I’m so grateful to see bees of all stripes and colors back just today! Yesterday was too cold, and the day before they just weren’t here yet. Today, bees everywhere!
It was a joyous morning in the garden. I got a quarter of the seed potatoes planted, but the sprouts on the rest were too short. I’ve read several places they should be ¾ – 1″ long before going in the dirt, so I’ll wait til the rest are a bit stronger to plant them. Heading back to the house I spied the first bumblebee in the grape hyacinths, a big yellow one, but didn’t get the camera in time to capture her. I was immediately sidetracked from other garden tasks to hang out with the camera and chase bees: one of my favorite pastimes, still, seven years after I began photographing them. I’m grateful for this wondrous passion I never could have predicted.
The first butterfly I see in spring is the mourning cloak, Nymphalis antiopa. The species ranges throughout the northern hemisphere, and is called mourning cloak in many other languages, though in Britain it’s called Camberwell beauty, white petticoat, or grand surprise. It gets a jump on other species because it doesn’t migrate long distances, instead overwintering in suitable habitat tucked into tree cavities or under loose bark, emerging in early spring to begin its reproductive cycle. After mating, females lay their eggs around twigs of host trees upon which their caterpillars feed, including various species of willow, cottonwood and birch, and in American elm, hackberries, wild rose, and poplars among others.
The slightly worn wings of the mourning cloak above attest to his long life, having metamorphosed mid-summer last year and overwintered nearby (maybe in my birch tree, or wild rose). This week he is out searching for females, and after breeding he will live only another month or two. Sources say mourning cloak adults prefer to feed on tree sap and decaying fruit and rarely flower nectar, though I always see them in the flowering fruit trees. Not in the compost pile!
In my quest for bumblebees, I’ve been grudgingly rewarded this week. I caught one a few times in the mystery tree, saw one last night on the Nepeta in the south border, and this morning one in the peach tree. Frequency of sightings is increasing, though I still think there should be many more by now than I’m seeing.