Two bees

Yesterday afternoon was mild and sunny, so after lunch I went outside to photograph the bees working the pink stonecrop around our backyard birdbath. These fuzzy pink flowers were literally crawling with honey bees, bumble bees, and an occasional fly: insects so intent on their own buzzing business, they paid me no mind as I stood next to them with my camera, zooming and snapping.

Three bees

After I’d shot my fill of honeybee-on-flower photos, I made a wide, careful arc toward the far side of our driveway, intentionally leaving as much space as possible between me and a tall shrub by the gate to our fenced dog-pen. After shooting a few from-a-distance photos of the top of this shrub, I came back inside, mindful that I’d taken my last photo of the shrub’s current occupants, whom I’ve been watching with solicitous interest all summer.

Repaired and fully spherical

Later today, our exterminator–a fellow who regularly comes to make sure termites aren’t eating our house–will destroy the bald-faced hornets’ nest I’ve spent the past few months watching grow from the size of a tangerine to the size of a cantaloupe. Although both J and I tried to be good neighbors to our resident colony of hornets, this past week those hornets have turned aggressive, stinging me multiple times when I took our dogs to or from their dog-pen and even stinging me on the face when I got out of my car in the driveway.

Here's looking at you

Bald-faced hornets don’t over-winter in their nests; instead, each year’s crop of female workers focuses all of its energy on producing fertilized queens who will spend the winter underground, the only ones to get out of the summer alive. Knowing that both sister workers and queen-fertilizing drones die when winter comes, I’d looked forward to examining their papier-mâché nest after they’d abandoned it: a biology lesson right in our backyard.

Upsy daisy

But this past week, I’ve gotten a biology lesson of a different kind. The colony of hornets with whom we’d been able to coexist peacefully through July and August suddenly turned nasty now that it’s September, as if their late-summer mission to protect their nest and produce fertile queens had turned them paranoid and aggressive. In July and August, I could walk right next to the hornets’ shrub, leading the dogs on their leashes either into or out of the dog-pen, and the hornets would ignore me. In July and August, I could walk right up to the hornets’ shrub to watch or photograph the nest, admiring how quickly the workers repaired it after a summer thunderstorm or simply watching the workers themselves come and go, their shiny black bodies decorated with cool white markings.

Side by side

In July and August, I liked having a hornets’ nest close at hand where I could easily observe it, naively thinking the hornets and I had an unspoken agreement: “We’ll let you live in our backyard rent-free as long as you don’t sting us.” When one hornet stung me in mid-August, I overlooked this as anomalous: any insect can have a bad day. But now, our once-peaceful hornets have turned into aggressors, and we literally have to steer clear of them if we don’t want to get stung.

Busy bees

So, today the exterminator comes to destroy our newly aggressive neighbors. This past week, I’ve been walking the dogs every morning to avoid taking them to the dog-pen, and I’ve parked my car on the far side of the driveway, as far from the hornets’ nest as possible. I feel a little sad for the hornets themselves: they had a good situation living in a shrub with neighbors who would have allowed them to live out their lives undisturbed, but their own paranoia and aggression got the best of them. Instead of producing a fertilized queen who would survive the summer then pass along her genes next year, these industrious workers and drones will die inside the very nest they worked so hard to build and protect.


Sometimes if you surrender to distraction on the way from backdoor to car, you’ll discover so many marvels in your own backyard, you’ll wonder why you ever leave it.

Click here for more pictures of the pollinators I saw working our backyard hydrangea bush yesterday afternoon. Enjoy!

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Green bee on purple coneflower

Maybe today’s arctic chill makes me particularly fond of this July scene. One of today’s tasks was to wrap (and tomorrow mail) a stack of 2010 photo calendars for my family back in Ohio, and of the 13 shots (12 months plus a cover image) that made this year’s cut, this image of a green bee on pollinating a purple coneflower is my favorite. I’ve always loved purple coneflowers, and it took some trying to get a handful of pictures worth sharing. And on a bitterly cold December day, it’s always good to cherish a memory of a warm and sunny July day.

This is my contribution for today’s Photo Friday theme, Best of 2009. Enjoy!

Bee backlog

With all the late summer flowers that are blooming these days, sometimes a busy bee has to call in for back-up.

Click here for a photo-set of Rose of Sharon flowers, with and without bees.

Green bee on purple coneflower

Emily Dickinson said to make a prairie, it takes one clover, one bee, and revery…and revery alone will do if bees are few. I’ve already opined regarding prairies, but let me add this: to make a blog-worthy closeup photo of a green bee pollinating a purple coneflower, it might take you more than 40 shots, most of which you’ll end up deleting.

Bumble bee on purple coneflower

It’s a kind of revery, I guess. It’s a sunny day, and you happen upon a garden patch of purple coneflowers–or purple cureflowers, as I prefer to call them. You see that they are swarming with bees. You have your purse-sized, everyday-use point-and-shoot digicam with you, as you always do, so you start shooting, using your zoom to take close-up shots from a distance. In the blink of an eye, you’ve shot more than 40 pictures–nearly two rolls of film, if this had been the old days–and maybe a few of them, if you’re lucky, will be worth sharing.

During today’s revery, I was approached by a friendly man who initially thought I was taking pictures of the coneflowers, not having noticed the various kinds of bees tenaciously working their orange disks. “Shouldn’t you take that from behind,” he asked, and I shrugged. When you’re in a revery and have pixels to burn, you shoot from any angle: shoot first, sort out the good pictures from the bad latter. When I pointed to the various kinds of bees that were my real target, the man nodded. “It’s always good to see them,” he said, and I agreed. Just imagine the level of revery Emily Dickinson would fall into given the luxury of multiple bees?

Click here for a photo-set of images from today’s bee-inspired revery. Isn’t this what everyone does on their way home from another day at work?

Bee on crocus

Being busy isn’t bad if what you’re doing is worthwhile. I snapped this photo on my way home from campus yesterday, after a full teaching day. “Full” is the word I prefer over “busy.” “Busy” suggests hectic commotion, and “full” suggests the satisfaction of having enough: the sense of accomplishment you feel at the end of a productive day, like a bee heavy with pollen flying home to its hive.