by Paula Mele Weatherbie
Sometime around mid morning on Good Friday while gazing out the window, we noticed what looked like a big brown shoe high up in one of our trees. Upon closer examination, we realized a swarm of bees had taken up residence in our yard, hanging in a large cluster about 15 feet up in a cherry laurel. Eeeek! So I called Brandon Pollard, noted urban bee-wrangler with the Texas Honeybee Guild and the beekeeper of scores of hives including those at Trinity River Audubon Center. You might remember Brandon’s name from his personal war against the mosquito spraying in Dallas for the West Nile Virus. The spraying cost thousands of bees their lives as the chemicals got into the hives, seeping through their screen-bottomed boards. Brandon and his wife, Susan, are devout bee lovers and have made preserving what they call “fragile natural resources” their way of life.
Knowing the busy guy he is, I located Brandon’s voice-mail and left him a frantic message. He called me right back. He couldn’t head right over because his “bee” truck was in the shop but he quizzed me enthusiastically about my situation and became downright giddy as he spoke and educated me about honeybees. He assured me the bees were not interested in me or my family and would not be a threat for as long (or as short) as they were in my yard. He told me honeybees swarm in the spring and continue to do so through May as they move out of their current hives and into new locations to house their growing family. It’s just instinctive and what bees do.
There are probably hundreds of swarms all over Dallas right now. My backyard cherry laurel was simply a stopping point on the way to a new home. The scout bees leave the swarm and patrol the neighborhood looking for a suitable and more permanent location. Brandon told me that they wouldn’t last even a week in my tree as they were very vulnerable without a hive and would beeline it out of my tree as soon as they located their new digs. (When the foragers find the new spot, they alert the swarm by doing a bee dance in front of them which causes the swarm to get on the move) Until Brandon could get to my house, he asked me to email him pictures of the swarm and the general location of the tree they were housed in.
While his truck was in the shop, Brandon called me every day (“are they still there?”) to check on the bee swarm status and even said he’d come out on Easter Sunday fearing they might leave before Monday. He said they would disappear as inconspicuously as they arrived and it could happen at any time. I wished him a happy Easter and said the rescue could wait until Monday.
First thing Monday morning, Brandon called and told me he was in my neighborhood and could come, and within a few minutes he arrived on my doorstep. He analyzed the swarm, figured out his game plan and set about his bee retrieval process. He asked if he could remove the small limb the bees were on because that was what was “safest for the bees.” He also had to balance his ladder on part of that same limb since the swarm was up so high, well above our 8 foot fence.
Brandon unloaded a few boxes, a spray bottle, a ladder and his pruning clipper. He made his way towards the bee swarm and when he got close, he spritzed the bees with what I thought had to be a desensitizing spray of some sort. Turns out the spray bottle was filled with fresh RAIN WATER and spraying it on the bees allows them to drink water off of one another, keeps them from going airborne and makes the swarm a more cohesive cluster for a cogent collection. When he got up to the bees (with bare hands and arms and only the protection of his bee hat) he gently lopped off the part of the branch they were clustered upon, and gingerly made his way down the ladder holding the limb with the bees. He periodically sprayed them as he maneuvered them into his bee box where he tucked them in securely. The entire process took less than 10 minutes.
The bees will make their way to one of Brandon’s hives and live a safer life than among the wilds of Dallas. There they’ll make honey for Texas. For us. I went from feeling scared witless to feeling completely in awe of honeybees and honored to have housed them temporarily and to have watched the entire bee retrieval and rescue. And I learned so much about bees, too: their fragile and compromised lives, and their importance to us and our community. Fact is, swarming is a natural occurrence and not to be feared (or messed around with.)
But the greatest takeaway of all was Brandon’s passion and wonderful attitude about honeybees. At the beginning and end of every single conversation we had, he said the same thing to me: “Thanks for caring.”
No, Brandon, thank you and Susan and Texas Honeybee Guild for caring. He and Susan sure have made me a new, and wiser bee-liever in honeybees.
If you have a have you are concerned about, please contact Brandon Pollard at the Texas Honeybee Guild immediately.