The three men pause in front of the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden at the Sonoma Cornerstone and begin to read the sign.
"The Pollinator Garden by Kate Frey," one man reads out loud. "It's brand new, come back soon and watch as it grows. This flower-filled and colorful garden is a pollinator garden. All the plants offer food resources of pollen and nectar for pollinators such as native bees, honey bees, butterflies, 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 pollination and the adult life stage of many beneficial insects."
They watch the bees, butterflies and hummingbirds--buzzing, fluttering and swooshing--in a rush of colors.
"Beautiful garden," one says.
"Do you want to see a praying mantis?" I ask.
I had earlier spotted a mantis in the vegetation--a female Mantis religiosa (species identified by praying mantis expert Lohit Garikipati, a UC Davis entomology student who rears mantids).
Californians commonly see native mantids, Stagmomantis limbata and Stagmomantis californica, as well as this introduced one, M. religiosa.
"I don't see it," one of the men says. "Where is it?"
"There," I point. "Camouflaged."
"You have a good eye," he comments. "Wow, I haven't seen a praying mantis since I was a kid." He whips out his cell phone for a quick image.
The praying mantis made his day.
It's always a good day when you encounter a praying mantis.
Kate Frey, a resident of Hopland, is the author of the award-winning book, The Bee Friendly Garden, with Professor Gretchen LeBuhn of San Francisco State University, a book that details how to design an abundant, flower-filled garden that nurtures bees and supports biodiversity. She's a two-time gold medal winner at the Chelsea Flower Show and co-founder of The American Garden School. (Read this Bug Squad post to learn her favorite plants and how to attract pollinators.)
As Frey told the crowd at the 2018 UC Davis Bee Symposium, hosted last March 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."
They do, indeed. Praying mantids do, too.
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.