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As a quick attempt to "mark" the surface in front of hives I stretched out pieces of black landscape fabric. It may not be effective, but it didn't take much effort to run the fabric out and weigh it down with bricks.

If/when it snows again I'll need to pull the fabric up and reposition it.

Branches from a Christmas / pine tree might be helpful if stuck into the snow and will be my choice for next year...
 

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I've been doing pretty much the same as BeeCurious except that I've been using a large tarp. It certainly helps in saving the snow-divers from themselves; I just wish I had started earlier.
 

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I tried this last week, extensively, and found it made no difference whatsoever in reventing bees from becoming stranded.

I used: 12' x 75' strips of black woven polypropylene (DeWitt Weed Barrier) laid in rows of 4 panels deep in front of my three hives (so 48 X 75 feet of snow covered). I also tried large green and black plastic tarps of approximately the same size, no difference.

I tried scattering wood and pellet stove ashes over the snow (just made thngs dirty and hard to see the crashed bees).

The only differences that I could see was that the bees on the ground covers seemed more upright (standing on four legs) but they were still cold-stunned and immobile. And they were much harder to see on the dark surfaces.

I also collected dozens of cold stunned bees and brought them inside to see how many would revive if warmed and fed sugar cake over night (lots and lots of them). That created an issue the following day when trying to repatriate the survivors. I reintroduced them into the hive environs behind politcal signs that are set on a slant in front of the hives. Perhaps some re-found their hives, I can't tell for certain, but there weren't masses of freshly "dead" or confused bees afterward.

The temps on the day I did the test were in the low to mid 40s (warmest it has been for quite awhile) the next day when I had removed all the snow coverings (and we had had a fresh new layer of snow overnight to cover up the ashes) it was somewhat warmer - @high 40s to barely 50 - and there were noticeably fewer bees getting marooned on the snow. So it seems to me that temerpature may be more critical here than disorientation from reflected light off snow, or maybe lower air temps combined with snow-disorientation was just too much to cope with.

If you can get to the bees quickly enough you can pick them up and rewarm them in your hand and take them back to the hive. Note to fellow newbees: pick them up head-firs! Many seemed to fall or borrow into my deep foot prints in the snow.

The only effective strategy that I devised to limit dead bees was to allow only one hive at a time to come out at a time, that way you can be sure when urging a bee back in that it came from the same hive.

The big question for me is this: is it a good or a bad to do anything to limit dead bee losses after they have left the hive? Might a better strategy be to figure out things that somewhat discourage bees from going out when the temps are too-frigid? Of course cleansing flights are needed, but on some winter days the wind or air temps may be too extreme. What management activities that beekeepers do might make the bees more likely to choose a "bad" day vs a more-survivable one? What management activities could beekeepers do to minimize losses? Does it make a difference if it's simply left up to the bees, the weather and chance?

The only management tactic I feel might be worth repeating was this: if I know that a given day will be followed by warmer temps (for example, a day that's barely squeaking into the 40s, followed the next day by high 40s into the 50s) I might simply shut up the hives the first day to prevent excessive cold stress on the flying bees due choice of day to go out. (NB: I live in northern NY and have my hives are unusually well insulated and covered so I have little risk of overheating at this time of year, in warmer, more southerly climates, YMMV.) My bees have been penned up insde literally for several weeks at a time so this year I was reluctant to do that thinking that they'd be desperate. But in more normal years when the consecutive periods of cold-regulated confinement are shorter, I think it might be benign to prevent bees from leaving on a day when the temps were just slightly warmer than too-cold, particularly if the following days were expected to be closer to high 40s/50F. If you've experienced a period where the daytime highs were rarely out of the mid 20s, then low 40s, particularly on a sunny day, may seem like a heat wave. But it's still very cold. If the next few days are going to the high 40s to 50, then I think I'll just prevent those early losses, if I can.

I watched carefully, and took notes, at various air temps. Bees can fly out short distances @ 40-43F, but they often quickly land and appear too stunned to rescue themselves. However as the temps get closer to 50 then more normal-looking flight, including bees returning and re-entering hives, are discernable. The farthest distance of any cold-downed bee from any of my hives was @85 feet.

On the positive side, since my hives were moved to this location only in early Dec. from other close-by places where they had been all summer and fall: it appears that 11 or 12 weeks of nearly complete confinement does prompt pretty good reorientation as I found no bees (even during the brief period when it got into the low 50s and could have been technically possible for them to fly that far) crashed on the snow at the old stands. I know people say three days is enough for reorientation (not in my experience) but three months may have done the trick! I won't completely believe it until I see a really big cloud of re-orienting bees, though. Right now I think I'm just seeing bees driven out to poop.

I have had feral bees living in my barns for two decades (but no longer) and though I wasn't watching them as closely as I am watching my hives, I can't ever recall significant amounts of dead bees on the snow in the vicinity of the feral colonies during any winter. And since the feral cavities were in buildings that form part the door yard that surrounds my house, I think I would have seen that, at least occasionally. So there seems to be something about my hived bees, at least here on my farm, that prompts them to fly out when it's too cold to return. I haven't sussed it, however.

Enj.
 
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