- Joe Dlugo
A Bee Safari at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve, Pennsylvania
36 public gardens dot a radius 30 miles from Philadelphia, providing an extraordinary opportunity to safari for bees. The choice destination for native bees is most likely in step with native plants so it only seemed natural that my destination would be Bowman's Hill. A native wildflower preserve of 134 pristine acres situated along the quiet and lovely Route 32 near New Hope, Pennsylvania, Bowman's Hill is nothing short of a paradise for people and bees alike.
The setting for my safari is an early July day where anywhere sun can touch has flowers. It didn’t take long to discover the star of the show this time of year is shrubby st. john's wort, Hypericum prolificum. This robust wildflower looked like it could attract anything and any bee that visits looks ridiculously cool sifting through its long stamens. Here is a tiny masked bee, Hylaeus sp. visiting this yellow gem at the edge of the parking lot by the visitor's center.
And if the masked bee wasn't tiny enough, here's a 6mm long Dialictus sweat bee visiting the infamous flowers in the same location.
Certainly the site with the most abundant bees was the meadow. This extraordinary mix of eastern forbs looked strongly reminiscent of the tallgrass prairies hundreds of miles west of here. Any sea of flowers such as this would surely be home to numerous bee species and this did not disappoint.
A leafcutter bee with a butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) pollinia sac attached to its leg was among the finest of finds in the meadow. You can see the small sac attached to the bee’s front leg. Pollinia sacs are how milkweed flowers package and transfer their pollen. It is not uncommon to find bees struggling to rid themselves of these sacs, as they can become quite a hindrance.
And while we're on the topic of strange pollen events, here's another shot of a masked bee. This one is on hoary mountain mint, Pycnanthemum incanum. Looking a bit like a bubble gum chewer, what's really going on here is a bee that stores its pollen internally (most bees store pollen on their bodies) is flexing its mouthparts
The meadow also had yarrow flowers, Achillea millefolium, in bloom. These flowers are often favored by a wide array of very small bees. Here is pictured a bee of the genus Halictus, known as the furrow bees.
When the heat of the day was firmly set in I took a sun break towards the Stone Bridge where a row of rosebay, Rhododendron maximum, hosted an array of pollinators.
Among them was this mining bee (Andrena sp.). Mining bees are typically some of the first bees to emerge in spring and teeter off in population by late June. This individual showed a good amount of wear and tear and was undoubtedly one of the last of its kind to be about for the year.
On the same flowers I found several of the tiny Dialictus sweat bees that can be so numerous.
Traveling to the pond area at the very north end of the preserve would produce even more species. The most numerous bee of the day in all habitats, Bombus griseocollis was favoring the Helianthus in this area.
A large Lasioglossum sweat bee and a small Ceratina bee were also present on the large stands of the Helianthus.
I ended the day with some browsing at the nursery and took my favorite photo of the day, the lovely furrow bee, Halictus ligatus, on a black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta). These small, chunky bees with big heads can be numerous in many habitats throughout the country. Here one is photographed on a flower in the nursery, where a great selection of native wildflowers could be found.
And if I might give a nod to my favorite wildflower of the day, it would be the entrancing downy skullcap. I found only a couple of plants growing in one area of the meadow but they were memorable for their stunning purple glow and the numerous bumble bees that enjoyed them even more than I did.