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Robbing? Orientation? Something else?

1771 Views 3 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  christar
Hi all - I'm a new Warre beekeeper. I hived this swarm on May 24th, they immediately built out lots of comb, but after that, they've not built anymore, and while it's been almost 6 weeks, the number of bees doesn't seem to be increasing - it appears that the number since the swarm was hived is now smaller. Also, there's been a number of events where a large number of bees are seen flying around an area around the hive. I've looked at robbing videos on youtube, and these show thousands of bees at the hives, which is definitely not my situation. If robbing is occurring, it's on a relatively small scale, and by bees, not wasps. These events appear frenzied however, and I would have thought this to be too early for the newly hatched bees to be flying orientation flights, as the oldest newly hatched bees will only be a week or two old. I did two inspections early on, but have since tried to follow the Warre method of not opening up the hives. I was rewarded for this decision by catching a glimpse of the queen laying through the observation window!

This morning, I found 5 dead or dying young bees at the entrance. Could this be because the hive is starved, and they can't feed them? They looked otherwise healthy - they didn't have deformed wings. I found a few in the days before, but only one or two and only once or twice.

I did try to put a diverter in front of the entrance for a day or so, but it was constructed from screen with large holes (all I had) so I doubled and then tripled up the screen, but it looked like bees were still able to pass through, and some were getting stuck, so I took it off. I also wasn't 100% confident that I had a robbing situation, and it was obviously slowing down my hives bees (still returning with lots of pollen in the morning especially). I also took the Michael Bush advice of closing the entrance in the late evening, and checking for activity in the morning - there were definitely a few bees that showed up at the entrance in the morning, but only 2 or 3 in the 30 minute window I could observe before I had to go to work and open the hive back up. I'm in a suburb of San Francisco with lots of irrigated gardens, so I don't think there is a lack of nectar. The foragers seem very busy every day, coming and going.

Any help is greatly appreciated! Here's my timeline, if it helps:

May 24: Caught and hived a ~3lb swarm in two boxes
May 27: First suspicious event of lots of bees flying around for a short period
June 1: Inspected hive - good amount of comb built in one box - combined boxes on advice of local beekeeper. Observed eggs in some cells
June 6: Inspected hive again - observed lots of pollen, capped brood, big larva
~June 14th? Added second box back underneath - top box is ~75% built with comb - observed queen laying through window! Can see capped brood through window
June 28th: Second suspicious event - lots of bees flying around the hive in a 15' x 15' x 15' area around the hive. No obvious fighting at entrance. Subsides on its own within 20 minutes or so
June 29th: Third suspicious event - same as above - I try to reduce entrance and put a screened diverter in front of entrance.
June 30th: I block entrance overnight - check in morning - small amount of activity (2-3 bees in ~20-30 minute period) at the entrance
July 1st: 4th suspicious event - similar to above
July 3rd: Some young bees dead at entrance - look otherwise healthy

And, some photos from the two early inspections and initial hiving:
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If you know what an empty box weighs, its simple enough to heft the hive and determine if they have stores. Honey is heavy. But I would open it up and inspect. How else will you know what is really happening? Remember that bees take orientation flights every afternoon. This is not robbing.
Swarms orient immediately to a new hive, so that's normal. They may not fly much again for a while, but they do orient. I see that as a good sign, because if they don't orient to the new location they will be leaving soon.

Bees will orient any time they first leave the hive after a long period, so once you have the amount of brood they can raise capped, more bees will orient because they are becoming foragers.

Orientations last a few minutes, typically for me here 15 to 20 or so. Lots of bees taking off and landing, but if you look closely you will see bees coming out of the entrance and walking up the hive to take off, while bees are landing on the board in front or flying directly in.

When bees are robbing, they are usually searching all over the hive for a way in. They will land all over the front and look for the entrance, walking down to it, and there will be bees fighting all over the front and falling off. Orienting bees, or bees on a strong flow, never walk down to the entrance, landing bees, while they often miss the landing board, fly directly in. They know where the door is, robbers don't and have to look.

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Thanks Michael and Fred. I think this was normal orientation activity, and I just wasn't familiar with what it looked like. Some of the activity matched some of what I've read about what robbing looks like. But, at this point, I'm not concerned. It was always short-lived, and in the afternoon, so this seems to be the explanation. I did take a peek at the top of the bars, and don't see any obvious honey stores, but hefted as well, and while the box isn't terribly heavy, it's heavier than what just the comb and bees would account for. And, they continue to bring in lots of pollen and look quite active. I'll probably check again in more detail in a week or so to see if the stores are increasing. Thanks again
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