At Petworth Park on Monday, it wasn’t just the deer which caught our attention. We were walking past a beech tree and I noticed that it is a mast year this year – the tree was absolutely laden with seed cases. Whilst admiring its bounty I noticed an awful lot of bees buzzing around; strange, since there’s nothing much on beech for them. I crept closer and the reason rapidly became clear, there was a swarm of bees on one of the lower branches. Now I have a very visceral reaction to insects, especially insects en masse. I love bees and am happy to get very close to one when photographing it. I’m even ok with having them land on me as long as they don’t take me by surprise. But faced with the sight of thousands of them in a seething mass, my body reacted quite independently of my conscious brain and I retreated very rapidly, making sounds audible only to dolphins.
There followed an enormous struggle between my forebrain, which wanted to get really close to take photographs and observe this wonder of nature, and my body/hindbrain, which considered this a bloody stupid idea and wanted to get as far away as possible. The resulting behaviour must have been entertaining to watch. It’s a good job my partner was with me, otherwise I think the men in white coats might have been waiting for me back at the car park. It took me a while and a lot of inner turmoil, but I got my photo. 🙂
This was a relatively small swarm, I think; here is a good, concise explanation of why bees swarm. Usually it occurs when the new queen is ready to begin breeding and the old queen leaves, taking around half the hive’s worker bees with her. Apparently smaller swarms can also occur when a young virgin queen leaves the nest; this is possibly what was going on here. The beekeeper I contacted told me that small swarms at this time of year generally don’t survive in the wild. I hope that the bees were still there when he went to have a look so that he could get them into a hive and give them the best chance of survival. You can contact a beekeeper to come and safely relocate a swarm here.