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Tree Bumblebee (B. hypnorum) 2013 Notes

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Hi All,

Now that several folk have reported seeing B. hypnorum queens about, I thought it might be useful to start a new thread on B. hyp for 2013.

Also to admit that I did a sneaky thing yesterday.
I captured a ‘hyp’ queen that was sunning, by popping her in a ventilated 35mm Film Cassette tub.
(This is my usual bee-capture container, but anything else of similar size with an easy-on lid would be OK too.)
I kept the tub containing her in my pocket, to keep her warm.
Got home, looked out a BirdBox with the remains of an old Blue Tit nest in it. (And a ‘hyp’ colony was in the box in 2011.) 
I topped the box up with some dry chopped grass& moss mixture.
I added a small feeder with some sugar syrup in it (over in a corner).  (Approx = volumes dry granulated sugar and water, 1:1)  Just about 2-3 ml used.
Then I put the box up in a sheltered place on a vibration free substrate (brick wall) where if a colongy does get started, the bee activity will not be a nuisance.
Then I popped the ‘hyp’ queen in to the box and immediately bunged up the entrance.
(For this I use a Rolled-up piece of Scouring pad.)

I left the bung in place for about an hour, then removed it - and watched.
By then it was ~1600.
To my surprise and delight, I didn’t see the queen leave !
So, I’m hoping she will stay/has stayed, and maybe will try to start a colony.

I’ll keep you posted !        Clive

PS. 
This is the sort of technique that any BB-addict should find easy, so others might like to try - assuming that B. hypnorum is common in your area.
BUT please do not capture queens that have pollen-loads on their back legs, because they will already have started a nest.

Clive

     
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More news on the above experiment - that queen buzzed off. 
Another installed. 
Box now in use !

The B. hyp queen was put into the box on 14/4/13 late afternoon.
On 16/4 my wife spotted a BBQ walking around on the soil in our small greenhouse, so called me to investigate.
It was another B. hyp queen, so I popped her into a cassette tub for safe keeping.
That evening, when fully dark, and using red light from a torch I re-opened the nest box and checked to see if the queen was still there. 
(Red light allowed me to see inside the box, but any bee would not be able to see me and fly out - bees don’t see red.)
No sign of her.
So I added some more syrup to the feeder dish, then took the lid off the cassette tub and dropped the ‘greenhouse’ B. hyp queen into the nest box.  Took two photos, then quietly withdrew leaving the bee there, but with the entrance to the nestbox open - but fully dark for about 6-7 hours .

I then left all alone for 7 days.
Yesterday evening I prepared to inspect the box by red light again, but didn’t need to !
When I touched the box in preparation to opening the catch and lifting the lid, the vibration alone caused an audible buzz to come from the box - which told me that the box had been adopted by a bumblebee queen - and that a colony was being established !

What luck !

I now need to watch the box and try to see who lives there: but in theory it should be my second ‘greenhouse’ B. hyp queen
I’ll keep you informed of progress.
I have a few photos available to help folk understand some of the details.

Clive

PS.  In the last few days i’ve seen several B hyp queens around in the area.  One was nest-searching along the wall beneath the nest box this afternoon: but didn’t find, or investigate the nestbox.

     
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Another update - and probably sad news.
At 14 days I went to the nest box well after dark and tried listening for a reaction to me touching the nest box, then gently joggling it.
Result, not a sound - so either the queen has absconded and left the box, or else was lying low and not reacting !
Time will tell, so I will wait to see if we get any workers coming out of the box in 3 -  4 weeks time.

I’ll keep you posted !        Clive

     
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1st active B. hypnorum colony this year !

This morning I saw my first BB colony, and 1st workers of the year.

A very dark B. hypnorum colony with regular flights to / from the nest and yellow pollen going in.
A few minutes between flights, so the colony must be quite small; and no sign of any drone activity yet.

They are using an airbrick to access what must be the roof-space above a ground floor extension in High Wycombe.
Southerly aspect.
Plenty of seasonal spring flowers about, from Dandelion at ground level to Apple and Sycamore trees flowerig too. 

NB.  This is a fully wild colony and totally separate from my own attempts to get a queen to accept a nest box by putting her into it.  It is the other side of the Wycombe valley to my garden and around 1 km away.

Has anybody else seen any B. hypnorum BB nest activity / flights yet this year ?

Clive

     
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Interesting reading Clive

We have been monitoring a Tree Bumblebee for a few weeks now. Unusually we hadn’t cleared out one of the next boxes from last year that had been abandoned after it was near completion and this looks like being the home for a new resident. She has been entering and leaving the nest box quiet often, a few of times laden with pollen. It’s hard to say what’s happening below the nest as she seems to create holes and disappear down inside the nest. She will also cover the holes over.

Will try hard to post updates as often as possible.

Ron

     
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I am absolutely thrilled to be able to say that I have a tree BB (B hypnorum) nest in a compost bin on my allotment.  I’ve never had a BB nest before.

The story so far.  A few weeks ago I found a large queen in the bin when I lifted the lid but she very quickly flew away.  She took me by surprise and I was not quick enough to look at her properly.

Several days later I had seen a queen entering my round plastic bin from the base but she was far too quick for me to get a photograph or even look at her properly.  She was there and gone too quickly.  On several visits to the allotment I saw nothing, even on warm days when it was not windy and chilly.

On Saturday 18th May I carefully lifted the lid and found 3 workers busy around a pile of moss scrapings/law mowings from the lawn I had previously put in the bin.  This pile of moss/grass is approximately 3 feet from the base of the bin, so they have a long climb up to the nest.  The lid of the bin will remain on the bin now until the autumn with dire warnings issued to anyone who may even contemplates lifting the lid.

On Sunday, yesterday, I again visited but, even though it was a lovely warm sunny day, I saw no sign of activity. 

Now two questions please -

1.  If we have a hot summer or even a “normal” summer the inside of the plastic compost bin will get very hot - will the nest be able to survive that heat with no ventilation?

2.  I would like to register this nest with the BBCT but have been unable to find this facility although I am sure it is there somewhere on the website.  Directions would be appreciated. 

Sparrow - Sue

     
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Hi Sparrow, Congratulations !

As far as I know, B. hypnorum nests so close to the ground are relatively unusual.
I’ve known of one in a loose Compost Heap contained in a wire-mesh cage. 
And the year before last someone near me had a hypnorum colony that had it’s home at about ground level in a densely twigged Winter Jasmine climber, but I never did manage to get a picture of the location with a bee about to enter - they were too darned quick !

My son had a B. terrestris / lucorum colony living in a plastic compster similar to yours, and they were entering via the trap door area.

It will be interesting to see if your colony attracts Drone Nest Surveillance.

Bumblebees can walk a considerable distance along the ground to get to their nest.  My record for this was again a B. terrestris / lucorum colony that were walking the whole length of a garage to get to their nest in a bundle of dusters at the far back.  This must have been 15 - 20 feet from the door !

Clive

     
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Hi All,

Just a note to say that in the last few days I spotted a B. hypnorum worker foraging on Apple Blossom.
There have also been workers of terrestris/lucorum and hortorum and pratorum.
Also still queens of B. pascuorum.

Clive

This info also posted in to First BBs of 2013.

     
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Thank you Clive for your informative reply.

Unfortunately I have seen no activity around the compost bin since I found the bees in the bin last Saturday.  I will give it another week and if I have still seen nothing I might take a peep inside - or should I leave well alone.

Sparrow - Sue

     
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Hi All,

Sparrow, I can imagine your bin cordoned off with red and white tape and ‘no entry’ signs. I hope you spot activity again. We found that only the queen was entering and leaving our nest and apart from what looked like some re-building, moving things around and digging holes through the old nest there was little activity. We sometimes waited a couple of hours to see any signs of life at all! We just left ours and a couple of weeks ago she entered laden with pollen, popped down one of her holes and came out around 20 minuets later with nothing to fly out the nest and return with more later ... she had to be doing something under that nest with the pollen. smile

Yesterday, 22nd May, we noticed she had been joined by we think at least two workers though it was hard to say as we never saw more than her and two workers at any one time.

We are tempted to take a live peek inside like yourself but are reluctant and wouldn’t disturb any wildlife usually but the camera inside the box is now a little out of focus for some reason (the nest is looking a bit more ‘fluffed up towards the camera) and it would be good to re-focus so that we can get some still and video images. With that in mind we have the same question, should we open the lid to re-focus the camera or leave well alone?

Ron

     
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Fascinating reading smile

     
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A rather detailed message for Ron.

Firstly, I think it is wonderful that you have a B. hypnorum colony in a Nest box fitted with a camera !

Secondly, some info related to your need to re-focus the camera :-

A B. hypnorum colony can be “rather defensive” about their nest. 
(We humans sometimes perceive this as ‘aggressive’ - if we don’t know better.)

So if you are going to re-focus the camera, I would do it as soon as you can, because then you’ll have the number of bees being “defensive” as small as possible.

Some sensible precautions:      (These now modified to include cuff-cover of wrist area!)
1.  Work quickly and in darkness at night, when the bees won’t be flying / able to fly.
2.  Wear a sweatshirt or suchlike with long sleeves and tight fitting cuffs.
3.  Wear rubber gloves - the thin surgical type ones, or thicker domestic washing-up gloves, will give you confidence.  They will stop bees grabbing hold of you very easily: but stings might penetrate them.
Make sure that the gloves fit right up to and over the cuffs ! 
4.  Don’t allow any of your breath to reach the bees, because this will irritate them.  So exhale sideways out of the corner of your mouth.
5.  In the dark, a very useful technique is to work using a red-only light source - like a Rear Cycle light.
Bees can’t see red light at all well, so tend to stay still - but might run about if agitated. 

I presume that if you focus the camera under red light, then it will probably work in focus OK with the full visible spectrum, but if necessary you might need to tweak the focus to allow for a red / white light focus difference.  If you have to use white light, keep the operation as time-short as possible.
You may have to re-focus several times over the duration of the nest, since the total volume of the nest comb itself is likely to expand significantly with time.

A convenient source of red light is a cycle rear light - preferably of the LED type, but old-fashioned tungsten filament rear lights work fine behind the red plastic cover of the light.

To learn more in general about B. hypnorum, you might like to take a look at an article I wrote recently for a magazine called BeeCraft.  We’ve got a copy of it on the BBCT website in the About Bees area under FAQs Moving Bees.  Here’s a direct link:  http://bumblebeeconservation.org/images/uploads/Bee_Craft_May_2013,_Bombus_hypnorum.pdf

Finally, a request:
Might it be possible to record some of what you see, so that others may take a look too ?

I hope this helps - and good luck !      Yours       Clive

PS.  Above advice is given in good faith, but without legal liability.

PPS.  If you take a look at YouTube, and search for Bombus hypnorum nest, there are a few short videos there already.         

     
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Thanks for your informative and helpful reply Clive, very much appreciated.

Regarding your ‘Some sensible precautions’ list. I agree with all.  LED red light is no problem or I think our head torches have red filters but will check later. I also thought that when it was a bit cooler too as there is less activity when it’s cooler, something we seem to be getting a lot of this year.

The camera is one of a few we have fitted in bird nest boxes. In fact they were due for an overall at the end of last year with new higher specification cameras fitted at the same time as the annual clean out but I wasn’t to well so that never got done. The upside though was the old nest has now been used by B. hypnorum so every cloud has a silver lining.

Regarding the FAQs Moving Bees link I had read that but have now downloaded the file to print when I’ve finished this post.

Regarding your request to share what we are seeing. Yes this was the plan, but with the camera now being out of focus I have a feeling folk will think they need to get their eyes tested! I’ll post a link(s) here as soon as we can ‘see’ clearly with pleasure.

Many thanks Clive

Cheers

Ron

     
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Hi All

Update. Following Clive’s detailed advice on entering the nest box to re-focus the camera we gave it a try on at about 11pm Saturday night. Armed with Red light, and a sponge to block the nest box entry/exit hole I successfully placed the sponge in place. Monitoring the camera from inside I got the message on the radio ‘all clear’. I’m still trying to work out why it was me on the front line and my good wife sat in the light and warm doing the monitoring?!

Left it for about a ¼ of an hour and went back to gently undo the catch locking the lid down on the box. Woops, I was very gentle but I could hear the buzzing at the same time as I got the message ‘there are loads all coming to the top of the nest’. I made sure the latch was firmly locked and retreated.

½ hour later I went back and gingerly retrieved the sponge, no movement, peering inside the hole I could see spiders web which looked like that may be playing part of the problem to the ‘focus’ issue. A very thin stick and very carefully I managed to get the web to wrap round the stick and carefully pull it out. That seemed to solve most of the problem so now our buzzy friends are not quiet so blurred now!

Up until then it only ever looked like there were about 3 or 4 workers in there and the queen. Clearly that isn’t the case as we guessed that we could see at least a dozen in my failed attempt to undo the catch. As you can imagine we are very pleased.

Okay, I mentioned in an earlier post that we were supposed to be upgrading the cameras etc. last year but didn’t manage it. Yesterday I sat and tried to work out a way of getting some software that we used until last year to function in modern browsers so that we could share what we are seeing. This morning I managed to find a way to fix it hopefully until the nest is finished with.  I apologise for the slight out of focus view, I did try, ‘onest guv,  but anyone that would like to take a look here’s a direct link:  http://www.dolphi.co.uk/webcams/cam1.htm
I hope that link works, if not copy and paste to your browser.

Enjoy

Ron

     
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Hi Sparrow

Just wondering if you have any news from your compost bin? I meant to ask on my last post but forgot :(

Ron

     
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Clive - 02 May 2013 03:35 PM

Another update - and probably sad news.
At 14 days I went to the nest box well after dark and tried listening for a reaction to me touching the nest box, then gently joggling it.
Result, not a sound - so either the queen has absconded and left the box, or else was lying low and not reacting !
Time will tell, so I will wait to see if we get any workers coming out of the box in 3 -  4 weeks time.

I’ll keep you posted !        Clive


An exciting update at 26/5/13.
Today I took a few minutes to watch for bee flight from a re-homed colony I’ve given an exit tunnel opposite the Bird Box where I’d tried to persuade that B. hypnorum queen to set up home. 

To my utter astonishment I saw a bee fly into the nearby airspace then head into the Bird Box I’d introduced the B. hypnorum queen to on 16/4/13 !

So, over the intervening 40 days (~6 weeks)  I’ve not seen any of the queen’s foraging flights or those of her early workers - which says something about how difficult it is to spot a low level of activity at a bumblebee nest. 
(In the above case, I’ve watched for activity several times a day while walking past this area.)

Note: No sign of any drone nest surveillance yet, the colony is still very small and the season too early !

Another update - info as at 12/6/13.
The colony has died out.

Over the last few days I’ve watched the above bird box for flight activity on several 15 minute sessions and seen nothing happening - and there should have been if the colony was progressing normally.  Checking the box more physically at night time by giving the box a tap/bang also produced no reaction (buzzing sound, or bees issuing to see me off).
Eventually, I needed to collect and re-locate another bird-box colony from a property a few miles away; and wanted to re-locate it to the wall close to the suspected died-out box.
So I have taken down the box. 
There is some disturbance in the nest material, where bees must have been going in and out, but no sign of anything alive.  They must have died out.

The re-located (new) colony is doing well in it’s new home, but no sign of any Drone Nest Surveillance activity yet.            Clive