Archive for July 2010

As at Sea While on Land

July 24, 2010

I went outside this morning with my journal planning to sit in the garden for a while. Thinking that I might see a ladybug, I brought my camera. The Lost Ladybug Project has been on my mind lately. Perhaps I could get a picture to upload to the project.

Of course when you go looking for one animal, another one shows up instead. This morning it was spiders.

Garden Spider in the dogwood.

Garden Spider in the dogwood

Right outside the door I looked under the deck for the grey house spider whose web is tucked up against the house where she can hide beneath a shingle. Instead I brushed against  a new web that seemed to be suspended in the air, parallel to the back wall of the house. A tiny reddish garden spider clung to the center which was undulating in the morning breeze.

Leaving it be, I went to the back corner of the yard which involves ducking beneath the maple and serviceberry and then brushing aside the long-reaching branches of red-twig dogwood. The scent of sage was overwhelming. A giant salvia, planted to provide hummingbird nectar summer to late fall,  has reached its full size.

Honeybees were making regular pit stops on the purple blooms. I tried to take a picture but the breeze was too strong, keeping the stalks in constant motion. Stepping out of the branches, I discovered that I had picked up a rider. A dark round spider with legs three times the size of its body was clinging to the bottom edge of my t-shirt. I tipped it off  into the shrub where it settled safely on a lightly bouncing leaf.

Going back to my table at the other side of the dogwood to make some notes I discovered another tiny garden spider. Its web was spread in the partial shade between several dogwood branches and one of the myrtle.

I haven’t had any more luck taking pictures of spider than I have with bees but I took a few shots anyway. Trying to take pictures of insects has led me to two discoveries. The first is that the viewer on a digital camera is useless for judging the quality of pictures when the focus is on something no bigger than a centimeter or so. Second, even on days I consider still, the leaves and branches of plants are really in perpetual motion.

My attempts to take pictures of bees, spiders and butterflies mostly yield a focused image of one leaf or section of branch surrounded by a blur of green with possibly an unidentifiable fuzzy dark spot. Like a man at sea, even when they themselves are still, spiders and insects are almost always moving. Currents generated by whatever breeze there is, abetted by the the passing of creatures large and small, keep the flowers and leaves they visit or attach their webs to in perpetual motion.

Later inside I was pleased to find that I had managed to capture the garden spider, legs unfurled and ready to run along the web. Since its web is on the north side of the shrub,  protected from all but the strongest winds, it must have been my movement that sent the web vibrating enough to cause alarm. Was it anticipating a meal or ready to flee if I came any closer?

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Bees, Busy or Not?

July 18, 2010

Busy as a bee. I don’t remember the first time I heard that expression but I do remember enjoying the onomatopoeia of the expression when I was quite young. Back then I enjoyed the actual creatures less and always from a distance. Like most children, I was afraid of getting stung.

Since I began gardening I have become more comfortable with bees especially the gentle native bees such as sweat bees, mason bees and bumblebees. I can comfortably hold still while the former land on me.

Having watched these insects in my garden for a number of years, they do not seem the least bit busy. The overall impression they give is that of being out for a stroll in the sunshine.

For the first time this summer, I can imagine how the phrase came to be. In April a local beekeeper put two hives in my yard. Impulsively, I offered my yard as a location for two hives while discussion his expanding business at the Farmer’s Market last fall.

Bees in the hive

Over the winter I went back and read the postings on Neil Gaiman’s blog about his hives. I considered what it would be like to have hives in my tiny yard. I especially considered what effect the bees would have on the native bees. Would the honey bees displace the natives?

Now, two months after the hives were installed, I can say that the hives have not had any impact on the native honey bees that I can discern. While I haven’t taken an actual count, there seem to be as many bees as in previous summers.  If anything there may be more bumblebees a particularly happy situation given their decline in population since the early 90’s.

No, the honey bees haven’t chased the natives away but watching them has made me more aware of the natives and their unique behavior. Bees leaving and returning to the hive create an air space that would drive an air traffic controller crazy. Focus on one individual and you will notice that its path is directed and purposeful. It leaves knowing exactly where it intends to go and returns without getting distracted on the way.

By contrast the natives are wanderers. Their flight is slower and they move from bloom to bloom seemingly at random. Yet the native bees must do everything to survive that that hive bees must and for the most part on their own.

The honey bees can fly directly back to their hive protected as it is by sheer numbers, as many as sixty thousand bees in a single hive box. Solitary bees or those that belong to a smaller colony must protect their nest by preventing its detection. While there are certainly a number of these nesting in my yard, I have only once witnessed one entering its ground hole.

All of this has made me wishful that I had paid more attention to the bees in earlier years. I believe that there are as many native bees as before but I have no data to back this up. Maybe there seem to be more because I am looking for them more mindfully?

Recently I became aware of a particular citizen science project called the Great Sunflower Project.* The purpose of the project is to better understand the native pollinators and where they are working. My sun flowers haven’t bloomed yet but once they do I plan on collecting data about what bees visit the bloom.

* See the link to the right