It's been cooler and much windier lately, and of course no more bank holidays to enjoy - so we've been concentrating on the new Koppert Hive rather than chasing bees through fields for the nestboxes.
I was in charge today as BCW was away and I managed to grab 20 minutes to try and get some close up pictures on my Digital SLR. It turns out this is harder than I first imagined: the focus, timing, shutter speed all contributing to the things that can go wrong! The bees move so fast that for close up work it is impossible to track them with the camera - everything has to be preset. Anyway - here are a few attempts: hopefully they will improve over time...
The other plan for today was to close the box and a examine the inner lid, with a view to figuring out how to get a small camera inside. Also, we wanted to check that the one-way entrance was working properly after some uncertainty earlier, so I thought it would be a good test to put the box into "incoming" mode only for an hour or so and then close it off before having a look at the lid.
I did so at about 7pm when I thought the bees wouldn't be coming out (but I knew a few were out). Gradually they started returning. At first they seem a bit confused because the right-hand entrance has disappeared. They poke around a bit and then try the left hand entrance. Usually they won't go all the way in first time; they'll come out and think about it and then try again. Eventually they'll try again and find their way in. I think the issue is that the one-way entance gets quite narrow but also actually has a flap at the end - so the bees have to push through it. It is obviously not entirely natural for them.
Not all the bees manage it. One tiny bee just couldn't get in and kept coming out and trying to figure out what was wrong. It was flying all round the box and trying to get in the other vent holes. It was very confsued as to why it could no longer get in its nest, but just didn't seem to be able to conquer the one-way entrance. I got a bit concerned watching it, as I don't know what happens if they are left like this. Do they just give up and abandon the nest? Do they bed down somewhere nearby and try again later? How long will they try for?
And, I was also concerned about the dropping temperature since it was now approaching 8pm. Then it got even worse. One little bee went into the narrow tube and stayed in there. At one point there were three bees in that tube all clamouring to get in and it was blocked up. Two of them eventually flew off, and the tiny little one just sat on the inside edge of the tube as if it was cold and exhausted.
By this time I was getting quite distressed myself about the whole situation (it doesn't help that the tiny tiny workers are so incredibly cute) so I decided I wanted to open the box entrance fully again. The trouble was, this little one was now sitting right in the entrance. Finally she walked back into the tube again momentarily and I pounced, swiftly opening the second tube. She realised something had changed and went in through the other hole.
If I'm honest, I hated the whole experience, because it seems like there is no way to avoid the bees getting confused and (to think in human terms) anxious. Indeed, do they go in the one-way flap only when they get so anxious about being unable to get into the nest? The day before BCW called Koppert about this when we first had concerns, but the person they spoke to said they'd never had any customers ask about the one-way flap and the reluctance to use it. I suspect it's because your average farmer has a bit of a "fire and forget" approach - they are, after all, very busy people. They probably switch the box mode, leave it 30 mins and then come back and move it regardless.
We are different because we are watching and recording almost every movement.
Anyway - I moved the outdoor camera and watched the entrance from indoors after that. Amazingly there were one or two bees still emerging from the box after 8pm! They are certainly proving to be unpredictable!