Watch this.

And then, make yourself a cup of tea, settle in, and explore the amazing world of Isabella Kirkland—which is to say, our amazing world—in detail.



For years, I have passed this magical little shop in Manhattan and admired the bee skep and terra cotta pots, the fabulous painted floors, the evocative enamel sink, and the wild, spidery reflections of the candelabrum on the wall after hours.

Looking in the window is like gazing into another time. I have never once seen a human being inside this little store, and sometimes think it really is a portal into another, churning world.


Urban Neighbors: Images of NYC Wildlife

The New York Public Library has a cornucopia of online exhibitions, and I was pleasantly surprised to happen upon its not-so-new but still worthwhile Urban Neighbors exhibit on urban fauna, with sections on historical neighbors, street and backyard neighbors, shore and wetland neighbors, tiny neighbors, salt and freshwater neighbors, etc.

Gliding through these images (samples of which appear on this page), you'll find your rats and pigeons, of course, but you'll also find your snakes, woodpeckers, frogs, raccoons, osprey, dragonflies, and even whales. The exhibit includes a sighting log of NYC wildlife and a list of further resources for those seeking to explore urban wildlife more fully.



John Burroughs' Locusts and Wild Honey

Want to read a beyond-charming essay on honeybees? Look no further than 130 years back, to the great nature writer John Burroughs' extraordinary Locusts and Wild Honey. (This phrase may be familiar to the biblically inclined among you—the story goes that John the Baptist, in his poverty, fed on locusts and honey. Burroughs' title is a play on words, in celebration of the locust trees on whose blossoms the honeybee forage.)

Some samples:

The honeybee goes forth from the hive in spring like the dove from Noah's ark, and it is not till after many days that she brings back the olive leaf, which in this case is a pellet of golden pollen upon each hip, usually obtained from the alder or swamp willow.
It is the making of the wax that costs with the bee. As with the poet, the form, the receptacle, gives him more trouble than the sweet that fills it, though, to be sure, there is always more or less empty comb in both cases. The honey he can have for the gathering, but the wax he must make himself,—must evolve from his own inner consciousness.
I always feel that I have missed some good fortune if I am away from home when my bees swarm. What a delightful summer sound it is!
I love to see a swarm go off—if it is not mine, and, if mine must go, I want to be on hand to see the fun.

If you are not completely beguiled by now, there's no hope for you. But if you, like I, respond deeply to the 19th century charms of Burroughs' unabashedly enthusiastic bee-writings, check out this book. It's free on Googlebooks; can be downloaded to the iPhone app, Stanza; and is no doubt available in other free online venues as well.

Of course, nothing is perfect in this world...and while I'm happy to have Burroughs' gem free for the taking from Google, I had to laugh when I got to this page:

Some folks in the library world have raised concerns that, in its haste to scan every publication under the sun, Google is sometimes sloppy in its scanning practices. Evidence for that argument (in the form of fingerprints, no less!) can certainly be found here. But I won't let that minor imperfection mar the honeyed sweetness of finding this lovely book (and other works by John Burroughs) online, and being able to share these humble pleasures so easily with you.

And while we're on the subject, here's Woodchuck Lodge in Roxbury, New York, where Burroughs was born and spent the summers of his adulthood studying nature, writing, and entertaining famous friends like Henry Ford. Wren and I paid homage to Burroughs during our visit there last summer, and took this picture of his sweet spot on Mother Earth.


Become a Pollinator "Exit Pollster"

National Pollinator Week is months away, but from a global swarming perspective, pollinator week exists in perpetuity—it's a subject near to our hearts, uppermost in our minds, and—quite literally—central to our bee-ing.

The Pollinator Partnership has an abundance of resources about pollinators, ideas for sponsoring events that raise consciousness about the vital importance of pollinators, and an action alert to encourage we the people to bring attention to the plight and glory of pollinators by requesting of our governors that Pollinator Week 2009 be officially proclaimed.

Meanwhile, in an exciting new development on the local front, the Great Pollinator Project has launched NYC Bee Watchers—a citizen-scientist project to gather information about the distribution of four groups of bees (honey bees, bumble bees, large carpenter bees, and metallic green bees) in New York City.

Think of it as exit-polling for pollinators (you count them as they leave the flowers on which they're foraging) and visit the site to learn how to reinvent yourself as a "mobile bee watcher." You'll find a nice slide presentation on how to become a NYC Bee Watcher volunteer, instructions on how and when to conduct observations, and guidance on bee identification.

The site includes a page of NYC-specific and urban-focused info—including videos—on bees, bee-watching, and pollination.

There is also a fine resource section linking to online insect identification guides; insect and bee conservation groups; and documents on creating bee-friendly gardens, providing nesting sites for bees, and taking other actions that promote eco-systemic well being.



BeeProf.com is a resource-rich portal for bee-related articles, websites, and other good stuff.

A couple of months ago, the site's author named Global Swarming Honeybees as one of the best bee sites on the web—generous praise we'll certainly do our best to live up to.

The site's "about" page offers this summary: "Think of it as a mini-Google for bees, beekeepers and apiculture in general. And then think of journalism. Then you've got BeePROF."


Beekeeping in Croatia Slovenija

I don't know about you, but with spring making its first tentative incursions toward the overthrow of winter, I'm starting to itch for bees and beekeeping. For now, I'm trying to content myself with reading and thinking about honeybees—and gazing longingly at pictures of bees doing their thing.

So I was delighted to find a fabulous new resource for viewing bees who reside some 4,000 miles away, in and around Croatia Slovenija. A gentleman there recently posted an announcement on the Organic Beekeeping Group regarding a beautiful new web gallery featuring pictures of swarming honeybees.
The gallery is called Rojevi ("swarm" in Croatian), and resides on a content-rich beekeeping site called Webpcelinjak ("web-apiary"), which is fun to explore for moments like this and this and this—not to mention scenes like this and this and this. The images above and below are borrowed from a particularly delightful page on the Webpcelinjak site, which includes a healthy dose of historical and nostalgic (Nostalgija) art, photos, and ephemera.
And as if this weren't abundance enough, the site also has also a nice collection of videos, including a series documenting a big ole snake checking out the hives.

The Rojevi/Swarm gallery invites readers to send good-quality swarm-related photos for this gallery to: webpcelinjak at gmail.com. Photos should be 1024 x 768, at minimum. Include your name and the name of the region and country in which the photo was taken.

Many thanks to the beekeepers who put this site together! Your work has greatly brightened the cold, wintry day of this bee-loving Brooklyn girl!


Sustaining the Honeybees

Not sure how I missed this article on Sustaining the Honeybees by British bee-advocate Philip Chandler back in October, but better late than never: check it out.

Visit Phil's Barefoot Beekeeper site for more.


The Unbearable Beauty of Science

Bats. Flying. Thermal Imaging. Carlsbad Cavern. So beautiful.

A view of the bat cave from Science News on Vimeo.


And in other insect-related news...

There's a fascinating new study out on how serotonin (a mood-regulating chemical found in the human brain, as well as in other animals and even mushrooms) triggers swarming behavior in locusts. As a bee-lover and a once and future Swarm Catcher, I'm always eager to read about the fascinating phenomenon of swarming.

Check out the story on National Public Radio.

Read the Press Release (dated 1/29/09) from the American Association for the Advancement of Science entitled Serotonin Brings Locusts Together.

Learn more about that fascinating substance, serotonin.

And, while you're at it, get the real dirt on how soil-borne bacteria can spark the production of serotonin and turn us all into "happy campers."


Surprise, Surprise! Pesticides Toxic to Honeybees Found in Pollen

A new report from researchers at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has found 37 different types of pesticides in the pollen collected by honeybees in several sites in Connecticut. The research took place in 2007 and is now available in summarized form as a PowerPoint document.

The researchers found the following in the pollen samples they collected from the bee hives:

  • 15 different insecticides and acaricides (acaricides—a.k.a. "miticides" are used to treat Varroa mite)...
  • 11 fungicides...
  • 10 herbicides...
  • 1 plant-growth regulator...
& (sing it with me!) a profoundly poisoned partridge in a pear tree.

The researchers state that "...insecticides highly toxic to honeybees are...found in pollen frequently or at high levels." As we used to say back in the 1970s, gag me with a spoon.

And while we're on the unpleasant and urgent topic of how we're screwing our precious honeybees with our overuse of pesticides and what-all, check out this undated document entitled, Protecting Honeybees from Pesticide Poisoning.

Help Legalize Beekeeping in New York City

If you live in or around New York City, now's your chance to help promote the legalization of beekeeping here in the Big (inadequately pollinated) Apple.

Just Food has been working hard on dual fronts (NYC Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene and the City Council) to get beekeeping legalized here in NYC, just as it is in several other major U.S. cities.

Sign the petition. (I believe that, once enough signatures are collected, the petition will be circulated to the City Council and perhaps NYCDOHMH during this critical period when the current laws pertaining to beekeeping are under active review).

Learn more and download a factsheet on the many benefits of urban beekeeping by visiting the Just Food website.


Apis Abacus

A newly published study entitled Number-based Visual Generalisation in the Honeybee finds that honeybees can count, setting them apart from many other animals and (as far as we know) all other invertebrates. Here's the abstract:

Although the numerical abilities of many vertebrate species have been investigated in the scientific literature, there are few convincing accounts of invertebrate numerical competence. Honeybees, Apis mellifera, by virtue of their other impressive cognitive feats, are a prime candidate for investigations of this nature. We therefore used the well-established delayed match-to-sample paradigm, to test the limits of honeybees' ability to match two visual patterns solely on the basis of the shared number of elements in the two patterns. Using a y-maze, we found that bees can not only differentiate between patterns containing two and three elements, but can also use this prior knowledge to differentiate three from four, without any additional training. However, bees trained on the two versus three task could not distinguish between higher numbers, such as four versus five, four versus six, or five versus six. Control experiments confirmed that the bees were not using cues such as the colour of the exact configuration of the visual elements, the combined area or edge length of the elements, or illusory contours formed by the elements. To our knowledge, this is the first report of number-based visual generalisation by an invertebrate.
Read the entire study on honeybee counting or check out this user-friendly summary of the research on the Science News website.

Profile of a NYC Beekeeper

Wending my way around the Internets on this grey and not-so-snowy morn, I came upon a gem by artist Zina Saunders: a portrait of/interview with urban beekeeper David Graves, an individual who will be familiar to anyone who spends time at the Union Square Farmer's Market here in NYC.

If you like this piece, check out the artist's amazing series on Overlooked New Yorkers. This terrific series includes portraits/interviews featuring city knights, subway musicians, bike messengers, rooftop pigeon guys, mushroom hunters, scuba divers, amateur astronomers, and many other fascinating urbanites nurturing cool obsessions.


Articles of Interest

Sunday morning = catching-up-on-reading-day. Here are a few recent (and not so recent) gems on various topics, from bees to brains, oceans to dirt, that I recommend checking out:

A Low-Tech Treatment for Bee Plague.

Natural Settings Help Brain Fatigue.

Bad News for Oceans...and Us.

How Dirt Does Right by Us.