Declaring Bumblebee season 2012 officially open!

Well, nature waits for no-one! Not for us and not for the Bumblebees!

It's only a few months (November) since we saw the last of our bumblebees. Sadly the remnants of our own colony died, but elsewhere Queens were busy hibernating. Winter was unusually warm this year, with only a couple of short cold snaps and the latter weeks of February have been very mild here in East Anglia. 

The trigger point was Thursday 23rd February, when temperatures reached about 15C here (and apparently 18C elsewhere) and lo and behold out came the bumblebees!

I was privileged to spot (and photograph) as many as half a dozen on the two heather plants at our front door, which are in full bloom (and were chosen specially for the job). There were two Tree Bees particularly interested on that day. Today ambient temperatures were a little lower but still enough to create lots of activity, not just from bumblebees but from honey/solitary bees too. Ambient temperature was about 12 - 14C, but the temperature on our south facing house wall, where the bees love to warm up, was a sultry 29C! Today we saw mainly bufftaileds. BCW and I disagree over whether we saw a white-tailed bumble as well: it was certainly more lemony, but I don't think the tail was white enough. So, we agree to differ. There are not a lot of flowers 

More excitement was created at the end of the afternoon as BCW saw one of the bumbles leave the heather and head into the flowery undergrowth near to our lavender. She burrowed down in there and didn't come out - so we know she is sleeping in the border just by our front door. I'd love to see her come out first thing tomorrow! 

So, this is the trigger for us to get busy preparing for the 2012 bumblebee year; and there is plenty to do:

  • clean the beepol lodge and spray with Certan (anti-wax moth treatment)
  • fit the beepol anti-wax moth flap
  • "un-fit" and re-site the nestboxes that were placed for hibernation (and not used)
  • start sorting out and re-routing all the CCTV (and consider drilling through the wall instead of using the window)
  • replace faulty equipment (especially thermometers)
  • fit a feeding system to the nest boxes

The work is well under way - here's what we've done and plan to do:

Beepol Lodge

We are re-siting the lodge to a less shady area of the garden, though still west-facing; we have to find the right balance of light, shade and temperature, bearing in mind the longest/warmest days. We are sitting the lodge on an old plastic sign, which will provide a good level and a safer area for bees that fall off the lodge (previously they fell in amongst the gravel/stones). We are also going to

We've sprayed the lodge again this year with Certan as an additional preventative measure against wax moth, as well as fitting the new flap system supplied by beepol. This system screws onto the existing ledge and has a plastic flap that wax moth cannot navigate - however, the bees can learn to operate it. 

Also this year I am going to fit 2 cameras inside the lodge so that we can see activity at the entrance (brilliant for counting bees in/out of the nest) but also see down into to the nest to see how it is developing - this will help eliminate the need to check on it by opening it so often. Also, we will fit a thermometer, which we didn't get chance to do last year. I've order the same "fridge" thermometers as last year as they can be surface mounted and I plan to drill a hole in the lodge to do so. 

Nest boxes

Even though we will buy a live Beepol colony again this year, we will still also provide nest boxes for "wild" queens, should they choose them. Last year we tried very hard to get wild queens to nest by capturing them and adding them to the nestboxes. One stayed three nights, but none of them actually stayed to nest. We will try a similar strategy this year, though not as intensive. We have come up with a different system for keeping Queens in the box - rather than trap them in there (a strategy we eventually abandoned) we have got a "greenhouse cloche" (about 2 feet high) that we can put over the box. That way we can include plants/flowers next to the box and let the queen fly and explore within the cloche, whilst restricting her to a small area. We hope this will be less stressful for them and leave them more inclined to choose to nest in the box. 

As ever, the nest boxes are equipped with internal CCTV cameras and also need new thermometers. I have also drilled a "feeding hole" into one of the boxes, so that we can add sugar/honey-water into a small holder on the inside wall of the box. This was something we wanted but didn't have last year when we kept some queens temporarily captive. 

We have put a small amount of dry moss and brown hamster bedding in the boxes (a smaller amount than last year, based on our observations of the live colonies and the space they need). We know the bees manage very well with the hamster bedding. 

One box will be sited south facing, the other east facing against our garage wall. We wil probably slightly bury the east-facing box and use my expanding foam "disguised" to make it look underground and just leave that box be, to see what happens and whether any bumbles choose it of their own accord. If any do choose it to nest, we will need to come up with a wax moth strategy!

Camera Work

There is plenty to do on the tech front also. Really for the CCTV system I now need a 16 channel DVR, but for now I will stick with my Quad box and 4 channel DVR which together allow me to use 8 cameras. It's just about good enough to get started, but unfortunately limits my ability to use motion detection to 3 key cameras. 

The other big consideration is whether to make the wiring more permanent and route the cables through the house wall, rather than via a window. I'm still debating whether to go ahead with this as the hole would have to be quite big.

The other addition to the camera arsenal is, of course, the new Canon 5D MkII. I've been testing that the last few days with a ring-flash for macro work and also my existing 80mm macro lens. The camera is already proving better because it can shoot longer bursts than my old camera and at significnantly higher resolution; although it would be nice to get a few more frames per second from it :-) 

Anyway, we are making good progress in getting prepared, though time is of the essence as the Bumblebees are already coming out of hibernation and will be looking for nests soon!