Bee amazing

This has been an unusual year for everyone. One of the things I’ve gravitated to has been learning online about nature, as well as experiencing it outside.

This fall I participated in a 5-week online class about bees in the eastern United States. Now I’m probably like many of you, and at the mention of bees I instantly thought of honeybees and the nasty stings of yellow jackets. But the Eastern Bees 101 class offered by The Ohio State University Extension office has changed my mind. Completely.

Bees are pretty amazing creatures! Let’s look at the bumble bee as an example.

Isn’t she beautiful? This is a Bombus fervidus or a female Golden Northern bumble bee. This is one you don’t see nearly as often as the Common Eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) which is prevalent here in Ohio. Look at how “golden” she is. Her abdomen is yellow on the first four (tergal) segments with just the last two being black. A Common Eastern bumble bee would have just the first abdomen segment that is yellow. In the photos below you can easily count those segments.

And she has a unique black “stripe” across the top of her thorax (the middle part of her body where her wings attach).

Bumble bees live a year or less, depending upon whether they are male, female workers or the queen. They are primitively eusocial, that is…partly social and partly solitary. Their life cycle explains this.

A fertilized queen will emerge from underground in April to early May. She will be by herself. She will feed on pollen and nectar after her winter “nap” and will frequently be seen flying close to the ground looking for a good place for a new nest. She then starts a nest and lays eggs – all daughters. The eggs will quickly turn into larvae, which the queen provisions with pollen and nectar so they may become bumble bees.

Once the daughters go from larva to bumble bee, they are able to forage for food for the nest, and the queen stays in the nest and lays successive generations of eggs. She will lay anywhere from 50 to 300 eggs over the summer (depending on the species of bumble bee).

Queens have the ability to determine whether their eggs will be male or female. In late summer she produces what will be future queens and males. Males will find mates from different colonies and the new queens will mate with males from other colonies. At this point the hardworking daughters in the colony will die, as will the old queen and the males.

Newly mated queens will find a hibernaculum (a place to hibernate for the winter). And next spring the cycle will start all over again.

There is so many interesting things about bees – such as how they carry pollen and nectar, which is different for different bee species. A female bumble bee has what is called a “corbicula.” It’s a smooth indentation in the upper part of their hind leg that is slightly concave. This allows them to carry a mixture of pollen and nectar back to the nest.

The photo below is of a female Common Eastern bumble bee. If you look closely at the leg you can see a slight bit of yellow on the corbicula. Only bumble bees and honeybees have a corbicula. Other bee species may transport pollen on the underside of their abdomen, or on their hairy legs or even eat it and regurgitate it to their young. It varies based upon the type of bee.

I was fortunate enough this summer to be at Clear Creek Metro Park and see a bumble bee “warming up” on a flower. Bumble bees have this unique ability to disengage their wings and operate their flight muscles in order to warm their bodies. Sort of like how we shiver. Bumble bees need to have a body temperature of at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit in order to fly. I’m only sorry I wasn’t able to get a good photo of this to share with you.

And one final item you might find interesting…if you look carefully in the early fall, you just might see some of those male bumble bees “sleeping” on flowers in the early morning hours because once they initially leave the nest, they never return to it. If you ever see a bumble bee “sleeping” on a flower, you can be assured it will, in all likelihood, be a male.

Bumble bees are really pretty docile and aren’t aggressive (unless you threaten them or their nest). The photos in this blog were obtained not by a zoom lens but rather by getting my camera close without being threatening.

I hope the next time you see a bumble bee, you take a minute to look more closely. They’re really very beautiful and interesting creatures.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

Sheldon Marsh

Exploring nature preserves is a great way to banish “Covid fatigue.” It’s like a mini vacation wrapped up in a single day and provides a bit of exercise, fresh air and restores the spirit. I can highly recommend it.

This week we packed our hiking boots, a snack, water and drove an hour or so (on as many backroads as possible) to explore Sheldon Marsh state nature preserve near Lake Erie in Ohio. It’s offers about 470 acres, is home to 300 species of birds and is a well-known place for quite a number of wildflowers in the spring.


But it’s not all marshy, by any means. Even at the end of October the leaf colors are beautiful, though a bit past their prime.

The Preserve offers some wide straight, wide trails directly to the beach area, but I would suggest following the woods trail instead. It meanders through the trees and provides great views of the marsh and the creatures that live there.

According to signage, the Marsh has hundreds of turtles that bask along the shoreline including Midland painted turtles, snapping turtles and the Blandings turtle (Emys blandingii or Emydoidea blandingii). According to Wikipedia, Blandings turtles are an endangered species in some areas of the eastern U.S. and Canada, can reproduce for 80 to 90 years and show little or no common signs of aging. Wow! That’s a turtle I would like to see.

Unfortunately on this day there was little if any sun so it wasn’t conducive to those basking turtles (which is why I plan to come back).

This area is very attractive to ducks and shore birds. On this day we saw Wood ducks, Mallards. Gadwells, Canada geese, cormorants and Great Blue Herons. I have a few photos to share of these, but the zoom on my FZ300 wasn’t quite up to it, as the ducks/geese were quite a distance away.

GREAT BLUE HERON (forefront) and WOOD DUCKS (rear)

We also ran into a pretty aggressive groundhog. Now before you start laughing (I did too when a fellow visitor first warned me), take a look at the photos. They just might change your mind.


Now normally groundhogs are pretty timid. They run away when they see a human. Not this guy! He would look at you, then come out onto the trail and face you like he was taking a stance. If you moved, he moved to face you and showed some teeth. He didn’t act rabid; he just acted old and mean like we were on his turf – which we were I suppose. Poor guy.

But that didn’t stop us from sliding around him to get to the Lake. It was a bit windy on this day and quite choppy. The gray/blue skies blended well with the icy gray color of the lake. The wind was quite loud in the tree branches and leaves along the shoreline.

Very near the water in some shrubby areas was a Yellow-Rumped warbler flitting about. They DO move quickly. I was surprised I could get any photos at all.

This is a barrier beach and (according to signage) is one of the most fascinating habitats at Sheldon Marsh. It’s one of the largest protected beaches on Lake Erie’s south shore. It provides the potential for bird nesting habitat of such endangered species as the Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) and Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus). (The Common Tern is listed as endangered in Ohio and the Piping Plover is on the federally endangered list.)


If you get the opportunity, take a break from “Covid fatigue” and visit Sheldon Marsh. It’s a glorious place to explore nature and let go of some of life’s stresses. While not too many people feel comfortable going on vacations these days, a mini-vacation day trip to a nature preserve is almost perfect.


Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

A New Appreciation

My favorite season of the year is Spring. Always has been. Primarily because I am always so in awe of the new little leaves on the trees and the promise of spring wildflowers popping through the ground, especially after living with bare tree branches and cold Winter weather.

But I moved into the Fall this year with an amazing new respect for the season. In the past I’ve seen it as the beginning of Winter, wherein I dread the cold weather and have a feeling that everything has died. But this year, for the first time in my life, I truly embraced Fall. I really reached out and was amazed to find a new appreciation for the glorious color and splendor all around me.

And as much as I hate to admit it, I think it’s a side effect of the Covid pandemic, wherein you realize how important it is to appreciate each day. I know everyone always says to try to find the positive side of everything, but I think in this case, the positive side found me!

Just look at this photo. It’s of a rail trail (the Ohio to Erie Trail in central Ohio). It’s probably much like a trail you have in your area – perhaps in a local park, or in a neighborhood – but it’s absolutely glorious in the Fall! I’m so shocked that I’ve never appreciated this in the past.

I went on a hike at Boch Hollow state nature preserve earlier this week with friends. The colors in southern Ohio weren’t yet at their peak, but it still supplied yet another amazing Fall experience.

PHOTO CREDIT: Robert Papps

This scene mesmerized me. It was as if God had flipped on the light switch and illuminated the forest. There weren’t the vivid oranges and reds that maple trees provide, but it had an appeal all its own. It was primarily a beech/oak area of the woods with steep ravines and beautiful golden leaves gently filtering down to the forest floor. Quiet. Peaceful. The rest of the world just didn’t exist. No politics. No news updates. Just you, and the earth and the realization that it really is possible (at least for a time) to let go of all the “stuff” that bogs down our lives. And just be.

Of course we always have a few creatures to keep us company on any hike. Little friends whose primary goal this fall may be to build up their food supplies to survive the winter. This little guy (or gal?) blended well into the background. He was as curious about us as we were about him. Usually chipmunks don’t stick around long before they sprint off to find their hidey hole for protection. This guy was the exception.

While this wasn’t a bird watching trip, we were able to capture a photo or two of a White-throated sparrow hiding in the brush. I’ve never had much appreciation for sparrows in the past. I guess I’ve seen them as rather non-descript brown birds that weren’t nearly as appealing as warblers in the Spring. But I don’t see how I could have overlooked this little beauty with it’s spots of yellow, black head stripes and brilliant white throat. Another new appreciation I guess.

One thing I’ve learned to appreciate this Fall is when I see something suddenly illuminated by sunlight. Almost like (just like the earlier forest scene in this blog) a light switch is turned on and a spotlight focuses on something in an extraordinary way. I thought I’d share one of these with you.


This is Turkey Tail. The sun just beamed down on this one specific thing for a very short time, while all around it, the area stayed dark. Like someone was saying “just LOOK at this!” And you don’t have a choice but look and admire. Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) is a polypore mushroom and if you haven’t seen this before, you’re in for a treat, because this little jewel comes in many, many colors. They can be shades of brown, tan, gray, black, green, tinged in purple… and I’ve yet to read exactly why they are the colors they are. Oh I suppose there has to be research out there somewhere that explains it, but I haven’t read it yet. Maybe a reader of this blog will share that with me sometime.

And I can’t end this blog without offering another mesmerizing photo of Fall. This one is from a trail close by. It offers a little glimpse of the stream below (which is very low right now), as well as the beautiful colors of the tree canopy above the trail. It’s an absolute pleasure to walk there.

I hope you take the time to fully embrace the colors of Fall and, like me, learn to appreciate its beauty every single day. May your path be lined with the many wonders nature provides.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.