I've been away for a few days and the weather has more typical April - more inclement, cooler (max about 16 degrees) and cloudy. Consequently there has been little observable bee activity and little human activity associated with it.
As May rapidly approaches and our sightings of nest-searching queens diminish we know all too well that our opportunity to nest a queen is now veyr marginal, although we have not given up.
However, that is not the end of our efforts - far from it. Aside from my wacky ideas about building artificial embankments with expanding foam and improving the video camera setup (such as adding a network DVR), we've decide to source a colonised bumblebee hive from Koppert Biological systems.
This year (2011) is actually the first year they are providing them in the UK, so we are really excited at the chance of being able to get one. The colonies are typically supplied to farmers and growers to aid pollenation of their crops; but Koppert have been great at agreeing to provide us with a single box for our conservation project.
The hives come in two sizes - about 30 - 40 workers (with about 6 week lifetime) and about 40 - 50 workers (with about 12 week lifetime), and both with a Queen. We have opted for the larger size because of the longer period of activity which will give us more time to observe their behaviour and learn more. We have also opted for a native species (Bombus Terrestris Audax) because our box will be out in the open. It is possible to get a non-native bee, but these must be kept in an exclosed area - e.g. if you were a commercial tomato grower. The boxes are about a foot square.
It's absolutely amazing to be able to get something like this practically mail order! It turns out the UK distributor is only 30 miles from where we live (I guess we do live in food-growing-land!) so we will actually go and collect the box next week.
However, it's not just a case of dumping the box in the garden and leaving it at that. We need to make sure there is adequate siting, protection from the elements and protection from other insects, especially ants. So the weekend will be spent sourcing the necessary materials and constructing some the right protection. Rain is a problem, but probably a bigger problem in our garden is wind, with a risk of the box being blown over. So that's a problem we have to solve.
It also changes the technology landscape a bit, as I won't have the luxury of installing video cameras into an empty box. At this stage I have no idea if I'll somehow be able to get cameras into a live nest. Even if i can get through the side of the box without disturbing the bees and being stung to death, I'm aware the hives are made of an outer and inner box which I may not be able to get to at all. So, I'm not counting on any internal cameras at this stage.
However, all is not lost. Today my wireless outdoor infra-red camera arrived; over the weekend I hope to get this installed in the garden, and with it should be able to obseverve the exterior of the box at least.
It's a slight change of direction, but we're really excited for the box to arrive!