Prairie View

Friday, June 08, 2018

Resident Nighthawks and Bees

In the past I've enjoyed watching multiple nighthawks overhead during fall migration.  I learned to recognize their buzzing call, and admired their white-banded slim-winged, erratic flight.  Fast and powerful describe their flight as well.

This spring I'm witnessing something different.  Sometimes I hear the buzzing call from a large dense-canopied tree on our property.  While they're flying overhead, I sometimes hear a vibrating, humming sound.  I can't think of a better way to describe it succinctly, but I've observed that it happens with sudden dives.  I assume that it's a result of air passing through the wing feathers in a certain way.

I think the Nighthawks may be nesting on our property.  If so, they are certainly welcome guests, given their insect-eating habits.  I know now to not even try to look for a nest in a tree.  They lay eggs in a shallow scrape on bare or gravelly soil. 

Most of the insects that Nighthawks eat are caught during flight, a maneuver facilitated by the bird's wide gaping mouth. Apparently no hunting takes place in the dark, but dawn and daylight are the most common hunting periods.  Mid day hunting is common too. 

Common Nighthawks are known to nest in Kansas, as is true also of most areas of the United States.  They winter in South America. 

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Several days ago, I witnessed another phenomenon that I had never seen before.  I was first alerted to something strange when I heard a loud insect-like buzzing sound while I was working in the garden.  I looked in the direction of the sound and saw a great cloud of insects hovering in flight.  They were clearly larger than flies, but I couldn't tell for sure what they were.  Because I suspected that they were bees, I was not eager to wade in close to find out. 

I alerted my beekeeper brother Lowell, who came over later and confirmed that bees had apparently taken up residence between the interior and exterior walls of a badly deteriorated shed-like building which we've always called the "sheep barn," since our sheep used to seek shade and winter shelter inside.  Right now its main function is to provide a windbreak from the south for our raspberry plants in the garden. 

Lowell's explanation of what I had observed made good sense.  He said that the cloud of bees were a swarm that had exited other living quarters.  Initially, the swarm had probably clustered in one giant glob and hung there for a time (I've seen this before).  Then scouts had gone out from the cluster and found these new living quarters "on Trail West Road." After the scouts reported back to the cluster, the queen and all her workers and drones took off for our place.  I first saw them as they were hovering near the wall and then, one by one, finding their way inside the wall.  After a short while, the buzzing was over.   I stayed clear of the area, just to be safe. 

Lowell plans to come back after the bees have had some time to settle in, and after his son Joseph returns from music camp and can help make the bee capture and move them into one of their hives. 

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I've never claimed the citizen-scientist label, but I hope I can continue to make mindful observations of the natural world.  Doing so provides me much pleasure.

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