Singing queens on Mother’s day

This was my first Mother’s day with no mother, and I wasn’t sure how it would go.  But it went alright.  I went for a wildflower hike in the Gorge, up Dog Mountain, which except for the steep climb my mother would have adored.  The upper hillsides are not yet in bloom, they look to be a couple weeks away yet, but on the lower slopes we saw a lot of lovely subtle early spring wildflowers, including fairy slippers and a gorgeous spotted lily of some sort….a chocolate lily I think.

swarm cells on the bottom of a comb

I knew the day was going to be ok when I went out to the garden to check on the hive that has been cranking out swarms for the last few weeks (I am thinking of changing its name from ‘garden hive’ to ‘queen machine’).  I kneeled down to look up through the bottom screen (this hive is terribly crosscombed so the only way to inspect is to crawl underneath and look up from below) and then I heard this amazing sound:  it wasn’t loud, but a very distinctive buzzy peep peep peep peep peep.  And then I heard two other similar peeps from different spots in the hive.  I have read about the piping of queens that are just about to hatch but I had never heard it until yesterday….it is possibly  a sort of insect challenge from the emerging queen to her competition.  The first queen that hatches goes around to the other queen cells and stings them to death.  Or maybe it is a way for the young queens to let the old queen know they are about to arrive, and that she must get ready to swarm.  The bees did swarm in a sunbreak that afternoon, two small clumps of bees landed in the cherry tree about 25 feet off the ground. Too high to collect, but maybe we will get lucky and catch one in a bait hive.

The first year I had honeybees was the first year I noticed a Western Tanager in my back yard…a tropical migrant with a taste for honeybees.  Yesterday there were three in the cherry tree, picking off foragers that were flying to and from the swarms.  I don’t worry about them too much, though I fear the swarm will suffer if they stay where they are for long.  So far the tanagers have only stayed for a few days and then moved on, and they are such a rare sight I am always glad to see them. Mom would have loved seeing them too.  So there you go mom, my gift to you:  a Tanager, a spotted lily, and singing honeybee queens.  Happy Mother’s Day.

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