Yesterday broke crystalline and balmy after a week of frosty nights and wet days. It could only mean one thing: swarms would be on a rampage. So I said to my dog, “Dog, we’ve got to have a look at number 4. I sense trouble.”
A swarm in western Washington
So I gathered some equipment in case I had to do a split and walked the trail, dodging skunk cabbages and salmonberries, with my dog in tow. At the hive stand, I placed the equipment on the ground behind the hive and glanced at the front. For a moment all looked normal, then suddenly the spigot was turned. Bees poured like liquid from the front of the hive. All they had for an opening was a partially-reduced entrance, but that was obviously not a problem. It was hard to believe that so many bees could come out of such a small hole in such a short time.
As the last of the bees pulsed out, the swarm rose straight up. No lefts or rights, no bearing to the north or south, they just went up. Right next to the hive is a steep embankment—so steep I’ve never tried to climb it. About thirty feet above the hive stand, a fir tree pokes out of the rocks and goes up forever, or so it seems. The swarm decided the tree was perfect, far enough from the mother hive but with a perfect vantage of the surrounding countryside—a great place to huddle until a decision can be reached.
Later, when I climbed up that hill the long way—via switchbacks and scrambles—I could get level with the swarm, but I needed binoculars for a good look. It’s a nicely compact bunch with a gentle hum and lots of dancers on the surface. So much for advanced planning: I have never had a swarm this early, never saw a swarm in April. But the winter was warm, the spring was early, and the bees were ready before I was.
A swarm in northern Utah
This morning, I was out checking my swarm traps (empty, of course) when I got an e-mail about another swarm. Kris in Utah wrote:
I ran into a swarm today. Literally.
I was driving home from work through one of the canyons in northern Utah when I came across a swarm of insects. This is not unusual in the spring, but I had never seen one in the canyon. These were bigger than the usual mayfly swarms that are out. The splatters left by them were also very clear. A few of them were wedged up under my wiper blades and they were definitely honey bees.
Out of curiosity, I wiped some of the clear splatter left on the windshield with my finger and tasted it (I know gross). Honey. I ran home, grabbed a deep super and returned to the scene in hopes that most of the swarm was on a tree or bush nearby. The swarm was still flying in the area, but it was so disorganized and broken up I doubted it would be worth it.
I felt bad for that swarm, but the resulting mess was consistent with information I have always read that the bees gorge themselves on honey before swarming. It was as if my windshield had been pelted by hundreds of little balloons full of honey.
Time to keep an eye out for other swarms being thrown. With warmer than usual temperatures this spring, I am not surprised to see one out this early where I live.
I always admire scientific inquiry and a creative mind, but this time Kris has me mesmerized: When in doubt, just taste the goop on your windshield! Way to go, Kris.