Tag Archive | bumblebee

This Week in Sunflowers

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This week in sunflowers… and other yellow things. Diverse native bees, including the sunflower bee (Svastra, I think: the males have unusually long antennae) are buzzing and feeding in the sunflowers, and a few goldfinches have come for seeds but fly too fast from me when I come out with the camera. Grasshoppers continue to maraud every living plant, including the gladioli, giving me a window into a bud.Pollinator-9001

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Dahlias are suffering worse than glads from grasshopper predation, though these later blooms are in better shape than those in early summer; enough flower left to provide for this bumblebee. Bumblebees are so complicated, with any one species having so much variety in parts and patterns, queens and workers and males all different sizes with different color sternites, tergites, and corbicular fringes, variable leg part sizes and cheek ratios… It would take more time and focus than I have now to even try to learn them. We have about 13 species in this part of Colorado. But I can’t even remember that many. One, two, or possibly three more species below, on Prince’s Plume, mullein, and Rocky Mountain beeplant respectively.

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Meanwhile, the fernbush, Chamaebateria, has also been blooming, attracting more flies than bees, and a few butterflies as well, including this Painted Lady.

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But who will this adorable, soft creature turn into one day? I rescued it from porch sweepings, and dropped it into some leaf litter, but not before examining it on my breakfast plate. Its antennae surprised me, popping out when I scared it, then sucking back into the top of its round face. Here, they’re halfway back in, after shooting straight out in alarm.

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Dragonfly perched on a radish seedpod.

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Those horrible thunks against the window… I heard one on the west kitchen window last week and saw the body drop. Dashed outside, around the Foresteria loosing masses of purple berries to the ground, beyond the woodpile, and tiptoed through the mess of palettes, hoses, wire cages, and empty pots to find this young yellow warbler out cold on the ground. I carried him around to the south side of the house looking for a good shady perch, and set him in a sturdy crook in the apricot tree. Brought the cats inside and left him there for awhile. When I went back he had flown, so that was one good deed for that day.

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Then, just this afternoon, another smack into the east window. Outside, a tiny hummingbird facedown in a geranium pot. Its beak was a little askew. In my hand it was weightless, but its minuscule heart pounded. Cats secured inside, I set the hummingbird in a shoebox in the shade, putting a twig under its barely perceptible toes, and set a small bowl of water in front of it as it wobbled on its perch. I shut the lid for awhile, then checked, and tipped the water bowl so it could reach without moving. It flicked its threadlike tongue into the water. I dumped the water and filled the bowl with nectar, and it drank again from the tipped bowl.

I shut the lid for another ten minutes; checked again, tipped again, left again. The fact that it was still alive encouraged me, though I was distressed it didn’t fly right off. Half an hour later I returned and opened the lid, tipped the bowl for another drink. I left the lid open and checked again in another half hour, dismayed to see the bird still there. But as I moved toward the bowl, the little bird cocked its little pea-head then zipped out of the box, up and out of sight! Sometimes all they need is a safe space for long enough to get their head on straight.

Not long after that, I caught a goldfinch in the sunflowers.

 

The Names of Things

Two native Osmia, or orchard bees, enjoying the cerulean blooms of Penstemon cyananthus.

Two native Osmia, or orchard bees, enjoying the cerulean blooms of Penstemon cyananthus.

The demise of my honeybees has spawned a silver lining after all: It’s opened my eyes to the wider world of native bees. The first summer with my captured swarm of “wild” honeybees, I bought a macro lens specifically to photograph them; I also bought a special pair of binoculars, Pentax Papilio, the only binoculars I could find after hours of online research with a focal length short enough that I could sit close to the hive and watch the bees go in and out. It’s not the best for watching faraway birds, but turned out to be amazing for getting a better view of things that are already pretty close up.

When my close-up vision began to deteriorate about fifteen years ago, I just let go of the need to see small things without my glasses. Consequently, I missed a lot of what was going on in the garden. Aphids, for example, until they had already done a lot of damage to a plant. But with the Papilios and the new camera lens, the world of small things opened up to me, and I was thrilled with it.

A ladybug taking off from the aging blossoms of catmint, Nepeta.

A ladybug taking off from the aging blossoms of catmint, Nepeta.

As I photographed my honeybees on all the various flowers in my drought-tolerant landscape, I found myself taking pictures of other small creatures in the same blooms, some of them really quite minuscule. Smaller than gnats, even.

I remember when Joseph came over to help me open the hive that first time, he looked at some flowers abuzz with bees and said, “Oh, nice, native bees.” It registered, but I didn’t understand it. How could he tell from where he stood what kind of bee was moving around just inches above the ground?

After three summers of photographing and observing bees, I can now tell a whole lot about which kind of bee is feeding on a flower, even from my gigantic height of five-eight. I’ve taken many photos of pollinators (honeybees, native bees, flies, beetles…) over the past few years, and I’m so busy all summer that I promise myself I’ll take some time in the winter to identify them, look up all their proper names. (My dear friend Paul calls the common names of plants and animals the “vulgar” names, and the Latin binomials the “proper” names. He’s got plenty of cred, so I go with that.)

But about a decade ago, because I’m fundamentally lazy (though curiously driven at times) I decided that I no longer need to know the names of things; it’s enough that they are here, living, and that I witness their glory, each and every unique living thing I come across. So I haven’t spent any time the past three winters learning the names of all the native bees I’ve photographed. Because something else is always above that on my To-Do List.

Until now.

A native bumblebee (Bombus) flies among the small blue penstemons that grow in the flagstone. The proper names of all the penstemons in the garden? A whole nother story.

A native bumblebee (Bombus) in the small blue penstemons that grow between flagstones. The proper names of all the penstemons in the garden? Another story. And it turns out it’s not so easy to ID bumblebees down to species.

Chris sent me an email last spring announcing a national Pollinator Photo Contest, and so I entered some of my images. There were actually two contests, one sponsored by the Center for Food Safety, and the other by the Wild Bee Gardens app. I was pleased to learn that I won in both contests, with different images of a native leafcutter bee, Megachile sp. So there is half of the proper name that I have learned. The app creator also wanted to use some of the other images I submitted in the new version of the app, so I happily consented to that.

And then I checked out the app.

It is elegant, and brilliant. And the introductory video changed my life.

My purpose felt extinguished when my honeybee hive died. Through the first half of this year, I’ve felt more and more bereft in their absence. It is beyond noticeable; it is flagrant. Sure, some honeybees have finally arrived, mid-June, in my garden. But they’re not my honeybees. My honeybees would have been smothering with caresses all the flowers in the yard as they bloomed, from February’s croci on through March’s (absurdly early) fruit trees, April’s daffodils and tulips, May’s irises and penstemons, and June’s profusion. As it is, yes, they’re coming, slowly growing from a few into hundreds, thousands; feeding on the wild pink roses, Buddleia alternifolia, Gallardia

Gallardia and Salvia with the new birdbath, a gift.

Gallardia,  Salvia, and Penstemon with the new birdbath, a gift.

Wild rose, Rosa woodsii, blooms profusely, hosting many species of pollinators during its short bloom cycle.

Wild rose, Rosa woodsii, blooms profusely, hosting many species of pollinators during its short bloom cycle.

Yet another Osmia on the wild ancestor of the common butterfly bush, Buddleia alternifolia.

Yet another Osmia on the wild ancestor of the common butterfly bush, Buddleia alternifolia.

This enormous shrub native to north-central China lives up to its common name of "fountain butterfly bush" with its arching sprays of richly scented flowers, attracting many species of butterflies including this western tiger swallowtail.

This shrub native to north-central China lives up to its common name of “fountain butterfly bush” with its arching sprays of richly scented flowers, attracting many species of butterflies including this western tiger swallowtail…

... and this

… and this elusive Monarch.

 

Last year my entire yard was loud with the sounds of bees, especially honey; now it buzzes discretely with the wingbeats of native bees. And my eyes are opened. I learned from the app that there are around 4000 species of native bees in North America, and they are responsible for pollinating far more of our native and staple food plants than are the introduced honeybees. For example, blueberries, green peppers, and tomatoes are best pollinated by bumblebees.

And that raises the question of neonicotinoids. I jumped on the “decline of the honeybee” bandwagon even before I found my swarm. I’ve preached about neonicotinoids poisoning honeybees since science first suggested the connection. I’ve sweated about the alarming decline of honeybees, and I never once wondered what that implied about native bees. (As a self-proclaimed naturalist, I feel pretty stupid about that.)

Fortunately, someone else did, and she pursued the question to its natural conclusion: a digital field guide to the native bees of North America. Celeste Ets-Hokin, an Oakland biologist, conceived and created the Wild Bee Gardens app, an elegant and intuitive research tool for gardeners, farmers, and others interested in preserving pollinators. With cross-references among native bee genera and the plants that host them, fabulous native bee photographs (including, in the newest version coming soon, some of mine), and extensive written guides on their ecology, lifecycles, anatomy, behavior, and how to create a wild bee garden, the app is a wealth of information, a whole college course in one package, and an inspiring creative work. It’s holding my feet to the fire, and making it fun, once again, to learn the names of things.

 

 

The Last Hummingbird

Not quite last, this very tired young hummingbird roosted on a broken sunflower stalk a couple of inches above the ground for hours on October second.

Not quite last, this very tired young hummingbird roosted on a broken sunflower stalk a couple of inches above the ground for hours on October 2nd. Intermittently he’d fly up and drink some nectar from the bountiful hummingbird mint, Agastache, that seemed to be a godsend for a lot of late birds. It’s still blooming! I’ve seen two more since this one, the latest last Wednesday, October 8th: a record in my 14 years taking note.

Not only the hummingbirds but bumblebees and wasps are enjoying the long-lasting blossoms of Agastache

Not only the hummingbirds but bumblebees and wasps are enjoying the long-lasting blossoms of this licorice-scented Agastache. 

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Sandhill cranes spiral up and out..

Sandhill cranes spiral and soar overhead on their raucous way south.

A lone monarch was lucky to find some nectar left on late-blooming Gallardia.

A lone monarch was lucky to find some nectar left in late-blooming Gallardia.

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Snapdragons still blooming profusely are also providing late nectar for hummingbirds and bees, their colors and velvety texture keeping some hot spots in the garden’s yellowing autumn palette.

 

 

A honeybee seeking something along the turning leaf of the Amur maple beside the hive.

A honeybee seeking something along the turning leaf of the Amur maple beside the hive.

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For a few weeks, rabbitbrush was buzzing...

For a few weeks, rabbitbrush was buzzing…

Saddlebags

Preparing for a show in spring, we’re naming all the bees again. This one is Saddlebags.

...and in photographing bees, I found this tiny little creature which appears to belong to a group called Micromoths.

…and in photographing bees, I found this tiny little creature which appears to belong to a group called Micromoths.

A honeybee hovered at a single late flax flower at my feet; I ran in to get the camera. In that one minute, the bee flew and its breeze blew four petals off the bloom.

A honeybee hovered at a single late flax flower at my feet; I ran in to get the camera. In that one minute, the bee flew and its breeze blew four petals off the bloom.

Checking on the medicinal herb I found this tiny white spider.

Checking on the medicinal herb I found this tiny white spider.

Garlic chives are the early October "bee-tree," swarming with honeybees, flies, and small wild bees...

Garlic chives are the early October “bee-tree,” swarming with honeybees, flies, and small wild bees…

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...and also appealing to a few moths.

…and also appealing to a few moths.

September Already

Young hummingbirds find the potted flowers appealing. This one circled the yellow snapdragons sipping from several.

Young hummingbirds find the potted flowers appealing. This one circled the yellow snapdragons sipping from several. Honeybee in pursuit.

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With cutting back and a few feedings through the summer, and I mean just a few, the snapdragons and other potted flowers are blooming again, with bells on. And hummingbirds. And bees. Cooler days and nights, and a few good rains, really rejuvenated them after the dog days of July. Dog days, ha. This was a pretty mild and cool summer. Cooler nights, five to ten degrees lower many nights than the same time last year, have also contributed to the tomatoes’ lack of productivity. I haven’t seen the dear old doe for weeks, and wonder if she’s eaten her last from my garden, from this good green earth, and moved on to feed a lion, or just sink back into the flow. So I’m finally harvesting a handful of small tomatoes, or, a small handful of tomatoes, about once a week.

Funny how the garden changes so dramatically over the course of the summer, but does it so slowly, in barely perceptible increments, so that one day I look across a certain way and see how completely different it is from the last time I looked. Rabbitbrush is in full bloom already, and it seems the hummingbirds are heading out a little early, though still plenty in my yard. The skies have been full of Canada geese the past few days, flying over in ribbons of dozens at a time, honking enthusiastically about their journey. The bee plant continues to flourish and hum, blooming garlic chives are also full of bees, and fall peas have just pushed through the ground.

More fun with Rocky Mountain bee plant, Cleome serrulata.

More fun with Rocky Mountain bee plant, Cleome serrulata.

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Honeybee on blue mist spirea, Worcester gold variety. This reliable late-season flower is buzzing with bees from early August into late September.

Honeybee on blue mist spirea, Worcester gold variety. This reliable late-season flower is buzzing with bees from early August into late September.

Bumblebee on the same.

Bumblebee on the same.

Cultivating Patience

Juniper hairstreak on a purple pansy.

Juniper hairstreak on a purple pansy.

Bumblebee leaving a pink penstemon, probably a hybrid between P. palmeri and P. pseudospectabilis. Both species thrive and self-sow all over the garden and now there's a whole range of pinks between the pale, almost-white palmeri and the vibrant pseudospectabilis.

Bumblebee leaving a pink penstemon, probably a hybrid between P. palmeri and P. pseudospectabilis. Both species thrive and self-sow all over the garden and now there’s a whole range of pinks between the pale, almost-white palmeri and the vibrant pseudospectabilis.

Honeybee face-deep in Gallardia.

Honeybee face-deep in Gallardia.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, hosting company and working on a deadline. The roller-coaster is moving so fast that I have to look at my pictures to remind myself that I am spending time in the garden. These are the image picks of the day and I can hardly wait for time on the weekend to sort through recent weeks of bees. Bees in the garden, bees in the mountains. A whirlwind of planting, seeds and seedlings; small green tomatoes on the Early Girls, tiny peppers on jalapeños and sweets. The yard has burst into impossible bloom; impossibly beautiful and impossible to catalog in haste. Patiently taking pictures every few days, gathering images like the bees gather pollen, for subsistence through the darker days. Solstice tomorrow marks the peak of the long spring climb; summer freefall follows.

The Roller Coaster

Bloody Mary with a lovage straw. This huge tropical-looking herb grows well in wet soil north of the pond, and its aromatic stalks are hollow, the perfect garnish.

Bloody Mary with a lovage straw. This huge tropical-looking herb grows well in wet soil north of the pond, and its aromatic stalks are hollow, the perfect garnish.

This Memorial Day Sunday, a week early if you ask me, has truly signaled the beginning of the roller coaster that is the summer season. Despite last night’s fresh snow on the mountains. We got half an inch of rain! It was great to wake up and not have to water anything; I had a pie to bake. After a kickoff brunch with Bloody Marys, arugula-ricotta-wild mushroom tart, veggie and homegrown-beef kebabs and venison ribs, fresh-picked wild asparagus, garden salad, and a homegrown-rhubarb pie with whipped cream, I returned home to my desk, and looked out the window to see a Bullock’s Oriole peering in at me. They winter in Central America and summer here; ergo, it must be summer! It’s a rare sighting, I’m lucky if I see one in a year. I hope he’ll stay around. I’ll buy an orange tomorrow, as incentive.

I’ve spent the past two weeks managing out-of-control weeds. Mustards, cheatgrass, and Poa bulbosa, my new nemesis, and many more, are rampaging through the yard sucking spring moisture from the ground, growing as fast as I can get them cut. But they tend to stay gone when they’re pulled by hand. Some zones in the garden get this special attention, while the farther edges of the yard get weed-whacked by Chris now and then. I have surrendered to the Bad Grass. All of it. I will never win. The bumper crop of Bulbosa this year finally made me throw in the towel. The best I can hope for, I’ve concluded, is to carve my paths through the bad grasses. Maybe a good approach to life in general. Live and learn. Never let someone else spread grass seed in your yard. Also, be careful of planting a perennial that someone tells you “can spread.”

“They love to look like each other,” said Katrina yesterday morning as she was pulling dwarf goldenrod shoots from among the Penstemon strictus shoots. I’m sure these two plants resemble each other even when they’re not mingled in the same bed, but the ones you want to get rid of seem to be able to look more like the ones you want to keep the more you try to get rid of them. Bindweed, for example. And these intransigent goldenrods: At the time I planted a one-gallon pot of this ornamental goldenrod I didn’t really understand the concept of “can spread.” Like many ornamentals they are just an attractive exotic invasive. I bought a grass the other day in a small pot, thinking it was a bunch grass. When I looked it up, sweet vernal grass, it turns out to be a problem weed in some parts of the country; it “can spread.” So that one will go in a pot for the summer and probably die next winter.

The past two weeks, days have either been cold and grey or been crazy with bees.

Nepeta everywhere is covered with bees of all kinds.

Nepeta everywhere is covered with bees of all kinds.

At least five kinds of bumblebees are feeding in the garden. When I get time, when the roller coaster slows a bit, I'll turn to the Bumblebee Guide and find all their names.

At least five kinds of bumblebees are feeding in the garden. When I get time, when the roller coaster slows a bit, I’ll sit down with my bumblebee images and the Western Bumblebee Guide and find all their names.

The sphinx moth is also attracted to Nepeta, and sometimes out in the morning.

The sphinx moth is also attracted to Nepeta, and sometimes out in the morning.

The Little Red Bumblebee, I call it...

The Little Red Bumblebee, I call it…

 

May 9, the bee tree was briefly the crabapple down by the pond.

May 9, the bee tree was briefly the crabapple down by the pond.

Honeybee on Fuji.

Honeybee on Fuji.

May 17, these caterpillars are crawling the walls all over Crawford. Covering the walkways, on every living thing, looking for a place to pupate. We hope they are innocuous salt-marsh caterpillars and will turn into benign white moths. We'll know more later!

May 17, these caterpillars are crawling the walls all over Crawford. Covering the walkways, on every living thing, looking for a place to pupate. We hope they are innocuous salt-marsh caterpillars and will turn into benign white moths. We’ll know more later!

Even Marrubium, the silver-leaf horehound, is covered with tiny flowers and intermittent bees.

Even Marrubium, the silver-leaf horehound, is covered with tiny flowers and intermittent bees.

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I let the dandelions grow on the fringes of the garden beds, on the edges of paths. They're an important early source for all the species of bees.

I let the dandelions grow on the fringes of the garden beds, on the edges of paths. They’re an important early source for all the species of bees.

I've only seen a hummingbird once at this scarlet gilia that sprang up in the spring border. I sometimes sit nearby and wait with the camera. One of these days...

I’ve only seen a hummingbird once at this scarlet gilia that sprang up in the spring border. I sometimes sit nearby and wait with the camera. One of these days…

Little mat daisies spread readily, beautiful and benign. I don't mind.

Little mat daisies spread readily, beautiful and benign. I don’t mind.

Their little white petals have pink candy-stripes on their undersides, making little red buds.

Their little white petals have pink candy-stripes on their undersides, making little red buds.

This little red fly also enjoys the mat daisies.

This little red fly also enjoys the mat daisies.

The first big iris opened a week ago. Two days ago this one popped and the little red bumblebees love it.

The first big iris opened a week ago. Two days ago this one popped and the little red bumblebees love it.

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Friday night's rain.

Friday night’s rain.

The bee tree yesterday was the Amur maple.

The bee tree yesterday was the Amur maple, which came as a surprise…

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I expected it would be the lilac, but it took me three days to get three good shots of a bee on the lilacs, and three minutes to get three good shots of bees on the maple.

I expected it would be the lilac, but it took me three days to get three good shots of bees on the lilacs, and three minutes to get three good shots of bees on the maple.

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The first blue flax opened just a week ago, and now waves of this delicate flower flow through the garden feeding bees big and small.

The first blue flax opened just a week ago, and now waves of this delicate flower flow through the garden feeding bees big and small.

Mixed in with the flax and also in waves here and there through the garden, I let the native plains mustard grow where it will.

Mixed in with the flax and also in waves here and there through the garden, I let the native plains mustard grow where it will.

Pink chintz creeping thyme flowers between flagstones.

Pink chintz creeping thyme flowers between flagstones.

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All the bumblebees are all over the Ajuga blooms.

All the bumblebees are all over the Ajuga blooms.

This giant yellow bumblebee is twice the size of the little red one. Probably Bombus nevadensis, or morrisoni, but I'll have to study on that, compare things like tongue length and facial structure, count colored bands, all with the guide and images before me.

This giant yellow bumblebee is twice the size of the little red one. Probably Bombus nevadensis, or morrisoni, but I’ll have to study on that, compare things like tongue length and facial structure, count colored bands, all with the guide and images before me. Maybe I’ll print it and take it outside with the Papilio binoculars.

Unsettled weather. The days are a riot of ups and downs. Five days in a row of clouds and rain, then eighty degrees and shining sun for a week bake the ground. Carrots and beets emerged two days ago, and transplanted tomatoes and peppers hang on despite cold nights, while melons, zucchini, and more peppers and tomatoes in pots continue to come in at night. Arugula, parsley, lettuce and kale are popping up, and peas are two inches tall. I cling to the illusion of control in the wild ride of the summer garden. Soon the weeds will be tamed for the season, and before you know it harvest madness will be upon us. Let the party begin!

 

Words Fail Me

April 11

On April 11, the honeybees finally examined the hybrid tulips.

April 11

And I caught the elusive white butterfly.

April 11

The honeybees also started enjoying the creeping thyme.

April 14

April 14, that sweet snow decorated the forsythia.

Today the wind literally blows bees off the Nanking cherry as another spring snowstorm threatens. Inside for awhile, I catch up with images from the past two weeks.

April 17

April 17, the bumblebees showed up.

April 19

April 19, honeybees were all over the European pasqueflowers.

April 20

April 20. Surprise!

April 20

And a bigger surprise, the broad-tailed hummingbirds showed up five days early.

April 20

As the golden currant blossoms begin to open, the green (or blue?) bottle flies arrive.

April 20

Nanking cherry buds begin to burst open and the little native bees are among the first to partake.

April 21

April 21, dandelions begin to pop open throughout the yard.

April 21

Bumblebees and honeybees continue to sip at the almond blossoms.

April 22

April 22, the Nanking cherry calls all species of bees in the vicinity.

April 22

April 22

And begins to get crowded.

April 23

April 23: Meanwhile, down at the pond, the honeybees have found a sweet place in the reeds to sate their thirst.

April 24

On April 24, the Nanking cherry exploded with bees of all kinds, in clouds, drunk, like me perhaps, on all the pink beauty.

Count the bees and types of bees in this image. Spring wave of the roller-coaster is in full swing. On this day, the Colonel would have been ninety-five years old. I spent the entire day with one of his last gifts to me, my Canon 50D, in a pursuit he might have considered at one time in his life a waste of time; but he introduced me to cameras, and took great pleasure during our last visit looking through his album of special photos, seeking his personal best, a shot of a duck with water dripping off its beak. I think he would have liked these. Meanwhile, my days fly by so full I can’t keep up.

April 24

As the jonquils continue blooming the occasional bee investigates.

April 24

Prunus besseyi “Pawnee Buttes,” a ground-creeping variety of the western sandcherry, begins to draw bees.

April 24

“Pink Chintz” creeping thyme blooms.

April 24

Occasional native bees and honeybees check out this little rock-garden plant whose name I’ve forgotten.

April 24

Buff little bumblebee on the golden currant.

April 24

The frenetic beeflies are everywhere, on the sandcherry…

April 24

…the dandelions…

April 24

…and the omnipresent Nepeta