buzzee weekend

Lovely weather for once this weekend, so we ended up getting quite a lot done. This post is really just a video and photo update.

I took the opportunity to check the nearby field to see what queens were out and about (if any) and see if i could find any wild nests. I didn't find any nests, but I saw plenty of queens and shot some great video of a vestal cuckoo (bombus vestalis) searching for nests to invade. (see later). 

First up though, quick survey of queens seen in a 1 hour traverse along my favourite transect:

  • Redtail Queens - 8 - mainly resting
  • Bufftail Queens 2 - resting
  • Vestal Cuckoo - 4 - nest searching
  • Carder - 2
  • Various others (half a dozen) in flight - unidentified

nearly all these were resting, a few flying past, and only the Cuckoos nest searching, looking for an unsuspecting established nest to take over:

One of the bufftails was more restless than most and she had no pollen - this would typically mean she hadn't set up nest (once she has, she will collect pollen to feed herself and her brood, and then ultimately not leave the nest at all). I decided to capture her and introduce her to our garden and pilkington box. Since we would not trap her in for more than a few minutes, it wouldn't matter if she had her own nest to go back to; and it could mean she would choose our box to nest in. As it happened, she took a while to enter the box and left not long later. Which is cool - if she liked the location she'll be back and if not, she's only 200 yards from where she was found and can easily get back. 

All Black

We also checked out the gardens in town and saw a few bumblebees there - another vestal cuckoo was foraging. But most interesting was spotting 3 seperate all black bumblebees forgaing and collecing pollen. I've not got a proper ID on these yet, but there are forms of all black Garden bumblebees, especially in the south/east of England (where we are). Here's a video:

New outlook

Since getting the beepol colony I've been wanting to get a camera set up in front of the lodge again. It hadn't happened yet because the camera I used last year was wall-mounted, but we've moved the lodge and now it needs to be sited in the garden on the grass. I built a stand using rolling pin and an old speaker-stand base. I used my standard maplin CCTV mini-camera mounted on top of this, and then to waterproof it, built a camera hood made from sugru
new CCTV camera looking at front of lodge..

Sugru is my new magic ingredient which can be moulded and stuck to almost anything and solidifies over the course of 24hrs into tough, waterproof silcone. So, here's hoping it does the job. 
And just for fun, a few other pictures:

rushing to get home... And a new box layout for our indoor bumblebees:
new box layout (with an attempt at some containment) for our indoor bees(We made some fake "wax" pots for our bumbles, to see what they do with them).

Removing Beepol Lid - part 2


My first attempt to remove the beepol hive plastic lid had been unsuccessful and the lid was left in the nest (loose and unglued), so my immediate concern was to go back in late and night and remove it before it started getting incorporated into the nest structure! (I.e. before the bees started to build wax structures around and on it). 

The plan was simple: under cover of night and red light again, I would open the lodge very quickly, grab the lid and close before the bees really had chance to even come to the front of the lodge. There was going to be no pause to analyse or consider any bumbles on the lid - instead, we would place the lid immediately in a large plastic tub so that we had them contained, and then help get them back into the nest through the entrance.

The operation went very smoothly (as planned this time!) and was done without any harm to the residents. Two actually came out with the lid, trapped in the "one way entrance" chamber. (I'm not a fan of this chamber, we had bees die in here last year also). One of those bumbles turned out to be dead already, the other we coaxed out and onto the ledge. She stood guard for about 10 minutes, probably wondering how she had been miraculously transported from inside the nest to outside, but then found the entrance and went back inside without fuss.

view inside beepol - CH3 improved with lid removedThe view inside the beepol nest (CH2 & CH3) is now vastly improved, just as we had intended. We can clearly and easily see wax pots and lots of busy bees looking after them. 

not all flags and fake tubes

Every day I think I've finished our bumblebee setup, and every day I come up with something new. ☺

So, today I was lying in bed thinking I need more flags! When I say "flags",  I mean the fake flowers we made the other day. It occured to me we could use them mroe constructively to bring the exploring bumbles nearer to our nest entrances, and possibly train them to a degree by offering a reward if they follow them. It's well established that (honey) bees can be trained -e.g. to detect explosives and bumbleebees are trained during lab experiments. 

Anyway - I decided to create a row of flags leading to the boxes; to extend one above our garden wall so it is visible from outside the garden, and to flag each entrance to a nestbox. Anyway,  here are the pictures of the set up. 

descending row of hi-viz flags


flags by each of the nest entrance tubes

There is a small reward on some of the flags, by way of some sugar water. This may train any bumblebees to keep visiting the yellow flags, which will ultimately draw them nearer to the nest box entrances. 

row of flags approaching the nest boxes

I also decided that it might be useful to bury some more entrance tubes in the lawn. These don't go anywhere, but are intended just to be highly visible to Queens and give them a reason to explore the garden. By having more, there's a greater chance they will spot one in passing and investigate, thus increasing the chance of spotting others. 

fake entrance tube - using hi-vis tape for contrast


high flag on pussy willow - visible from outside the garden

Of course, it wasn't all flags and fake tubes today - I also had a spare input on the camera system which I wanted to use more productively. Usually it is just a wide view of the garden - more of a "security" camera view, but I had a spare "bullet cam" that was fixed to the house wall down low. I removed that and attached it to a nice big rock which I got from my parent's garden in the highlands. This gives me the flexibilty to move the camera wherever needed. Note the high-tech waterproofing! ☺

rock cam!

"Rock Cam" now provides the view seen in the very bottom right hand window of the screen, shown in "mission control" below. (Colour image). The three smaller images around it are from the nestboxes. And the three larger images are from the beepol lodge, which doesn't have its colony yet. 

the view from mission control with all cams installed

We can also get the "mission control" view on our iPhones and iPad, anywhere in the world. We can zoom into individual pictures if needed and get sound from the onboard camera microphones. 

remote viewing on iPhone

After all the setup, we went out and were quite quickly able to catch a couple of Queen in succession. We have a new capture technique (to be described later) and tried the first queen in the right hand box (box 3). It wasn't very successful and after a while she worked her way out of the capture tube (which we allowed to happen). So, we revised our tactics slightly and I was able to catch a big beautiful bufftailed queen. 

This time we introduced her to box 2 - the "pilkington" box (brown, centre) and she went in no bother. She too would have been able to get out if she wanted, by removing moss in the capture tube, but she actually stayed in the box. By the time 2 hours had passed, it had gone sunset, so she would not have left anyway due to the low light - so I'm pleased to say she has stayed overnight. 

We fully expect her to leave tomorrow morning - the question is, whether she finds the location desirable and memorises it for a future return. We'll set the CCTV to try and record her exit to see if she does. 

Queen in residenceAbove is the picture of the setup with the queen in residence. The capture tube is covered in a cloth to stop any stray light, but she can exit via the moss filled end if she wants. We added lots of daffodils so that there is immediate nearby food (and also to attract other bees to the garden, which worked: we have a redtail on them within 5 minutes). 

redtail queen on our newly added daffodilsSo, we now wait to see what tomorrow morning brings for our overnight guest... 

QB2012-06 in the nestbox overnight


Final stage: nestbox tech

It was phase 3 of the "Pilkington box" preparation today: installing the tech!

All our nestboxes and the beepol lodge are fitted with at least one (in some cases two) miniature CCTV cameras. They are small and discreet and have a built in microphone and infrared lighting - which means they can essentially see in the dark. They allow continuous monitoring of activity in the box, including the potential for motion detection. 

The other item to fit is a thermometer - the readout is external to the box, but a wire runs inside the box to sample the temperature. 

spy camera in nest box
Here's a wider view of the finished article. 

This is how the box looks located at its final site against our garage wall. The red filter is effective at allowing a view inside the nest without creating disturbance to any resdents. I haven't decided where to mount the thermometer yet. 

installation site for pilkington box

Next is the series of entrance tubes we have fitted. We have three boxes and five tubes. The idea of the tubes is to create a more natural looking entrance and also trick the bumblebees into thinking they are going underground - which of course is especially important for Bombus Terrestris (Bufftailed). 

We have tried to make the tubes look like holes in the undergrowth so that the bumbles we see them easily when scanning the garden for nest sites (of which we've seen several doing). 
entrance tube 1

Entrance tube 1 is for the left hand box. The coloured marking is to attract attention - we have noticed that the high-visibility tape is very successful at attracting bumbles. It would also provide an easier landmark to memorise should a queen check the box out and want to come back later. There is a small amount of old used mouse bedding in the entrance to create an aroma that is also appealing.

entrance tube 2

Entrance tube 2 is for the Pilkington box. This one is facing more directly upward so that it's more easily seen from a height. 

entrance tube 3a
There are three entrance "3's" - left (a), centre (b) and right (c) - as they are all connected to the right hand nestbox. This helps us try a few different designs of entrance. 
entrance tube 3b
entrance tube 3c

Finally, here is the full setup of nestboxes against our garage wall. We've trimmed the nearby grass to make the entrance tubes stand our more easily, but left some grass uncut so that the bumblebees are attracted into the garden in the first place to look for a possible nest site: they do seem to like searching over the uncut grass on the lawn.

We also have some "fake flowers" made of the yellow tape & canes to attract attention (not shown). We've seen several queens now flying from one to the other figuring out what they are. We've created a row that leads them down to the entrance tubes. We'll experiment with this to see what effect different arrangements have and whether it has any effect on queens looking for nests, or whether they don't combine forgaging behaviour with nest searching. 

the full nestbox setup with 3 boxes
We have lots of plants not shown in the picture which are now in bloom, including a Kilmarnock Pussy Willow, which seems to be very popular! But round the boxes we've put white and purple heather - the bumbles are very attracted to purple. 
So, aside from having some low-level radar ☺,  we have a pretty good setup to try and study the garden nest searching behaviour.

Hi Viz Gaffer tape & other brainwaves

Last night we had 3 bees with us - two under the cloche and one in the entrance of the buried nest box. The one in the buried box was not captive, so was free to go at any time. Looks like she probably did - as expected; certainly there was no activity on the camera inside the box itself and BCW did not report seeing anything. 

The day started very foggily and during the morning was only about 6C, so was a bit cold for any bumblebee activity (at 5C or below they tend to go into a 'frozen state' where they can't operate. And bear in mind they need to vibrate themselves to 30C to be able to fly!

So, the cloche had a lot of condensation on it, which made it difficult for BCW to see what was going on underneath, if anything. Later in the day it cleared a little and she saw the bufftailed queen on the side of the brick near the box (it is covering an ant trap). No sign of our little Early Bee though. Couldn't blame her if she wanted to just bed down and hide all day!

As I wasn't home today, I can also confirm that camera access via the iPAD is working very well. It's fabulous on the larger screen compared to the iPhone. I am using EagleEyeHD (which is designed for my DVR). I am on the THREE network and can get 3G signal at work - which delivers an excellent picture. Oddly the app doesn't seem to provide sound, even though the iPhone app supports sound no problem - which seems a bit odd. But the picture is good. Certainly good enough to know that there has been no obvious activity in any of the boxes yet!

Creating a colour splash - attracting attention

I also had the idea today of sticking some of my hi-vis gaffer tape on the end of canes in the garden today to attract the attention of passing bumbles. Some sources cite a bright yellow colour around the nest as a way to attract attention (and help memory) and it's something we actually did instintively last year around our Beepol nest. And on sunday we saw a big fat throaty queen fly round the garden and dinstictly check out a small tab of the bright yellow tape I had stuck on my CCTV cable (which was strung across some fence posts). Even if it only encourages a passing queen to dip down into our garden and have a quick mooch, it's worth a go, and increases the chance of her discovering the nest boxes. 

Location Tracking

I also had another bit of a brainwave yesterday to help with tracking and recording the location of where we find our queens. We know the general area from last year, but not the identical spot and density of population. This would be good to capture.

I realised that simple by taking a picture of the location, my iPhone would capture the GPS location and we could plot it later. In fact, most exciting is the new Adobe Lightroom 4 mapping feature (I've still yet to upgrade) which will allow me to produce maps of all the locations. Can't wait to try that out.  It's great to be putting all our tech to good use.