Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Evidence Mounts!

Four days in a row without wearing longjohns! That's pretty good evidence that spring has finally arrived, but an even better clue than that is this beautiful bunch of Hepatica blooms.

I found this single bunch of Hepatica in the Skidmore woods today, but a thorough search did not turn up any more. Just wait, though. In a week, the forest floor will be spangled with them, everywhere I look and in all their beautiful colors. I also searched and searched today for a sight of just a single Spring Peeper, since the vernal pools were resounding with their almost-deafening chorus. I could hear one peeping shrilly just an arm's length from my ears, but never could I find it.

The Wood Frogs, by comparison, are a cinch to find. For one thing, they're many times larger than Peepers, and they conduct their mating behavior in shallow water, the surface of which is often roiled by their amorous activities. They ceased their quacking as I approached the edge of their pool, but I knew that all I had to do was wait, and the cacophony would start again. I even let out a few quacks of my own to inspire them, and sure enough, this frog soon approached to offer a bit of a challenge.

Here's another sure sign of spring: Big Horse and Little Horse are back in their pasture after wintering somewhere else. There wasn't much new grass today, but they seemed to be enjoying the pods that had fallen from a nearby Catalpa tree.

I passed these horses' Rte. 9 three-season home on the way to Moreau Lake State Park today, where I wanted to find more evidence for spring around Mud Pond. I'm happy to report that the ice is almost completely gone from the pond, save for a little bay that rarely gets sun. I never did get to the water's edge, however, because I found so much to interest me along this sandy trail.

As soon as I stepped on the trail, I noticed my feet were surrounded by bees that kept landing on the steep bank and disappearing. I guessed right away that I need not fear being stung, because these were probably solitary bees, a ground-dwelling species that is not at all aggressive, because they have no hive nor queen to defend. Each female bee digs her own little holes, which she lines with a plastic-like film that she makes from her own saliva, then packs these holes with pollen, into which she lays her eggs, then seals the holes. The bee larvae feed on the pollen and later emerge as adults. I searched the sandbank and, sure enough, I found it riddled with holes about the same diameter as a pencil.

To my delight, a bee landed on the bank right before my eyes and began searching the sand for a likely place to dig.

I saw several more who were already in the process of digging.

I watched this one as she slowly disappeared into the sand.

After a bit, the bee backed out of the hole, emerging covered with dust. I watched as she washed the dirt from her face, licking her feet and rubbing them over her head like a cat at its toilette.

She then flew off. Was she flying away to seek pollen for packing into this hole? Where would she find it, I wondered. There sure aren't many flowers yet in bloom to provide that pollen. But then I looked around me, where thickets of American Hazelnut shrubs were festooned with pollen-laden catkins dangling down, just inches away from the nursery beds of these solitary bees. I needn't have worried.


Ellen Rathbone said...

If I remember correctly, these bees feed place insects in the nest hole for the larva to eat. And the larva are often parasitized by wasps. It may be Adrena - the digger bees. Or not...just when you think you've got a bee figured out, it turns out there are several others that look and act very similarly!

Anonymous said...

I see small holes in the ground as I hike, and never considered bees. Thanks for the post - I'll keep and eye out! A fellow hiker took me to a small spot of hepatica blooming yesterday - just coming out - hooray!. Here, the Dutchman's Britches,creamy yellow buds, ferny, frothy leaves have made their appearance. Much looking forward to the spring profusion!

June said...

I spent a little time watching "our" honeybees yesterday. They were coming home with small amounts of pollen in their saddlebags and I was surprised . . . and proud of them for being so smart as to be able to find pollen now!

...not that my sinuses don't also, already know it's there...

Louise said...

Yup, my nose is telling me that there is pollen out there, too. Fascinating about the bees. My yard is full of little holes but my Dad always told me that they were from the worms. Wonder if he was right?

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Ellen, you're right about there being many species of ground bees, hard to tell apart. I do know that they are all exceedingly important pollinators, which is why we should never spread poisons on our ground to "kill the bugs."

Hello, hike/giant. You will find those flowers before I do, especially since many of our woods are still deep in snow. This very warm day (Mon.) and a rainy night should start it melting. I will keep checking your blog to see what you are finding.

Sorry to hear, June and Louise, that flower season spells misery for your sinuses. We still love it though, right? As for the holes, they could be worm holes. The ground bees like sandy hillsides or steep banks.