Surprise! Chuck called out of the blue this afternoon with a swarm clustered in a low-hanging branch on his land in the Fort, wanting to know if I knew anything about capturing a feral swarm of bees. Which is hilarious, because I've never even definitively seen a swarm of bees. But, "what's the worst that can happen?" I asked myself. I can get the living shit stung out of me and fall off a ladder backward. That's what!
But fortunately that's not what happened, at all. I drove out to the ranch and there, right beyond the electric fence that bear-proofs Chuck's bee yard in an ash tree was a 4 to 5 pound cluster dividing itself slowly over a forked branch with eleventy bazillion other bees flying around (exactly like I'd seen from the car the day before in West-by-Gawd. . . ) Chuck had already set up a ladder and gathered together a pair of loppers and a couple of large boxes. After some head scratcing we decided to just give the first bee bundled branch a sharp jolt which knocked loose the majority of them and they landed in the box with a loud 'plop'. Like a viscous, gravity defying liquid they quickly spread themselves across the entire surface of the inside of the box. We swept most of those into one of the awaiting hives that Chuck had set up to house the five packaged shakes that had finally arrived that morning from the BANV. The second cluster was on the main trunk which was thin enough to get the blades of the lopper around and I started to cut slowly as Chuck held the end of an attached branch. We started to see that the end result of cutting where we did would be something of a disaster if we continued but that's when the branch broke the rest of the way through and the bee covered limb hit the ground showering us both in a cloud of confused bees.
What still clung to the branch Chuck knocked into the hive and we stood scratching our heads once again trying to decide how to determine if we'd succeeded in capturing the mother bee. "The bees will go where she is", says I (which, at the moment, was damn-near everywhere). "Well, we can look everywhere, or we can look where we have the bees concentrated", says Chuck. With that he began to shift gently through the frames in the hive. I climbed back up the ladder and started searching among the stragglers still clinging to the leaves of the ash tree. I'll be damned in half if I didn't find her after a only few minutes of casual observation, right there with the white spot that Frank Tilco had placed on her thorax two weeks earlier! These were Chuck's bee's all along staging a walk-out.
I coaxed mum off the limb and a dozen, or so of her attendants followed her onto my hand and I backed carefully down the ladder only to have her fly off and merge back into the cloud of airborne bees. Fuck! The chances of me finding her in the first place were like looking for a needle in a stack of needles. . . that fly, and I managed to lose her. I figured that she was gone at that point and the only thing we knew, for certain, was that we did not
have the queen, and therefore the swarm was only a temporary holding. "Look where the bees are" was wisdom that served us once, so I climbed back up the ladder to search anew.
Certainly, there in a small egg-sized cluster was Her Majesty only a couple limbs over from where I had found her, originally. This time her capture was aided using a small hair clip and after showing our quarry to Chuck she was deposited in the hive body among the throngs of her adoring sisters, who began to fan the wayward swarm to their new home in the old neighborhood. And in the span of an hour, the cloud of bees that could fill a high school gymnasium compressed themselves to the front of the hive box as if it contained a hidden vacuum; a slow motion explosion in reverse.
So, now Chuck's short a hive for his packages having only assembled five. . . Guess who's the lucky recipient of the extra?