Bees Magnolia-fied

These not-so-hot snaps of honeybees gathering pollen are from late March, when the magnolias in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens were in their pinup-girl-prime.Not much left of the magnolias now, except for one lovely late-bloomer in a shady portion of the grove...and my appreciative memories. These images offer little more than a sensory impression of a bee-loud moment of pink, branch, and blue in early spring. I hope you enjoy them.


Practical Pollen

Nice bit in the NY Times this week on the clever nature of pollen.

Carpenter Bees 2.0

Catching decent shots of carpenter bees with an iPhone isn't easy, but on this day at the Children's Garden in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (back in March), the C-bees were abundant and relatively cooperative.


Carpenter Bees Part I

Yesterday was a banner day at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. The lilacs were in their prime, working their mind-altering magic on the dazzled crowd of worshipers. Barely noticed on the ground beneath the showy lilac bushes, a thick carpet of deep-purple grape hyacinths played host to a robust constituency of honeybees.

With the honeybees keeping a low profile, the blatant stars of yesterday's pollinator show were the dozens of carpenter bees doing their thing on the glamorous azaleas near the garden's main entrance. I love the vigor and heft of these fuzzy, burly bees, especially in the context of the showy azaleas.The carpenter bees showed a special fondness for the neon-pink azaleas, and virtually no interest in the purple, red, or white ones. There was plenty of C-bee action on the purple wisteria, though, so I'm guessing the non-pink azaleas were not giving nectar yesterday or were simply offering a less delectable flavor profile. It raises interesting questions about what draws a bee to a particular plant at a particular time. The nuances are endless.
Lucky for me, the C-bees were so enraptured with the azaleas that I was able to get close enough with my iPhone to grab a few shots. There's something terribly 1940s about azaleas, don't you think? And (going out on a springy limb here) something so Orson Welles-like about carpenter bees (think driving force, ambition, unapologetic conspicuousness).

Thus it was that, while reveling in all the bee-on-bud action yesterday, my mind unfurled a full-blown mental mash-up involving a Technicolor version of Sunset Boulevard + Busby Berkeley dance moves + Paul Masson wine ad—all populated solely by hearty, gallivanting C-bees. Beware spring's potent cocktail of hot pink flowers, aromatic lilac, and shimmering pollinator charm.


Cranky Thoughts/Earth Day

It's the day before "Earth Day" and bloggers everywhere will be blogging about Earth Day and so I too shall blog (briefly) about Earth Day.

I must confess, given the horrible state of planetary affairs, I'm feeling a bit cranky about Earth Day this year....the logical outcome of one too many articles about imperiled bats, deformed frogs, industrial beekeeping practices, and dead whales with garbage in their bellies—that kind of thing.

Of course, I support the concept of Earth Day, which marks its 40th anniversary this year. I applaud any effect to mobilize awareness of and action on environmental issues. I was seven on the first Earth Day and I remember it as a significant influence when I was a kid; Earth Day is an old, familiar friend.

My crabbiness, I guess, has to do with the name "Earth Day," which implies that the other 364 days aren't quite as urgently "earthy," and perhaps takes us off the hook after we're done attending to that one great (and successful) marketing campaign. (I am not saying that the Earth Day folks are suggesting as much—just noticing the way these word, this year, are resonating for me.)

Earth Day is every day. We live here every day. We sleep here—or lay awake worrying about diseased bats and light pollution—every night.

And we need to be doing a better job, every day and every night, of protecting this earth—her people, her water, her creatures, her land, and her sky (including that beyond our earth's atmosphere, which we have also, incredibly, managed to gum up with our junk).

I know I'm preaching to the converted here, so I'll also confess that perhaps what I am feeling is not really crankiness so much as sorrow. Because it's clear that all we're doing to protect the Earth, collectively and individually, is light years short of enough. As the environmental casualties, horrors, and insults mount, I'm left yearning for a better way to effect the changes we so desperately need.

What—besides blogging, donating to effective environmental organizations, planting bee-friendly gardens, recycling, cooling it on the consumerism, insisting upon serious campaign finance reform, signing online petitions, informing ourselves and sharing what we know with others, and promoting environmental awareness via clever marketing campaigns—should we be doing to turn this sad mess around?

I'd welcome your thoughts.


More Insect Photos

Folks are making some real nice insect pics these days—including the eye-popping colorama snapshots discussed in my previous post.

On the opposite end of the visual spectrum, here are some dreamy black and white insect photos I think you will enjoy. Amble on over to this website and click the "in progress" link at the top of the page to get a look at some sweetly spooky insect-lurkers.


Dew Drop In...

These closeup photos of insects covered in early morning dew have been going around the Interweb for a few weeks now, and for good reason. Looky here.

I love it that the guy who took these is relatively new to photography. He gets up in the middle of the night to hunt for the insects before the dew has dried and they awaken from torpor to resume their active, sun-warmed lives.

Ferreting out the insects is no easy task. Nor is identifying them once they are found and photographed. The photographer, Miroslaw Swietek, says his insect identification books are so dew-soaked as to be pretty useless. In that rich metaphor, one senses the ultimate meaning of life.

Get your fill of Swietek's grand photos here.


Bugging Out on the NYC Subway System

There's a lot of great public art in subway stations throughout NYC thanks to we the taxpayers and the Metropolitan Transit Authority's Arts for Transit program.

En route to the New York Botanical Gardens earlier in the week, I was pleased to find this bee walking the wall at the Bedford Park Blvd. stop on the 4 train.
The bee is a detail from a glass mosaic by Andrea Dezsö titled Community Garden, 2006. As the name suggests, these whimsical, shimmering images evoke the flora and fauna of a garden setting, with plenty of great-looking bugs lurking here and there.

Several of the subway art installations in NYC focus on natural subjects, including kinetic dinosaurs at the stop near the American Museum of Natural History, dramatic undersea creatures at Houston Street, and stately penguins at Fifth and Fifty-Ninth Street (near the Central Park Zoo).

You can take a virtual, station-by-station and line-by-line tour of this art on the MTA website by clicking any of the links above and then navigating (bottom left of the page) to the station or line you'd like to explore.


Thought for the Day

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe."—Carl Sagan


Three Bug Blogs I Like A Lot

I respect people who unabashedly put their love(s) out there, so let's start with I Love Insects, an info-rich blog by an entomology student who professes a "perhaps unreasonable appreciation for arthropods." Perhaps, maybe, yeah...But I say, nothing unreasonable about it; bugs are a most worthy obsession!

The Marvelous in Nature covers a lot of ground. Literally. The author, Seabrooke Leckie, is a fabulous writer who really does her homework and in so doing, conveys deep delight in and knowledge of the natural world in ways that are always enriching and enjoyable. Moths are one of her Big Things, but she writes about whatever Mother Nature presents to her, whether it's a spring peeper on her porch, the trout lilies heralding spring, or a cardinal obsessed with the rear-view mirror of her car.

Bug Girl's Blog is also well worth your attention, though the author is on (what we hope will be a temporary) hiatus. There's more than enough here, though, to satisfy your burning desire for eclectic and funky insect-related info for a long time to come.

Soon or soonish, I'll roundup some of my favorite bee and beekeeping blogs. Right now, I'm having too much fun being out and about, syncing my winter-steeped system with the onset of this most glorious spring.


On Golden Pond

Got a little freaked out on Friday afternoon when this sulfurous yellow dust appeared on the surface of our pond. Being perpetually conditioned for bad ecological tidings, my mind immediately went to thoughts of evil pollutants and Hazmat suits.

Happily, after some eco-sleuthing (walkin' & lookin'), I realized that the "deadly fallout" was actually pollen blown by high winds from the locally abundant bog willows (one of the first pollen producers of spring).

Thus was my eco-fretting averted. Bouyant spring mood was restored by the unassuming little willow shrubs/trees that give the bees plenty to work with, pollen-wise, when they need it most. Joy to see the plants abuzz with honeybee industry and the butter-yellow pollen baskets of the workers arriving at their hives.


Dressed to Squill

Pollen counts and allergy-induced sneezing notwithstanding, pollen is a pretty exciting topic if you are a beekeeper or bee-watcher. I've written quite a few pollen-related posts on this blog, with photos of honey bees gathering pollen from jewelweed, crocuses, goldenrod, portulaca, and (as shown below) thistle.This weekend, Wren and I had a great time watching the bees gather buttery yellow willow pollen in the old pastures behind our house. We also saw, for the very first time, a bee packing her pollen baskets with the handsome shimmery blue (!) pollen of Siberian squill, which we'd planted a mass of two years ago with precisely that goal in mind. If you're looking for a great plant to provide early spring forage for your bees + the coolest colored pollen on Earth, look no further than Siberian squill.

This excellent pollen color-chart includes a photo of the blue pollen of which I speak, while providing a guide for those who wish to identify the various pollen types their bees are bringing home to the hive.

I only wish the little bee with the blue pollen hadn't eluded my camera lens. I'll be trying again soon, of that you can be sure.


Feeding Bees With Fondant in the Top Bar Hive

Awhile ago, one of our readers—a top bar hive beekeeper named Gord who keeps bees in Ontario—mentioned that he was seeking out a good method for adding fondant to his top bar hives. Fondant—which is basically a soft, creamy sugar-water mix—is used by some beekeepers to offer their bees a supplementary food source in late winter/early spring or at other times when cold, wet weather or lack of forage places the colony at risk for starvation.

I asked Gord to get back to us when he found a recipe that he thought would work well in the TBH context, and he was kind enough to do so. Behold, his very useful guide on Using Fondant As Hive Insurance. The post appears on Gord's Seldom Fools Apiculture website, which I highly recommend for its good discussions of chemical treatments and other aspects of beekeeping that embodies a respect for bees.


Lilac: The Original Purple Heart

I had some serious pruning to do a couple of weeks ago, and much of it focused on some very old lilac bushes that, after eons of neglect, had grown tangled with dead and fallen wood. It took me three long sessions over three days to do all the pruning, clearing, cutting, and hauling to get the site where it needs to be.

During this time, I remembered how deeply I enjoy cutting wood with a handsaw—especially on cold days. Along with being a warming exercise, the physical and aural repetition associated with sawing is profoundly meditative, as is the opportunity this activity brings to explore the wood and the plant's habits up close. The tangible sense of accomplishment at the end of the task is icing on the cake.

As I began clambering around the tangle of old lilacs and sawing off some of the most accessible of the many dead and damaged branches, I noticed for the first time the burgundy and pinkish coloration swirling in the heartwood—like compacted candy canes or splashes of wine. I guess it should be no surprise that a plant as lovely as the lilac should have a trick or two up its sleeve. Here's what I discovered as I worked.I also enjoyed the diverse textures and coloration of various lichens, mosses, and fungi colonizing the dead branches.Below you can see that the lilac offers not only beauty, but utility. Rabbits foraged on it this winter when food was scarce, and squirrels helped themselves to the malleable wood—presumably for nesting material (and perhaps as a food source). In nature, as we know, nothing is wasted.


Nice Op Ed Piece on Beekeeping in NYC

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a wonderfully supportive Op Ed piece about the legalization of beekeeping in New York City. Take a look.


A Quicky on Evolution


If Only...