First monarch butterfly sighting of the year.
A tattered and torn monarch--a male (as identified by Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis) fluttered into the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden at Sonoma Cornerstone last Sunday and landed on a salvia.
He didn't move for about five minutes. Tattered, torn and tired.
His wings looked like a predator--maybe a bird or a praying mantis--tried to nab him. They did not succeed.
Usually we see monarchs around this time of year in our pollinator garden in Vacaville. The milkweed, butterfly bush and Mexican sunflowers are waiting.
Last year we saw one laying an egg on Aug. 1 on our milkweed.
This year: zero, zilch, zip here in Vacaville.
We remember the recent report by Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation that indicated the 2017 Thanksgiving Count at the monarch overwintering sites in California has decreased dramatically:
"The Xerces Society's Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count provides a long-running record of the number of monarchs overwintering in California—including the steep decline of recent decades. Volunteers and biologists who take part in the Thanksgiving Count have been invaluable in monitoring the monarch population each fall for over twenty years. Last year, another count was added with the launch of the New Year's Count—an opportunity to monitor the populations during a later period of the winter. Monarchs are mobile and they move around through the season. Combining the data from the New Year's and Thanksgiving counts allows us to better understand site and rangewide population changes. Monarch numbers at the 115 sites monitored during both of this season's counts decreased by an average of 49% between Thanksgiving and the New Year. This is similar to the change revealed by the previous New Year's Count, which saw a 43% drop at 44 sites." (See text)
As Sarina Jepsen, the endangered species program director for the Xerces Society said: “It's certainly concerning." (See more information on Project Milkweed)
And sometimes it's too good to be true.
We were visiting the Sunset Gardens at the Sonoma (Calif.) Cornerstone on Sunday--marveling at the brilliant blue floss flowers, Ageratum houstonianum 'Blue Horizon'--when a bee with the familiar black and white abdominal stripes streaked by.
It was a digger bee, Anthophora urbana, a speedy bee we've bee admiring for years. We watched this one, a female, hover in front of a blossom for a couple of seconds--just enough time to grab four photos.
This is a native bee, smaller than a honey bee, that nests in the ground and transports pollen on its hind legs. It emerges early in the year, from early spring to summer, depending on the species, according to the authors of California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.
Its floral hosts include catmint (Nepeta), sage (Salvia chamaedryoides and Salvia mellfera), lavender (Lavandula spp.), phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia) and toadflax (Linaria purpurea).
This one was nectaring on a member of the aster family. Ageratum houstonianum, an annual.
According to the Missouri Botanical garden, the plant's genus name "presumably comes from the Greek a meaning not and geras meaning old age because the flowers hold their color for a long time." The species name honors Scottish surgeon and botanist William Houston (1695-1733) who collected plants in Mexico, West Indies and South America.
Want to know more about native bees? The book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, is a must-have. Published by Heyday Press, it's the work of Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville, and Barbara Ertter, all professionals affiliated with the University of California--(Frankie, Coville and Ertter, UC Berkeley, and Thorp, UC Davis who received his doctorate from UC Berkeley).
They also published a pocket guide, Common Native Bees in Gardens of California, available for purchase on the UC ANR website.
Are these Anthophora bees as fast as everyone says they are?
Yes, they are.
The authors wrote: "These bees fly so fast, you often only see a grey streak zoom by."
Make that a black-and-white streak that's moving so fast it appears grey.
(Editor's note: Photographer stopped the action with a Nikon D500 mounted with a 105mm macro lens: shutter speed, 1/3200 of second, f-stop 10; and ISO, 1250.)
A spectacular pollinator garden that's a "must-see" is Kate Frey's pollinator garden at Sonoma Cornerstone.
Kate Frey, a world-class pollinator garden designer, pollinator advocate and author who addressed the UC Davis Bee Symposium in March on "Designing Bee Friendly Gardens," has created a masterpiece. And yes, the pollinator garden is open to the public--no admission fee.
We visited the garden last Saturday and saw a pipevine swallowtail nectaring on Nepeta tuberosa, yellow-faced bumble bees sipping nectar from Stachys bullata, hummingbirds scoring nectar from salvia, and honey bees foraging on everything from Scabiosa "Fama Blue" to a native milkweed, Asclepias speciosa.
This is a happy place.
As she told the crowd at the Bee Symposium, hosted by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology: Whether you plant them, nurture them, or walk through them, bee gardens make us happy.
Frey's sign at the Sonoma pollinator garden explains that "All the plants offer food resources of pollen and nectar for pollinators such as native bees, honey bees, hummingbirds and beneficial insects. Pollen is a protein, mineral and fat source and is primarily a larval food for bees, while nectar is composed of various sugars and is the main food for pollinators and the adult life stage of many beneficial insects. Pollinators need a continuous food source for many months of the year. This garden contains a range of plants that will bloom in succession from early spring to late fall."
Frey's sign also noted that "Pollinators all have preferred plants they feed from, and flowers cater to specific pollinators. Some flower shapes are designed to exclude unwanted pollinators. The long, constricted floral tubes of honeysuckles or many salvia exhibit their focus on hummingbirds as primary pollinators. Other flowers nectar, like coffee berry is easily accessible to all pollinators. This garden contains a wide range of plants to appear to a variety of pollinators. Over 80 percent of flowering plants require insect or animal pollination. What insects or birds do you see visiting each flower type?"
Well, let's see: bees, butterflies, and birds...Apis mellifera, Battus philenor, Bombus vosnesenskii, Papilio rutulus, Calypte anna...
"The same plants that support pollinators," Frey indicated on the sign, "also make us happy."
They do! Happiness is a pollinator garden...
It's Thanksgiving Day and time to give thanks for NOT what we WANT, but what we HAVE.
And, not for what we OWN, but what we CANNOT.
That includes the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii.
On the morning of Nov. 12, we traveled to the Sonoma Cornerstone, Sonoma, to check the plants and pollinators in Kate Frey's amazing pollinator garden. Kate Frey, co-author of The Bee-Friendly Garden" (with UC San Francisco professor Gretchen LeBuhn), is a world-class garden designer and pollinator advocate.
Flashback to Sept. 23, the last time we visited the Frey garden. We noticed monarch butterflies, painted ladies, honey bees and--one bumble bee, a hungry queen Bombus vosnesenskii, newly emerged from winter hibernation to grab something to eat. Sometimes on warm sunny days, the queens will disrupt their hibernation to search for nectar. They. Are. Hungry.
At 12:30 on Nov. 12, the temperature rose to 62 degrees.
And then we saw her, The Queen. The Queen. Resplendent in gold and black, she buzzed loudly toward the spiked floral purple plant, Salvia indigo spires (Salvia farinacea x S. farinacea). Honey bees quickly moved out of her way as she claimed the nectar, all of it. Her wings glowed in the sunlight and her buzz seemed loud enough to break the sound barrier.
Is there anything more bee-utiful?
One bumble bee. One queen. A royal moment.
The news is disturbing but not unexpected.
Scientists are linking global climate change to one reason why the worldwide population of bumble bees is declining.
An article published Sept. 28 in the journal Ecology Letters by Florida State University (FSU) researchers showed that bumble bees just aren't getting enough floral resources.
For the study, lead researcher and postdoctoral fellow Jane Ogilivie and six colleagues examined three subalpine bumble bee species in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, and found that the changing climate means fewer flowers.
"Knowing whether climate variation most affects bumble bees directly or indirectly will allow us to better predict how bumble bee populations will cope with continued climate change," Ogilivie told the FSU News Service in a press release. "We found that the abundances of all three bumble bee species were mostly affected by indirect effects of climate on flower distribution through a season."
The FSU News Service aptly headlined the research a "Stinging Report."
"When researchers think about flower effects on bees, they typically consider floral abundance to be the most important factor, but we found that the distribution of flowers throughout a season was most important for bumble bees,” Ogilivie said. “The more days with good flower availability, the more bees can forage and colonies can grow, and the bigger their populations become. We now have longer flowering seasons because of earlier snowmelt, but floral abundance has not changed overall. This means we have more days in a season with poor flower availability.”
The researchers wrote in their abstract: "Climate change can influence consumer populations both directly, by affecting survival and reproduction, and indirectly, by altering resources. However, little is known about the relative importance of direct and indirect effects, particularly for species important to ecosystem functioning, like pollinators. We used structural equation modelling to test the importance of direct and indirect (via floral resources) climate effects on the interannual abundance of three subalpine bumble bee species. In addition, we used long-term data to examine how climate and floral resources have changed over time. Over 8 years, bee abundances were driven primarily by the indirect effects of climate on the temporal distribution of floral resources. Over 43 years, aspects of floral phenology changed in ways that indicate species-specific effects on bees. Our study suggests that climate-driven alterations in floral resource phenology can play a critical role in governing bee population responses to global change."
Bumble bee expert Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, long ago sounded the alarm that bumble bees are in trouble. He is the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: an Identification Guide (Princeton) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.
The last bumble bee we saw--the last of the season--was on Sept. 23 at Kate Frey's pollinator garden at the Sonoma Cornerstone, Sonoma. It was a yellow-faced queen bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, nectaring on a spiked floral purple plant, Salvia ‘Indigo Spires' (Salvia farinacea x S. farinacea). The queen had apparently emerged from hibernation to find food on that warm summerlike day.
I knelt to capture some images.
"Oh, it's just a bumble bee," scoffed one tourist, casually sipping a glass of wine. "They're everywhere."
Sadly, they're not.