So, I was checking my voicemail this morning and there was one from a caller who said that she had her trees sprayed for caterpillars – trees occupied by three bird feeders - and now, she is upset that there are no birds at all for her to watch. She wonders if the spray could possibly have something to do with it. (Yes, spraying pesticides on your trees will have an effect on the songbirds.)
It is not uncommon for us to get inquiries such as these, and it is with great frustration and sadness that we often are faced with educating people after the damage has been done. So, please let me take a moment to reach out to our Facebook friends and family and be proactive about this topic.
All pesticides are designed to kill. Some are very targeted, such as B. T. (Bacillus thuringiensis) which primarily affects Lepidopterans (moths and butterflies), but most pesticides are broad and indiscriminate.
When you make the choice to treat your house or landscape with rodenticides, grub treatment, mosquito foggers, or any other pesticide treatment, you have an intent of ridding yourself of a specific creature that you find distasteful. However, nothing in nature exists in a vacuum. Everything is connected. When you affect one population, it has a ripple effect across the populations that depend upon and coexist with it. When you spray insecticide, for instance, it does not just kill the ‘bugs’ you don’t like, but kills all insects, including honeybees, butterflies and ladybugs. Likewise, when you spray, the insects do not simply disappear off the face of the earth. Many live a short time before they perish. In this time, the poisoned creature may be consumed by natural predators, like songbirds, small mammals and other insects. Pesticides may have a direct toxicity to these animals or may build up in their fat or blood and cause illness or death over time. Even so-called “green” chemicals are still intended to kill, and though they may be derived from natural sources or biodegrade quickly, they are still highly toxic to you and other organisms.
Friends, it is so very important in this day and age, with the steady decline of bird populations and the utter devastation of pollinator populations that we humans take a serious, proactive look at the choices we make and the practices we support – either directly or indirectly. It is vital that we do not go blindly into the world, but make ourselves informed and educated about products and practices and about science, industry and nature. Here at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, we very much want to help people become educated and able to make informed choices. We are here to answer your questions and point you in the direction of reliable and scientifically accurate information. But we also encourage you to think and question BEFORE you act. Your actions have consequences. Thanks for listening! (Photo Credit http://www.yorku.ca/bstutch/research.htm)
There are few sights in this world that compare to a horse chestnut tree in full bloom. Everything about this tree seems to be larger than it should be: it stands about 35 metres tall at maturity, with leaves that can be 30 cm x 60 cm, and flowers borne on 50 cm tall panicles.
The only placental wildlife that can safely eat the seeds of this tree – called “conkers” in the UK – are deer. For the rest of us mammals (including horses) the “horse-chestnut” is poisonous, being only distantly-related to the true chestnut (Castanea).
The tree is not without utility: It’s an abundant source of forage for bees.
I’ve planted one for use as a topiary: despite their towering size in nature, these trees are popular candidates for bonsai. Owing to their vigour, regularly-pruned trees provide an abundance of biomass for soil-building.
Seeds can be collected as they fall to the ground, and are easily germinated by sowing in Autumn – allowing for natural cold-stratification to occur over winter.
Trees have been planted around the temperate zone in various climates, and exhibit remarkable adaptability. Some individuals have been grown as far north as my hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, which is at times colder than Mars!
My grandpa bought a huge jar of honey and its is incredibly dark brown, its almost black and light doesn't shine through. He says its industrial honey meant to be used in mass produced goods, I'm still skeptical. Its is suppose to be that dark?
Well honey can vary wildly in colour and flavour. The lighter honey has a lighter and fruitier flavour, generally more like a light syrup, whereas darker honey has a far stronger flavour and is a bit more like brown sugar. Because the difference in flavours, they tend to be used for different things, light honey is nicer to eat on it’s own, spread on toast ect. But darker honey, since it has a stronger flavour, is better to use in recipes, because the honey flavour isn’t as overpowered by the other ingredients. So your grandpa probably is right about the dark honey being used in mass produced goods.
It is commonly known that bees tessellate their honeycombs hexagonally, but it is less well known that bees can be trained to create more unusual tessellations. One Dutch artist and bee keeper once held an exhibition of bee hives whose tessellations were based entirely on M.C. Escher paintings. Unfortunately, it didn’t prove very popular as the bees got very territorial around all the art lovers, and many visitors were stung, leading to negative reviews and a cancellation of the exhibition.
While we’re on the subject of honeybees, I was recently visited by a swarm!
I came home Tuesday to find a huge cloud of bees all around a magnolia tree by the garage. In less than an hour, they coalesced into a tight ball of bees about the size of a football.
Now, I knew from a lifetime of nature documentaries that honeybees are at their most docile and least likely to sting when they’re swarming. A this time, they are stuffed silly with honey, don’t have any young to protect, and can simply fly away to avoid predators. They’re cruising around with their queen, looking for a new place to build a hive.
I wasn’t worried about them hurting anybody, but I didn’t necessarily want them to take up residence in my garage or attic. So I did what anybody would have done in this situation. I made a Facebook post about it and then googled what to do.
Fortunately, a friend of mine works at the Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware, Ohio. She put me in touch with their Apiarist (beekeeper), who was simply ecstatic to hear that I had a stray swarm and that I hadn’t poisoned it (apparently, lots of people don’t know the difference between honeybees and wasps/hornets/yellowjackets/etc). We set up a time for him to come rescue the swarm, and he even called a couple of students up to share the experience. One of them had been waiting for over two years to go on a swarm rescue run.
He brought out a hive box with some already-combed frames. We cut down the twig the bees had clustered on and dropped it into the box, and they immediately began claiming it as their home. Detecting the wax comb on the frames and recognizing a good hive location, the bees started to emit a lemony “homing” pheromone, letting all of their sisters know to settle down here and start laying down wax.
We kept the hive box overnight to allow errant scouts time to return. He came back the next morning to pick up the hive and take it to a quarantine site, until he could be sure of the bees health and temperament. He even left us a little parting gift from the apiary at Stratford. Everybody kept saying what an absolute treat it was to find and save a swarm, and how rare it was to see them. Provided the hive is healthy, in a month or two, I could go up to the ecological center and visit my bees!
With 40% of honeybee colonies in the US dying in the last year, every bee that can be saved is a small victory. It was a real privilege to witness this event and have a hand in finding a good home for the swarm.
If you see some swarming honeybees in the wild, call a beekeeper! They’ll be grateful to hear from you, and you’ll be doing some good for our pollinator friends!