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  • Joe Dlugo

On a Bee Safari at Assawoman Wildlife Area, Delaware

Xylocopa virginica male on crimson clover, Trifolium incarnatum
Xylocopa virginica, the eastern carpenter bee

I had the good fortune to pay a spring visit to Sussex County to go looking for some bees on the opposite coast of mine. As a native of the midwest where spring ephemeral wildflower blooms are the norm, I expected to see something similar in the east coast woods that at least on their surface look pretty similar. I was surprised to find few wildflowers anywhere here. It looked as though I was a few weeks too early (?).

Thistles, perhaps Cirsium vulgaris, on the side of the road in Assawoman Wildlife Area
Thistles about to bloom on the road to Mulberry Landing. My visit fell short of the bee festival these would bring.

In addition, where I did find flowers such as dandelions, they were in exposed locations that were very windy, even in the early morning. I imagined it would be tough to find a bee about in the fierce wind and I was correct. But hooray someone had the good sense to plant a bee garden smack in the middle of the woods. Protected from the wind and loaded with crimson clover and cinquefoil and various this & thats, a gold mine for bees on a sunny, warm spring morning. Hallelujah.

Park map for Assawoman Wildlife Area
A photo of the park map. The bee garden is at #10

Starting my viewing around 9:00 a.m. it was still quite cool and just a few of the big fuzzy queen bumbles were about. The only bees really capable of performing well in the chill, I once found a bumble bee visiting flowers on a 33 degree morning in my garden in Washington State. This was of course not nearly as cold but still in the lower 50's or so.

Bombus impatiens, the common eastern bumble bee visiting crimson clover
Common eastern bumble bee queen, Bombus impatiens, cruising about the crimson clover in the early morning

Also about with the bumbles and gaining in number throughout the day would be what I would consider the most fascinating find of the day - the large and beautiful scoliid wasps. These 20mm long wasps were angelic fliers and quite enthusiastic pollinators on nearly every plant species in the field. reports they are are parasitoids of ground dwelling scarab beetle grubs, which among them include the awful introduced Japanese beetle. A wasp to cheer for. They also have beautiful eyes.

Scoliid wasp with beautiful eyes visiting the yellow blooms of field mustard
Scoliid wasp on mustard flower

The most exciting find of the morning was a pair of blueberry digger bees in the process of excavating a nest. These chunky bees have shiny black abdomens and are quite easy to notice as they course slowly over the flowers in a droning flight with intermittent hovering. I would spend several hours watching the two bees team to push the sand from the nest, only gaining a couple of inches of underground. I have new respect for the effort ground nesting bees must give to dig. And why were there two? Is this species social to some extent?

Habropoda laboriosa, the blueberry digger bee at its ground nest
Habropoda laboriosa, the blueberry digger bee at the entrance to her ground nest. Note the very sandy soil.

There were also a series of interesting flies to take note of. I could tally at least five distinct species, most showing interest in the cinquefoil that sat directly by the roadside. I've found myself appreciating flies more and more while out on my bee safaris. Nature doesn't run on pollination alone and there is certainly a growing interest in their vital ecological roles.

Syrphid fly on yellow flower
Syrphid fly

Moving back to bees, few can capture attention quite like the large carpenter bees of the genus Xylocopa. A large male paid a visit to the patch and dwelled there most of the morning. A docile fella, he'd pause from time to time to let me get some shots of those amazing eyes. For most of the morning I could concentrate on other species, then easily go find this bee, a giant black spot pulling flowers to the ground as he fed. Eastern carpenter bees have few friends due to their fondness for making holes in human dwellings, but I dearly love them. And with a face like this, how could you not feel affection?

Xylocopa virginica male on crimson clover
Eastern carpenter bee

Besides those that were willing to be photographed, I encountered several other species including Dialictus sweat bees and shiny green Agapostemons. A splendid place to look for bees, and a kind thank you to those who saw it important to plant a pollinator patch.

-J 4/27/19

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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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