Here’s a video for brand new beekeepers who’ve seen orientation flights but didn’t know what they were looking at.
I usually notice orientation flights around 11:30am on hot summer days, but sometimes the heat doesn’t kick in until the afternoon — in the case of this video, 2:30 in the afternoon. Everything seems calm and normal and then within about five minutes the air in front of the hive fills with fuzzy young bees hovering and facing the direction of the hive. That’s your standard-issue orientation flight situation.
Orientation flights can appear as massive, confused clouds of bees if the bees have been stuck inside the hive for a few days because of cold or wet weather. A swarm of bees, by the way, is about 10,000 time larger and it’s a whole other ballgame.
P.S.: In the video I inaccurately refer to these as baby bees taking their first flights outside the hive even though I know it’s wrong. Orientation flights usually occur when the bees are about 22 days old — not babies — and have completed all their assigned duties inside the hive (cleaning, nursing and so on). In my mind, they’re still babies because they’re learning to fly, and it makes no difference to my beekeeping whether or not I think of them as baby bees or 22-day-old bees. But if you’re taking a test, you’ll get that question wrong if you call them baby bees.
July 2019 Introduction: I’ve removed the video that I originally uploaded with this post because I don’t think it’s a good idea anymore. Screen stapled over the middle of the hive top feeder, for me, is the way to go now. I also staple screen inside the reservoirs on the bottom to prevent the bees from getting into the reservoirs when they’re empty. See Screened Hive Top Feeder for more details.
Hive top feeder with screen in the middle so the bees are contained inside the hive. (Oct. 10, 2016.)
I have no love for hive top feeders. They can be heavy and messy and a farcical tragedy when things go wrong. But this simple and cheap modification virtually transforms them into kill-free feeders and, at least in my experience, makes them easier to use. It also allows me to put various rims over the feeder, or anything I want over the feeder, without risk of drowning any bees. Obsessive-compulsive mad scientist beekeepers (a significant portion of the beekeeping demographic) could easily build on this design so that the feeder virtually refills itself. I can already imagine how that could work, but I digress.
I saw this honey bee on some Knapweed close to the water (i.e., the Atlantic Ocean) in Flatrock today, right at the entrance to the East Coast Trail.
Cell phone shot of honey bee on Knapweed in Flatrock, Newfoundland (August 17, 2015)
I’ve heard that honey bees will go for Knapweed, but today is the first time I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
Honey bee on Knapweed in Flatrock, Newfoundland. (August 17, 2015.)
Alright, then. So let’s add Knapweed to my list of honey bee friendly flowers in and around the area of St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Cell phone shot of honey bee on Knapweed (Aug. 17, 2015.)
P.S.: At first I thought the plant was Thistle, but it doesn’t have thorns like Thistle. So I asked around and it was identified as the invasive weed, Knapweed. It’s not the only invasive plant honey bees are able to take advantage of. Honey bees are attracted to Thistle, but I won’t add it to my list until I — correctly — see it with my own eyes.
I noticed all kinds of bee-like creatures — bumblebees, honey bees, flies that look like honey bees — descending on some weedy looking plant in an overgrown flower box next to my driveway today. I sent this photo of the plant out into the ether and was informed almost immediately that it’s White Sweet Clover, or Melilotus Albus — also known as Honey Clover.
White Sweet Clover blooming in Flatrock, Newfoundland, in an overgrown flower box next to my driveway. (August 14, 2015.)
I had a hard time photographing the bees on the flowers. This is the best I could do:
Honey bee on White Sweet Clover in Flatrock, Newfoundland (August 14, 2015.)
Here’s a three-and-a-half-minute video that shows some honey bees in a touchy-feely kind of mood after having their pheromones thrown into confusion with smoke.
I had to smoke the bees to curb the looking-for-a-fight enthusiasm of some of the guard bees (the first minute of the video provides the details). The bees, as far as I can tell, respond to the stimuli of strange-smelling bees and smoke by tasting and touching (and possibly cleaning) each other all over. My guess is they’re getting to know each other again. They all smell like smoke instead of bees, so they have to re-taste and smell each other to re-register in their little bee brains the smell and taste of home, of all their sisters and brothers. A perfect opportunity for any queenless bees looking for a new place to live to slip in unnoticed.
My previous video shows how the Guard Bees reacted.
A few hours later: I’m not sure if the smoke was useful. I just checked on the hive again and saw a few battling bees tumbling and fumbling over each other near the bottom entrance. The smoke seems to have delayed the inevitable… Newspaper combines can be tricky. Bad things can happen if the bees get through the newspaper too soon. That’s why I usually don’t even cut a slit in the newspaper. If the slit is too big, or tears at some point, the new bees can pour into the hive and stir up a storm. I’ve seen it happen with other beekeepers with grim results. I’ve got a feeling that most beekeeping problems are caused by beekeepers.
Here’s a short video of some guard bees patrolling the bottom entrance of a hive.
The bees were recovering from being smoked after I did a newspaper combine that let the new bees in too fast. Some bee battles started up. Instead of watching a few thousand bees go at it (and the queen possibly getting killed in the melee), I hit them with some smoke. In theory, when the smoke clears, all the bees’ pheromones are messed up, nobody knows who anyone is and they become all touchy-feely getting to know each other again, along with the new bees.
Fresh brood looks like this (click the image for a closer view):
Fresh brood in the upper deep (or hive body). The queen expanding the brood nest up without any help from humans. (August 10, 2015.)
I was planning to pull up a frame or two of brood from the bottom box to make sure the queen expanded the brood nest up (a lazy edition of pyramiding), but I found fresh brood on the second or third frame that I inspected. The queen didn’t need any help from me. So I put everything back the way I found it and left the bees alone.