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Archive for the ‘Bees’ Category

A bee and a flower—it’s such a simple, yet beautiful composition. I photographed this Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica) on a globe thistle flower this past Tuesday in the garden of my neighbor and dear friend Cindy Dyer.

Some folks might suffer a little cognitive dissonance when they look at the flower in the photo and hear the name “globe” thistle. I thought about renaming it “hemisphere thistle” for the purposes of the picture.  🙂

Beauty is everywhere.globe thistle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My eyes were attracted to the pinkish-colored asters when I spotted them last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and I moved closer to investigate them more closely. I was delighted to see several green metallic sweat bees (g. Agapostemon) busily gathering pollen. I have always loved the coloration of these sweat bees that are so much smaller than the bumblebees and carpenter bees that I am more used to seeing.

The sweat bees were in almost constant motion and I got a little dizzy as I tried to track their circular movement around the center of the little flowers. I was happy that I was able to get a few shots in which the speckled eyes of the bees are visible—you may want to double-click on the images to enlarge them and see this cool little detail.

Asters generally appear in my area in late summer and early fall, another sign that the seasons are starting to change. I am not ready to let go of summer, though I must confess that I enjoy the somewhat cooler weather that we have been experiencing, especially during the nighttime hours.

sweat bee

sweat bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This bee seemed to be having a great time inside of a lotus flower when I spotted it last Tuesday during a brief visit to Green Spring Gardens with my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. This county-run historical garden has only a relatively limited number of lotuses and waterlilies at a small pond, but it is much more accessible and less crowded that Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, an amazing facility in Washington D.C. operated by the National Park Service that has multiple acres of cultivated ponds with a wide array of water lilies and lotuses.

lotus

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I was photographing bees on Monday at Green Spring Gardens, I had no idea that it was the start of Pollinator Week (22-28 June 2020), “an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles,” according to the pollinator.org website. All I knew was that I love bees and enjoy trying to photograph them.

I was reminded of this week’s celebration yesterday in an e-mail from Benjamin, a knowledgeable budding naturalist who is almost certainly the youngest reader of my blog, and his grandmother Ellen (Gem). The two of them were busily making special honey treats to celebrate the week.

A honeybee came buzzing by me as I was attempting to photograph a poppy on Monday. Although the poppy was quite beautiful, I quickly abandoned it and decided that it was more fun to focus on the bee. The bee seemed to have been quite successful in gathering pollen and, as you can see in the first two photos, one of its pollen sacs seemed to be filled to its maximum capacity.

The final photo shows a honeybee at work in a Stokes’ Aster flower (Stokesia laevis) that I spotted in another part of the gardens. If you double-click on the image, you will see little white grains of pollen covering different many parts of the bee’s body.

 

honeybee

honeybee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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I love bees and spent quite a while on Monday in the garden of my friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer observing them and trying to photograph them. I had no idea that lamb’s ear plants produce flowers, but the bee in the first photo certainly was aware of that fact when I spotted it busily at work. The bee in the second shot decided to try an acrobatic move to gain access to the nectar in the lavender plant that swung wildly each time the bee landed on it. In the final shot, I captured the bee as it was crawling all over a flower of a cool-looking globe thistle plant.

I am not very good at identifying bees, but I think these bees are all Eastern  Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa virginica). Unlike bumblebees that have fuzzy abdomens, carpenter bees have shiny, relatively hairless abdomens.

 

lamb's ear

lavender

globe thistle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I tend to think of pollen as yellow, but it comes in other colors too. This past weekend I captured this shot of a bee covered in bright red pollen from the Purple Deadnettle flowers (Lamium purpureum) on which it was feeding. Earlier this spring I did a posting with a somewhat similar shot, but misidentified the plant as the closely-related Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule).

Purple Deadnettle is in the mint family and seems to be everywhere at this time of year. I was in a fairly remote area when I took this shot, but I have seen large patches of it in gardens, where it is considered to be a weed. According to an article entitled “Foraging for Purple Dead Nettle: an edible backyard weed,” the plant is not only a wild edible green, but a highly nutritious superfood. The leaves are edible, with the purple tops being even a little sweet. It can also be used in combination with other “weeds” like chickweed and dandelion greens to make pesto and can also be added to soups, salads, or blended into smoothies.

But wait, there is more. Purple Dead Nettle also has purported medicinal benefits. It is known in the herbal world as being astringent, diuretic, diaphoretic and purgative. It’s also anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal and can be used to make salve, poultices, and teas.

As an interesting aside, in Great Britain this plant is apparently known as Red Deadnettle. Why is there a difference in names? I do not know why, but it is not all that surprising considering the number of different words the British use for common objects and the different spellings for common words.

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I saw this insect sipping nectar from a Spring Beauty wildflower on Tuesday, I was sure that it was some kind of wasp or hornet. Bees, I thought, do not have such narrow waists. I was wrong. Some of the experts at bugguide.net identified my insect as a male Nomad Bee (genus Nomada).

Nomad Bees are the largest genus of kleptoparasitic “cuckoo bees,” according to Wikipedia. “Kleptoparasitic bees are so named because they enter the nests of a host and lay eggs there, stealing resources that the host has already collected.” Nomad bees do sip nectar like other bees, as you can see in my photos, but do not collect pollen to feed their offspring.

I remember being shocked the first time that I read about cuckoos and cowbirds deliberating laying their eggs in the nests of other birds to avoid having to build their own nests and raise their own babies. I guess I can add nomad bees to the list of deliberately delinquent parents.

 

nomad bee

nomad bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Did you know that some bees have green speckled eyes? I was really startled by the brightness of this bee’s eyes as I was taking its photo last Monday while exploring in Prince William County, Virginia. Some research on-line revealed that this is a male Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica).

I was pretty sure that I had never before seen a bee like this, but I was wrong. As I was preparing this posting, I discovered that I had seen a similar bee in October 2012 and published a posting entitled “Green-eyed Eastern Carpenter bee.” Wow. It’s been a long time between sightings, so maybe I can be forgiven for having forgotten about the previous time, though at my age I can simply claim that I had a “senior moment.” Ages has its privileges.

Eastern Carpenter Bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although the temperatures were cool on Tuesday afternoon, this little bee was busy in the garden of my neighbor and friend Cindy Dyer. The plant on which the bee was feeding technically bight be considered to be a weed, and not a flower, but the bee surely did not mind.

Most of the pollen that I am used to seeing is bright yellow, but in this case it appeared to red in color. As you can see in the second photo, the bee was using a headfirst approach—for extended periods of time it would bury its head among the small petals of this plant.

I went searching around on internet trying to identify the plant and I think it might be Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule). I would welcome a confirmation or correction of this identification by someone more familiar with flowers than I am.

bee

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the highlights of my visit on Monday to Green Spring Gardens was photographing a blossoming Japanese Apricot tree (Prunus mume). It was a little strange to see a tree with blossoms during the winter, but apparently it is normal for this species to blossom in mid-winter and late winter. The flowers are commonly known as plum blossoms and are a frequent theme in traditional painting in China and in other East Asian countries—the blossoms were also a favorite with the honey bees.

According to Wikipedia, the plum blossom is “one of the most beloved flowers in China and has been frequently depicted in Chinese art and poetry for centuries. The plum blossom is seen as a symbol of winter and a harbinger of spring. The blossoms are so beloved because they are viewed as blooming most vibrantly amidst the winter snow, exuding an ethereal elegance, while their fragrance is noticed to still subtly pervade the air at even the coldest times of the year. Therefore, the plum blossom came to symbolize perseverance and hope, as well as beauty, purity, and the transitoriness of life.”

I do not use my macro lens very much during the winter months and usually leave it at home. However, the mild weather that we have been having made me suspect that some flowers would be in bloom, so I put the macro lens on my camera—the busy bees turned out to be a big bonus.

I especially admired the efforts of the bee in the first photo. This bee did not want to wait for the bud to open, but instead burrowed its way to the pollen-filled center of the blossom-to-be.

Japanese Apricot tree

Japanese Apricot tree

Japanese Apricot tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This winter has been usually mild and spring color is already starting to appear in our area. During a visit yesterday to Green Spring Gardens, a local county-run historical garden, I spotted crocuses in bloom at several locations. Finding crocuses was not too much of a surprise, since they are usually among the first flowers to appear each spring.  However, it was an unexpected bonus to be able to photograph a honey bee collecting pollen inside of one of the crocuses.

In many ways yesterday’s photography was a return to my roots. When I started getting more serious about photography seven years ago, I did a lot of shooting with my friend and mentor, Cindy Dyer. One of her many areas of specialization is macro photography of flowers and some of her flower images have even appeared on US postage stamps. From her I learned a lot about the technical aspects of photography, like composition and depth of field, but more importantly she encouraged and inspired me back then and continues to do so to this day. Thanks, Cindy.

I started off photographing flowers with a few insects, but gradually realized that I was more interested in shooting insects with a few flowers. I can appreciate the beauty of the crocuses in the second and third images below, but the first shot is more representative of my desired shooting style.

crocus

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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With all of the hot weather we have been having recently, I have absolutely no desire to be as busy as a bee. I spotted this bee busily at work this past Tuesday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Temperatures in our area are forecast to rise to 100 degrees (38 degrees C) today and the high humidity will make it feel even more intolerable. I will probably spend most of the days indoors, but fortunately I have plenty of recent photos in reserve that I can process and post.

This image is the kind of simple shot that I really like. I remember my sense of wonder the first time I used a macro lens and I still feel excitement when I immerse myself in the details that a macro lens reveals.

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I love to photograph bees and realize that I have not featured one for quite some time. I captured this image of one as it perched on some pickerelweed this past weekend at Ben Brenman Park in Alexandria, VA.

In many ways, this image is as much about the flowering plant as it is about the bee. It speaks to me of the interaction between those two main subjects.

For me, photographing nature is about balancing the depiction of the small details, as I often do, with the “bigger” picture—the framing of this shot helps to give the viewer a better sense of the environment than if I had done an extreme close-up shot of the bee itself.

bee and pickerelweed

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most folks are familiar with the comic book hero the Green Hornet, but have you ever seen a green bee? I don’t see them very often, so I was pretty excited to spot this one in some flowers last weekend at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I think this kind of bee is generally known as a metallic green sweat bee and is of the genus Agapostemon.

green bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love to watch bees as they gather pollen—they seem so industrious and focused as they systematically work their way through a group of flowers. This honey bee had both of its pollen sacs almost completely filled when I spotted it yesterday on a cone flower in the garden of one of my neighbors, fellow photographer Cindy Dyer.

One of the joys of shooting with a macro lens is that it lets you capture so many fine details, like the pollen grains on the legs of this bee and the slight damage on the trailing edges of the bee’s wings. Bees are also a great subject to practice macro techniques, because they often let you get really close without being spooked and flying away.

honey bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How much pollen can a bee transport at one time? As it circled the inside of a sunflower, this bee filled the pollen baskets on its hind legs with so much bright yellow pollen that I was afraid it would not be able to lift off and fly away. In addition to the very full pollen baskets, which looked like cotton candy to me, the bee was virtually covered with grains of pollen. My fears proved to be unfounded, and the overladen bee was able to carry away its golden treasure.

I think this bee is a bumblebee, though I am no expert on the subject of bees. According to Wikipedia, certain species of bees, including bumblebees and honeybees, have pollen baskets (also known as corbiculae) that are used to harvest pollen. Other bee species have scopae (Latin for “brooms”), which are usually just a mass of hair on the hind legs that are used to transport pollen.

bee pollen

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I love to watch bees and spotted this one recently at Green Spring Gardens. I was struck by the way it resembled a mountain climber (albeit with no ropes) as it hung upside-down from this shaggy flower—I have no idea how to effectively gather pollen from a flower like this one, but the bee seemed to be doing ok with its “tongue.”

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Flowers are beautiful, of course, but when it comes to taking photos, I seem to be equally (or more) attracted to insects among the flowers. Yesterday we finally had some sunshine here in Northern Virginia after three soggy days in a row and I made a trip to Green Spring Gardens with my mentor Cindy Dyer to check out the flowers in bloom.

The wind was blowing most of the afternoon, which turned many of the flowers into moving targets, but patience and persistence allowed me to get some shots of some of my favorites, like love-in-a-mist and columbines. I am still going through my images, but I was immediately attracted to this shot of a bee in flight that I captured as it moved from one iris to another.

I remember being a little surprised to see a bee gathering pollen from irises—there seemed to be much candidates nearby, including some large, showy peonies. The bee didn’t spend long in each iris and the long petals of the iris often hid the bee from view. As I was tracking the bee, I somehow managed to maintain focus and captured this whimsical little shot of it in mid-air. My shutter speed of 1/640 sec was not fast enough to freeze the wings, but I really like the blur of the wings, which enhances the sense of motion for me.

bee and iris

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Do bees drink water? As I was investigating the ponds at Green Spring Gardens again yesterday for signs of dragonflies, I spotted some bees landing in the shallow water. It looked like they were getting drinks of water, but I wondered if it was possible that they were somehow gathering nectar and/or pollen.

I did a little research and found out that bees do in fact drink water. One article at honeybeesuite.com described some of the reasons why bees bring water back to the hive. It also noted that, “Bees seem to prefer water that has some growth in it—such as green slime—rather than perfectly clean water.” and speculated that the bees can smell the growth and recognize it as a water source. That was certainly the case at the pond yesterday, where the water had all kinds of green gunk growing on it.

honey bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s still a little too early for dragonflies, but I did find some cool little bees yesterday afternoon at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia, a county-run historical garden not far from where I live. Longtime readers of the blog know that I love taking macro photographs and during summer months my trusty Tamron 180mm macro lens is on my camera most of the time.

Yesterday I decided to dust off my macro lens and search for insects. For most of the afternoon I came up empty-handed, but then I spotted a few bees gathering pollen. They kind of look like honey bees, but I don’t remember honey bees being that small. Grape Hyacinths (g. Muscari) are only a couple of inches tall and the first photo gives you an idea of the size of the bees.

Spring is finally here and I look for an explosion of insects soon. During this transitional time of the year I expect to be switching back and forth between my telephoto zoom lens, primarily for birds, and my macro lens, primarily for flowers and insects.

bee

bee

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Despite this summer’s scorching heat and high humidity, the bees of Green Spring Gardens were busy at work gathering pollen and sipping nectar during a recent visit to the gardens. I’m certainly no expert on bees, but it looks like there are several different varieties in the photos below.

I’m pretty confident that the bee in the final shot is a carpenter bee because its abdomen is bare and shiny, unlike that of the bumblebee, which has a hairy abdomen. If you look closely at that image, you’ll see that this bee appears to be a nectar robber—it is piercing the flower from the side to extract the nectar and thereby is not playing any role in pollinating the flower.

bee

bee

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was looking over a whole range of the colorful flowers yesterday at Green Spring Gardens, I gradually realized that I was drawn most to those with simple shapes and relatively subdued colors, like the modest spiderwort (g. Tradescantia). There is a real beauty in its simplicity.

The bees seemed to like the spiderworts too, including one that I photographed with overfilled pollen sacs.

spiderwort

spiderwort

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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While I was in Blacklick, Ohio (just outside of Columbus) this past weekend, I had a chance to observe and photograph the beehive of the folks with whom I was staying. They offered to let me wear a beekeeper suit, but I declined and instead got up close and personal with some of the bees. In these images, a bee was licking up some syrup that had dripped down the side of the hive structure.

bee

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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