Re: early sightings
frazor, adding to the good advise already given, if the bees are short on stores there is no need to wait for the perfect day, lift the lid and place some granulated sugar on the top frames, first place a piece of newspaper on the frames then the sugar on the paper.
Being able to read what is happening inside the hive during winter without opening it is really beneficial. Starting in The fall of the year when the bees have gone into cluster, Heft (lift) the back of the hive and get a feel of the hives weight, then take a stethoscope and place it on one side of the hive while giving a rap on the other side with your knuckles to get used to what they sound like. Now you can check on them throughout winter in any weather and have a very good idea of their condition without opening the hive.
Bill...in Southeast Ohio Zone 6A, Never look down on anybody unless you are helping them up