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Covered in Bees (and Honey)!

I discovered a new interest this past summer: beekeeping! The school where I work has a couple hives, and after helping look after them for several months, yesterday I participated in collecting the honey. The process of harvesting honey from the hives is very, very cool (and we helped ourselves to generous mouthfuls of honey-covered wax while we worked). It’s challenging to keep hives going this far north, but we got about ten pounds of honey for our efforts this year.

My dad took this photo of me checking on the hives back in July – I’m lifting a frame from a box to see what the bees are doing with it. My sassy pose was completely unintentional.
Yesterday afternoon we brought in the frames from one of the supers (the bees weren’t happy about that) and set up our workstation.
A few of the frames contained “uncapped” honey like this – the bees don’t cap off the cells until the honey in them reaches the optimum moisture content. The bees build the cells at an upward angle to prevent uncapped honey from dripping out.
Once the honey reaches its ideal moisture content, it’s essentially nonperishable, and the bees cap it off to save it. Our first job was scraping off the wax caps so the honey could come out.
Once that was done, we popped the frames in the centrifuge to remove the honey. The empty comb can be put back in the hives next season, saving the bees the work of building new cells from scratch (which hopefully results in more honey production!).
Yum! This is still full of bits of wax and the occasional dead bee body part, so it needs to be filtered before being jarred. We’ll do that next week.

The title of this post comes from an Eddie Izzard routine – “My father was a beekeeper, and his father was a beekeeper, and I want to follow in their footsteps. And their footsteps were like this: ‘aahhhhhhh! I’m covered in bees!'” You can watch it on YouTube here, but be warned that it includes some profanity and a dude wearing women’s clothing, if that sort of thing offends you.

Do any of you have beekeeping experience? Do you find it as incredibly fun as I do?

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dragonflies are hard to sneak up on.

A coworker recently told me that there were a ton of dragonflies at the pond and that I might be able to get some good pictures even with my tiny point-and-shoot camera.  I went and checked it out over the weekend, and while there were indeed a ton of dragonflies (and as an added bonus I flushed a woodcock on the bank), I was not able to get any good photos with my camera.  I had been naïvely thinking, all I have to do is wait for one to perch somewhere where I can get at it, creep up on it, and snap the picture, just like I did with that snipe fly.  Well, let me tell you something: it’s impossible to sneak up on a dragonfly.

This is the best I managed to do.  I believe it’s a Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Libellula pulchella.  There were also Eastern Pondhawks (excellent name for a dragonfly)… and… a lot of other species I couldn’t identify.  I’m only just starting to dip my toe into the wide world of butterflies, odonates and the like.

Happily, there were plenty of things to distract me from the frustratingly skittish dragonflies, like this little guy I found lurking next to my foot.  Probably a toad, but I find it hard to tell when they’re this tiny.  He’s lucky I didn’t crush him accidentally – he was only a couple centimeters long!

There was also this striking red-and-blue insect hanging around on the daisies, which made for nice pictures.

I thought it was some sort of fly, and decided to post the photo on the BugGuide site to see if anyone could tell me anything more specific.  Well, within about five minutes two different people had replied telling me that 1) it was a bee, not a fly, and 2) I needed to crop my image more before posting it.  Um… oops.  I sheepishly fixed the image, feeling kind of humiliated.  Finally someone else came along and told me it’s a sweat bee in the genus Sphecodes.  Isn’t it pretty?

Anyway, summer camp training starts this afternoon, so I probably won’t have time to post anything else until the weekend.  Have a great rest-of-the-week!