Chasing Queens

We woke up today with the sun shining brightly and the sound a loud buzzing around our window! It was a beautiful day and clearly the bumblebees were out and busy. Not so many on our heather today - though we did see a Queen Tree Bee warming up and having a drink. (See below)

tree bee warming and foraging on heatherSo, we got to work quickly to complete the set up for our main nesting box. Following our experiences last year we decided that the best strategy for keeping queens captive for a short while to encourage nesting, is not to trap them in the box itself but to provide a small "greenhouse" area with all the required plants. Thus the queen is not trapped directly in the box and has some ability to roam and forage. We are using a cheap (£11) "greenhouse cloche" from Wilkinson - it's perfect for the job. 

We mounted the box first and made sure that all the edges of the plastic cloche were well buried in the stones to prevent any escapees. 

"greehhouse" system for keeping queens captiveWe chose the back top left corner of the garden which faces south east. This is a compromise location to ensure the box doesn't get too much direct sunlight during the height of summer (since the box is not buried). 

The we added a good supply of flowers (in this case Heather). 

We also provided honey water in the box (which we can refill from the outside if necessary) and also some pea-sized pollen balls in the box to encourage nesting. If the queen shows interest, we'll replace these every day.

"greenhouse" system for keeping queens captiveWe went out about 3pm to our usual location by the nearby field and were astonished to see how many bumblebees were around. Many were zooming past our heads and we traced them down to the nearby Pussy Willow trees. 10's of bees were buzzing about the upper branches, foraging on the emerging blossom - it was an amazing sight - never seen so many queens all together. 

I wandered along the ditch at first and quickly found a queen trying to burrow down - probably to rest for the night (about 3.30pm). She was easy to catch and very placid. It was easy to get her into the cloche safely too. Here she is:

we think this is an Early Bee QueenAt first we thought she was a bufftailed queen, but I began to think she is actually and Early Bee, due to her quite strongly red tail and also her much more diminutive size. (Oh, you should see the males in the summer, they are tiny and ever so cute).  

Pussy Willow with 10s of Queen Bumblebees busy all over itAbove is the tree where so many bees were busy. You can't really see them in the picture, but it was like Heathrow airport! As the afternoon faded many of these bumbles dropped down to floor level and were searching along the fence line (where the cut grass met the natural grass and twigs) looking for somewhere to bed down. It was easy for me to capture two along this line and bring them back. 

We decided to let one of these two (both Bufftails) into the cloche. Even though it now contains two queens and they could end up fighting to the death, we feel that we can release one of them if we see that looks like it might happen. At this stage we don't know the likelihood of either of them nesting, so we could end up releasing both if they show no interest. 

Below is the bufftail we added. She was significantly larger than the Early Bee (as expected). 

bufftailed queenShe spent quite a while trying to fly to the light, but eventually gave up and decided to bed down under some of the stones; which was intriguing to see how she managed. The early bee did the same - after about a minute in the cloche she decided to bury down into a gap in the stones, sheltered by a dried leaf. If only they knew the luxurious cabin they have available at the other end of the cloche ☺

The third queen we added to our second nest box - this box hasn't got the same food supplies, so we will have to open up the entrance tomorrow, and if she leaves, so be it. 

Now we have to monitor them carefully for the next few days - we have cameras set up in all the boxes which will help us keep a close eye on things.