Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bees and Phoebes and Spring Flowers

Last week's well-above normal temperatures sped up the spring timetable. We sat on our east-facing deck in the early evenings as birds went about their busy lives. A pair of phoebes perched in the crabapple--the crooked one that I sculpted with the pruning loppers. The tree is a perfect perch for the phoebes as it grows only 15 feet from the deck, where they nest each year.

Meanwhile on the south-facing side of the house, where the sun warms the gable ends, carpenter bees were busy all week. The overwintering adults emerged from their excavated tunnels, mated, and set about nesting and laying eggs. On the driveway below, the dead males were piling up, while the females excavated each chamber, deposited an egg, supplied it with "bee bread" (a mixture of pollen and nectar), and then plugged it with a wad of sawdust.

Carpenter bees and bumble bees resemble each other; both are native bees and important pollinators. The carpenter bee has a shiny black abdomen, while bumblebees have hairy abdomens. They differ in their habits as well. Bumblebees nest in the ground and are more social. The carpenter bee, as its name suggests, nests in wood, such as under the eaves of our house. The male carpenter bee buzzes and hovers and sounds and looks menacing as it patrols its territory, but it is harmless as it has no stinger. Here is a male carpenter bee lying dead on the driveway, with a yellow patch on its forehead; females have no color patch.
As honey bee colonies have collapsed in recent years due to various maladies, more attention is focused on our native bees--including bumblebees and carpenter bees--and their importance for pollination of vegetables, fruit trees, and flowers. As bees emerge early in spring they need a source of nectar from now till fall. One of the earliest plants available to them are the willows along with red maples. Thanks to the warm temperatures many of the willows are in full bloom, although we have none in our yard (yet). These willows were seen on one of our walkabouts with Kodi.
A local farmer has plowed his cornfield already, although planting is likely still a ways off. We saw our first road-killed snake--a small brown snake that lived in the fields along Bald Hill Road, but ventured out to the pavement to sun itself. From now until fall we will see too many that won't make it back to the field.

This morning I woke to the soothing sound of rain drops. The air and soil felt parched last week with several days in a row in the mid-80s. The rain was welcome as are the cooler temperatures for the coming week. At a glance the woodlands are already showing their late spring colors: the reds of the red maple flowers, snow white magnolia flowers, sunny yellow forsythia and spicebush in full bloom, and the soft green of woodland shrubs beginning their leaf-out.

We have to remind ourselves that it is still too early to plant in the garden, although the weeding has already begun as the unwanted plants seem to flourish everywhere that I don't want them. For a change I am glad to see the clouds, to feel the raindrops on my face and the coolness of the air.

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