Having four bee swarms arrive in the Magnolia tree last year, we’ve been impatiently waiting to see if this ‘magic bee tree’ will attract more this year. It is said that ‘A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay’ and it would have been good if one had arrived then, as an early swarm has more time to settle and grow. This year, however, May did not bring a swarm, at least not that we saw and our swarm collector friend, Steph, had no call outs. It would have to be ‘A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon’ – not as good as May, but good enough.
Last year at home, we tried out a DIY swarm box in the hopes of attracting a colony searching for a new home and it worked. Only a short time after we fixed the box in the Magnolia a swarm moved in. This year, Steph wanted to try a ready-made swarm box – this is made of waterproof papier-mâché and looks much like a cardboard plant pot with a lid. You put some swarm lure inside (the ‘homing’ pheromone, Nasonov), hang the box in a likely tree and wait.
June was into the second week and there were still no swarms, but then the 11th dawned warm, dry and still, a good bee day. Late in the afternoon, Steph happened to visit and we went into the garden where, as luck would have it, we noticed bees active around the hole of the swarm box, enough that we thought a swarm had already moved in. The box was swaying as if it hung in a breeze, though the air was still. I wonder now if scout bees were carrying out some final measuring up, flying from wall to wall, to make absolutely sure the space was the right size before summoning the rest of the colony. I can’t think what else would cause the box to sway that way. We pulled up garden chairs and sat admiring them before Steph left, saying she’d come back later and collect the new colony.
There were a lot of bees around the swarm box entrance but they were only the fore-runners. An hour so after Steph left, the swarm proper arrived and we had the thrilling opportunity of watching them move in. As seen last year, first the swarm circles the tree for several minutes, presumably for the bees to orient themselves, then they cluster at the doorway and gradually make their way inside. For the beekeeper, all that needs to be done, is to transfer the colony to a hive and move it to an apiary once the bees have settled.
Delightful as it was to see the bees arrive, there was another sight possibly even better and certainly one of the most endearing I have seen for a long time. As the huge swirling mass of bees filled the air, down on the ground beneath the tree a male blackbird stood alone, gazing around himself, turning his head from side to side in bewilderment. He was very upright, eyes wide, his feathers pulled close to his body. I have never seen a bird so clearly wondering what on earth was going on, it was captivating.