5/26/2009

Wow!

MargaretMargaret
Filed under: @ 8:30 am

Okay, it’s a little convoluted, but the moral of the story is that if you keep your eyes open the world will never cease to amaze you.

Having gotten to the end, let’s get through the beginning and the middle.

One of the entrances to our vegetable garden in the back is guarded by a rose trellis. The roses, memorials to Scamper and Scrum, are not yet big enough to cover the entire trellis (give them a few more years…).
In the hopes that we would attract nesting birds, some years ago we hung a small finch house from the very top of the trellis. The idea of having a rose covered trellis with a family of finches in residence as an entry to the garden was just so damn pastoral I couldn’t resist.
But since the roses haven’t gotten big enough to cover the trellis and provide sufficient cover for the bird house, we’ve not been able to attract any nesting pairs yet. We’ve had some interest, every year that the bird house has been up we’ve seen finches, chickadees, and small wrens check the place out, but while the house has apparently been appealing, the neighborhood, as it were, has been a little too low brow for them.

I was out puttering in the garden the other day. I’d dug several dandelions out from around Scamper’s rose, worked fertilizer in around the base of the bush, and was just standing up to go and get the root waterer to give the roots a good soak using the trellis as a bit of a lever to help me keep my balance as I stood up. Which, of course, joggled the trellis, which, of course, got the bird house swaying a bit. I heard buzzing and saw some sort of flying bug in my peripheral vision. I waved my hand to discourage the whatever it was from flying in my face then bent down to grab my weeding fork that I’d left at the base of the rosebush. Grabbing onto the trellis which set the bird house to swaying again.
All of a sudden there’s eight or ten buzzing things in my face and a searing stabbing pain in my upper lip.
Terrified at the thought that I’d managed to irritate a ground nest of yellow jackets and that I was about to get stung by a swarm, I shrieked, dropped everything, and went running. Andrew met me at the back door, confirmed that I wasn’t covered in wasps, and got me some ice, Benadryl, and ibuprofen for my lip which was swelling up like a balloon.

After a little time to get my adrenaline levels back down to something approaching normal we went tip-toeing out to the trellis and, keeping a respectful distance, watched the damn bird house.
One fat, furry, pollen covered little bumble bee.
TWO fat, furry, pollen covered little bumble bees……

Damn.
The bird house is now a bee hive and the most convenient entry to my garden is now guarded by critters that get pointedly (heh) irritated if you joggle the trellis.
If it’d been a wasp nest I would have had no compunction about getting a can of that long distance wasp killing spray and filling the bird house with chemical death, but…. Bees. You know, pollinators. Beneficial bugs. And critters that are currently suffering from some mysterious plague that is dropping their numbers by the billions. I can’t kill those.
Long story short we decided, for the moment, to leave the bird house and its resident bees (one could make jokes about the birds and the bees, but I think I’ll leave that alone for right now) where they are. Not quite sure where we’ll put them once we get back from Hawaii, but they will not be covered in chemical death.

To quote Bill Cosby, I told you that story to tell you this one.

We’ve never really had much in the way of Bluejay action in our garden. They’re not really interested in sunflower seed feeders and the neighbor’s filbert tree is only a draw for them for a few weeks in the late summer. This spring though, we’ve had a notable upswing in our Stellar’s Jay population. I like Stellar’s Jays, they’re sassy and they’ve got turquoise eyebrows.
So when a pair showed up on the top of the trellis over the kitchen window this morning I pretty much froze so I could watch them.
Jay #1 lands on the trellis over the kitchen window, looks at me looking at him, then flies off as jay #2 aims to land in the same spot.
Jay #1 lands on the rose trellis in the garden just above where the bird-cum-bee house is. Which joggles the trellis which sets the bee house to swaying. A bee comes out to investigate, jay #1 reaches out and neatly noms the bee out of the air.
My jaw drops slightly, it was a great catch and I didn’t know that jays would EAT bees, but there it is. How cool is that?

It gets cooler.

Jay #2 takes off from the trellis over the kitchen window and displaces his buddy on the rose trellis. Jay #1 flies off into the garden to finish snorfing down his bee. Jay #2, however, had landed on the rose trellis too far down to get the bee house swinging. After a few seconds with no bees he hopped up to the top of the trellis being deliberately clumsy, it had to have been deliberate, no bird could be that clumsy without doing it on purpose, and sets the bee house swinging. Bee comes out to investigate and jay #2 takes a swipe at him but misses. Bee flies off, jay #2 is still without his morning snack. And so, standing at the very top of the trellis, jay #2 hops up and down a few times then peers over the edge of the trellis and into the door for the bee house. Bee flies out, jay #2 noms him out of the air and then takes off to finish snorfing down his bee in peace.

If that’s not learned behavior I don’t know what is.

3 Responses to “Wow!”

  1. fisherbear Says:

    Cool stuff! Bees and corvids in one frame – that’s National Geographic gold, in my book. (Sorry to hear that you got stung, though.)

    If you leave the nest alone, the bees will abandon it in a few months and probably won’t reuse it unless you clean it out. (Of course, birds won’t use it either, but it’s a good way to keep it stinger-free until the roses have grown enough to shelter finches.)

    It’s unusual for bumblebees to be that aggressive, though – the wobbly trellis (and the jays) probably have them on edge. If they turn out to be a problem, you can put up a hook in a more isolated spot and I’ll come over some night and move the nest.

  2. mike Says:

    That’s some pretty cool garden observations! Do you think the the jays will be able to keep the bee population in check enough so that they do not become a bother to you folks, yet allow for good pollination of your garden plants?

    ❓ Garden query for you ❓ : Do you do any squash? I think I’ve got birds that pick at my baby butternuts and carry them away, but I am not sure who really is to blame. I’m sure someone out there has a good method for protecting squash babies from the harsh realities of the wild world but I haven’t found them yet.

  3. Margaret Says:

    >>>If they turn out to be a problem, you can put up a hook in a more isolated spot and I’ll come over some night and move the nest.< << Thanks! If they've not given up on the bird house by the time we get back from Hawaii we'll need them moved. I've got rose canes that need to be worked into that trellis and I know I'm not going to be able to do it with the bees in situ.

    Do you do any squash? I think I’ve got birds that pick at my baby butternuts and carry them away, but I am not sure who really is to blame. I’m sure someone out there has a good method for protecting squash babies from the harsh realities of the wild world but I haven’t found them yet.

    Heh.
    Hehehehehehehehehe!
    By mistake the technician that does the ordering for my hospital ordered us a bunch of #40 sized transparent plastic e-collars (the cone collars that we put on dogs to keep them from chewing on various bits of their bodies) earlier this spring. All very well and good, but the #40 sized e-collars are sized for something along the lines of a horse. We can’t use ’em and we couldn’t return ’em.
    So I cabbaged on to them, ran a chunk of twine through the loops for the dog’s collar, tied the end of the twine to a brick and viola! Instant, cheap (they cost about $6 apiece) cloches. I planted my squash underneath them and have BIG STURDY squash plants at a time when I really shouldn’t. I planted cantaloupe seeds under them and, in western Washington where things like that don’t happen, I’ve got sprouting cantaloupe.
    I don’t know if you’re trying to protect the _plants_ or the actual fruit though. The cloches (you can purchase e-collars at pet stores or at your local veterinary office) will protect the plants but won’t do diddly for the fruit.
    On the advice of my landscaping buddy I’m trying used coffee grounds to keep the bloody damned slugs out of my cucumbers this year. I suspect they’d also be bird repellant just because of the smell, but I can’t say whether or not it’d work.

Leave a Reply

All comments containing hyperlinks are held for approval, so don't worry if your comment doesn't show up immediately. (I'm not editing for content, just weeding out the more obvious comment spam.)


All portions of this site are © Andrew Lenzer, all rights reserved, unless otherwise noted.