Monday, March 15, 2010

Nature's Fury: Floods, Winter Critters, and Dead Bees

My husband and I went to Death Valley last week to escape the fierce winter in southwest Virginia (more on this trip in the next post). While we were gone, the weather warmed up and all the winter snow melted. Then, 3 inches of rain fell Friday night, flooding many parts of our county.


Flooded Walker Creek March 13, 2010

By 1:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, this creek was backed up from Walker Creek which was higher than I ever remember it. From here it is almost 100 feet to Walker Creek, well over the road.

I zoomed in to see the raging Walker Creek.

My neighbor's house flooded--something that hasn't happened since the mid-80s. Creeks all over the county were over their banks while a mudslide closed highway 460--a major thoroughfare.

Winter Critters

Snow covered the ground since late December. Even with the freezing weather, the creek in the valley ran, attracting wildlife during the day.

Wild Turkeys February 19, 2010

Several days, I saw a flock of wild turkeys drinking water out of the same creek that raged last Saturday. I also saw deer foraging during the day in the valley--a little unusual but the only pasture that was green was along this small creek.

Once I got out of the car to take more photos, the turkeys fled into the cedars. When we returned from our trip, I noticed the turkeys were roosting in the trees around our house, something they started no doubt while we were away.

Fox Squirrel March 1, 2010

A regular visitor to our feeder this winter was the Fox Squirrel. We usually only get gray squirrels so this large squirrel was welcome. You can tell the snow had melted by the first of March behind the squirrel---that was only on the south-facing slopes. The north sides of the mountains were deep with snow.

Here you can see the size difference between the fox and gray squirrels although I have seen gray squirrels larger than this one.

American Possum February 20, 2010

Possums came during the day and foraged what they could on the ground and in my compost pile. At night time, the raccoon would come if I didn't put the bird feeders in the shed.

A small possum came near my beehive one morning so I went and chased it with a stick. He was so frightened, he climbed high up in a small tree. That night he expired and his dead body is still in the tree, only attracting a tufted titmouse bird which plucked some fur for his nest. I am still waiting for the vultures or a red-tailed hawk to come get it. I felt bad about scaring the poor possum to death.

Dead Bees

Last Friday, I inspected my beehive and as I suspected, the bees had died. I last saw them on February 21 when a few were out on a somewhat warm, 50 degree day. Since then, the weather turned cold until March 5 when we left on a trip for the week. I called my mentor who told me he had lost almost half of his 12 hives also. What he thought happened was that there was not enough warm days for the bees to break their winter cluster and eat their stored honey so they starved. He said one dead cluster had honey within 2 inches of it. He told me it wasn't my fault.

I do think my bees starved also. He instructed me to remove the dead bees and close up the hives so flies couldn't get into it. When I did, I noticed that the bees in the top of the hive were filled with a yellow liquid--so they hadn't starved but the ones in the cluster were completely dry so they probably starved. But, I might have caused it by putting a feeder (2:1 syrup) on the top. The top medium hive had plenty of honey which I wasn't able to check because of the freezing temperatures (opening to check weight would have killed the bees). I noticed the honey bees had filled the central space of that box with the syrup. The winter cluster had moved down to between the 1st and 2nd box (3 boxes total). There, they were far from the honey stores. With the constant freezing temperatures for so long, they had no chance. I believe if they had stayed up in the top box, they would have been better insulated and close to the honey stores. My mentor says they probably would have starved anyway.

I also wonder about the 8-frame medium box--does it need to be better insulated on the outside for our winters? The weather was indeed very cold but we did not experience any bitterly cold temperatures.

I did learn a lot from keeping bees this year and had ordered another package of bees to start a second hive. So, I will use it to fill this hive. Next year, I hope there will be intermittent warm days in the winter so I can check the hive. I will resist the urge to put liquid feeder on top of the hive. I feel sad about losing my bees but don't want to give up on this hobby.

Nature can be cruel sometimes.


  1. It has been a rough winter for all! Sorry about your bees. Our area escaped the heavy rain and floods - no snow to melt too which helped.

  2. Wow, that is some flooding! Good to see you could escape to Death Valley and not be bothered by the deluge. Here in Maine, at the end of February, we had 7" of rain in 2 days with winds nearly 100 mph. Power outages existed for nearly a week.

    Your wildlife photos are excellent!

  3. Am so sorry about your bees. But encouraged that you want to start over again. Not only will it be satisfying to you to succeed, but you will be saving another generation of bees. By the by, I saw three bee last week here in Richmond - you know, out and about in the garden. They were feeding on the hellebores. I never used to pay any attention to things like that... until I started paying attention to your bees. good luck!

  4. Oh Joan...I am so sorry about the Bees! I'm glad you are continuing with them though. I haven't seen any bees yet...but it is supposed to get to 60 today so maybe I'll see some :)