufftail. When she left she did a wonderful set of landmarking circles; the best we had seen to date - about 4 circles at a lower level and 3 at a higher level. It really looked like she was taking her surroundings in.

After a pause to catch our breath and get a much needed cuppa, BCW went out again on the hunt. This time she found a bufftail, more-or-less in the same location. We decided we'd try this one in the box at the back. Although the front nestbox is the best-equipped from a technical point of view, that doesn't mean it suits the bees best. It is noiser and less surrounded by greenery for example. 

BB17 - bufftailIt was now about 3.30pm - still about 15 - 15 degrees C outside, though it had been threatening rain on and off. She went into the box very happily and in the end stayed for 50 mins. She followed the typical pattern of scratching and shuffling for a few minutes at a time then resting. All of this time she was unfortunately off-camera, somewhere just below it and she never really explored the box. It's frustrating when the bees decide to inhabit a zone that the camera can't see; but at least the audio gives us a clue what they're up to! We sensed she was going to leave after about 50 minutes and she too delighted us with a wonderful set of circles rising from the box. She even outclassed BB16 doing perhaps a dozen circles rising from ground level up to about 2 storeys high, circling wider and wider and drifting over the neighbours garden a little. This was the best evidence we have had to date of a bumblebee setting her "navigation" - i.e. memorising the landmarks around the nest site.

Of course, this always raises hopes that they are planning to return, but we have learnt from experience that even these signs are not a guarantee. Sadly this has proven to be the case again tonight - neither BB16 nor BB17 have come back to the nestboxes despite our best hopes. However, they thoroughly entertained and delighted us in the process and we can hope they will perhaps return another day.