Much of today (once BB25 had set sail) was spent on other bank holiday chores as well as some garden and beebox improvements. Yes, I know it's hard to believe there are any we can make as we are on about revision 10! But with two boxes there is scope to test different tweaks independently.
We are very happy with the new entrance design and the ability to camouflage the whole box; the back nestbox is really starting to look just like a grassy mound in the garden. However, each time we introduce a bee and it chooses to leave, we feel there is perhaps something we can try that might work differently. Today we decided to remove some of the brown bedding fibre and replace some of it with cut meadow straw. This is more akin to what a rodent would use/have access to for building a nest, and we know that bees are attracted to unoccupied rodent nests. It also has a much better smell of "nature" if such a thing is quantifiable. We also used some of this straw to further disguise the exterior of the boxes, to great effect.
Later in the afternoon we both went out independently to do a bit of bee hunting. I'm now tending to stick to the inside line of the nearby field edge where there is a deep ditch. Although activity levels overall have reduced, this is where I am seeing the most. Meanwhile, BCW sticks to the road side of the same field (which is incidentally where we have found a 'real' redtail nest) and back of the housing estate.
Between us we caught three vestal cuckoo bees first of all. These are the bees that mimic bufftails. The timing is textbook - about 6 weeks after the bufftails emerge, we begin to see the cuckoo equivalents looking to invade their nests. Given that we hadn't even seen one a week ago, we are doing well to identify them quickly and easily; and thankfully this particular type is sufficiently disimilar for an alert novice such as myself to be able to identify. We let all these cuckoos go as we do not want them anywhere near a potential nest.
I saw a few bufftails in tall grass near brambles (may, of course, have been cuckoos) and risked life and limb to traverse the ditch to go after them with no avail. In the end I was rewarded with a redtail.
We agreed to try it in the front nestbox as we had hoped to catch a Common Carder and try it in the back nestbox. The new "docking" system works a treat, but this redtail (BB26) was not for going in. After about 50 minutes she eventually entered the box, quickly traversed the inside and then left after 2 minutes. This was only to be expected - no doubt she was stressed after her capture, as she was not placid at all. Perhaps we should have let her go sooner - this is one long learning journey.
We went back out and within a short time also both caught Bufftails. We were very careful to confirm they were queens, showing nesting-searching behaviour and not cuckoos; this is becoming increasingly important now as there are queens with nests (who must not be taken away from them), their offspring workers, and cuckoos all attracting our attention. We go through a process of both identifying the bee before even taking it home.
We put the first bufftail (BB27) in the rear box. She went in very quickly (it's a little baffling how some do and how some resist - we have not figured out the 'psychology' yet). Unfortunately she did not appear on camera (only one camera in the rear box) so we had to rely on audio scratching to tell she was in there. However, after 20 minutes there was no sight nor sound of her, so we assume she had gone.
We brought the second bufftail (BB28) to the front box intially.
She was a funny one! She was totally still as I brought her home and then when we docked my pot, she also sat still just staring at me! Not a peep from her! I had to go out to get some food and while I was gone BCW reported that she then started buzzing becoming active, but still refusing to enter the box.
Eventually BCW decided to move her to the back nestbox to try there. I then turned up and it was the same story, she sat there, still as can be! Still refusing to go in the box.
After 30 minutes or so of this, she was apparently still not stressed, we decided we would remove the pot and leave her to her own devices. Rather like BB2, she didn't fly off (it was 8.30pm by now and we dearly hoped she wouldn't as she had a safe place to sleep here), but simply crawled up the front of the entrance to shelter in the overhanging grass. At 9pm she was still there so we let her be and assumed she felt safe for the night!
So, all in all, an odd day: 3 cuckoo bees caught and released; 3 "proper" queens caught, but none really interested in entering or exploring our boxes. Which is in complete contrast to the Carder (BB25) we had the night before. It's very hard to decide whether this something we are doing, such as tinkering with the boxes; or whether it's down to individual personalities and species of bee and their preferences.
There is still so much to learn.