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  • Joe Dlugo

A Bee Safari at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve, Pennsylvania

A male brown-belted bumble bee, Bombus griseocollis dangles at the end of a tall vervain, Verbena hastata in the meadow at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve
Bombus griseocollis - Brown-belted Bumble Bee

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.

A tiny masked bee, Hylaeus sp. ambles along the numerous long stamens of shrubby st. john's wort, Hypericum prolificum
Masked Bee - Hylaeus sp.

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.

Dialictus sweat bee visiting shrubby st john's wort, Hypericum prolificum at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve
Dialictus Bee - Dialictus sp.

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.

An empty bench looking out over a large wildflower meadow
The meadow at Bowman's Hill

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.

A small leafcutter bee on a leaf with wings spread, photographed at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve
Leafcutter Bee - Megachile sp.

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

A masked bee, Hylaeus sp. with a pollen bubble emerging from its mouth.
Masked Bee - Hylaeus sp.

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.

A small very dark green furrow bee walk upon the many white flowers with yellow stamens of a yarrow plant
Furrow Bee - Halictus sp.

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.

Pink and white five-petaled Rhododendron maximum flowers at forest edge beside a road leading to a stone bridge
Rosebay (Rhododendron maximum) by the stone bridge

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.

A mostly dark bee with small tufts of white hair lurks about the long stamens of Rhododendron maximum
Mining Bee - Andrena sp.

On the same flowers I found several of the tiny Dialictus sweat bees that can be so numerous.

A tiny olive green Dialictus sweat bee feeds from the long stamen on Rhododendron maximum
Dialictus sweat bee - Dialictus sp.

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.

Bombus griseocollis male seen from its front right, about to fly off a Helianthus flower
Bombus griseocollis - the brown-belted bumble bee

A large Lasioglossum sweat bee and a small Ceratina bee were also present on the large stands of the Helianthus.

A female Lasioglossum sweat bee on woodland sunflower
Sweat bee - Lasioglossum sp.
A green, almost hairless small Ceratina bee on the compound florets of a Helianthus flower.
Ceratina sp. - small carpenter bee

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.

Halictus ligatus walking about the brown flower head of a Rudbeckia Hirta flower
Halictus ligatus on Rudbeckia hirta

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.

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Joe Dlugo photographing bees on a tallgrass prairie

Joe Dlugo

Welcome to Bee Safari!

This is the product of many long afternoons in the garden, planting seeds, pulling weeds, watching bees.

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The world is a lovely place that has thousands of different kinds of bees. Contrary to popular opinion, few of are actually colored black and yellow. In fact, a great many are green - like those in the photo above.  Most also do not live in hives making honey and beeswax. They do other exciting things. I hope you find this intriguing and want to dive into my bee photo galleries to see the diversity of their world for yourself. 

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