Swarm Chasing

A commercial swarm lure product. It gets stapled inside the inner cover of the swarm catcher envelope and all and smells somewhat like lemongrass oil.

This afternoon, in the span of only a few minutes, a huge swarm of honey bees flew into our garden, hovered over the navel orange tree, and then moved on to parts unknown.

Kelly and I had just returned home from work and had collapsed in the living room when we heard a strange sound. To me, it sounded like a very large buzzing insect trapped somewhere in the back of the house, and I didn’t pay it much attention. A minute later, the phone rang with what we now know was a call from a neighbor alerting us to a large mass of bees hovering over the orange tree.

By the time we meandered outside half an hour later to admire the raspberry vines’ new growth and complain together over the prematurely bolting cabbage, all signs of the swarm had past. But in the midst of our garden reverie, the same neighbor stuck her head over the fence and asked if we had caught the swarm of honey bees over the orange tree. The what?!?

We made a quick tour of the garden, just in case we had somehow overlooked a large cloud of bees. We scanned our top-bar hive, wondering if they had just run off to greener pastures, but all appeared normal. Next we speed-walked through our neighbors’ garden to the spot where they have generously allowed us to place a swarm catcher on their wisteria trellis. No bees.

What came next speaks volumes about our personalities as well as, I’m sure, our naiveté as beekeepers and swarm catchers. We put on our jackets, jumped in the car and, with the windows rolled down, drove very slowly through the neighborhood, heads out the windows, listening and watching for any sign of a swarm.

Given today’s experience, I can tell you that suburban white noise sounds an awful lot like bees in the distance. Especially when you really want it to. We stopped the car multiple time and walked down streets, only to find that the buzz we’d been sure we heard was really a clothes dryer, or a car engine, or our own imaginations.

When we had finally given up on finding the swarm and were on our way home, we drove past a feral hive in an oak tree about a block from our house. We’ve been keeping tabs on this hive since last year, taking walks to peer up at the telltale stream of honey bees going in and out of a rotting sawed-off limb. Today, the scar on the tree was completely covered by a mass of bees, and we strongly suspect that it was this hive that swarmed, leaving behind a group of bees to keep the oak tree hive going.

Oddly enough, there is rain forecast for tomorrow, and this afternoon was overcast and windy. We can’t quite figure out why a swarm of bees would take to the sky with foul weather brewing, and we joked that maybe we wouldn’t have wanted these bees anyway, if they were willing to swarm at such a seemingly poor time. Still, as earnest swarm catching wannabes, it’s hard not to feel bitterly disappointed that we sat unwittingly by on our sofa while a swarm congregated outside and then passed by our carefully prepared swarm catcher, with its daub of lemongrass oil, in favor of some other home.

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