Sunday, March 23, 2014

I'll Get a Picture of Sasquatch Someday, Too

A week ago I went for a walk down by the American River with my camera. Truth be told, I was very much hoping to come across a Mourning Cloak or two, and to make a long story short (and to leave out snarky comments about the non-photographable Pipevine Swallowtail, of which there were ceaseless examples) I did not see any. But I did see this:
Yes, it is indeed a sort of a shrubby tree, something reasonably close to an almond, to my untrained eye, from the leaves and fruit. . .but shrubbier. At its highest point, I don't think it topped 12 feet. The interesting part about this plant, however, was a very constant noise of bees emanating from it. That is certainly not an unexpected sound this time of year, but when I looked closer, it did seem rather interesting in that the branches were full of young fruit rather than flowers, and the bees, which were restricting their range to a fairly small section on the east side, rarely, if ever, alighted on branch or fruit. Also, the bees themselves were massive, and golden, beyond the custom of any ordinary bee. There were, perhaps, only half a dozen of them, but each produced a rumbling buzz to match its size, and each was flying earnestly about as if the phrase "busy as a bee" had been based on him, and he was trying to prove it. Occasionally, the flight paths of two of these creatures would intersect, and then the rhythm of the ambient buzzing would be momentarily interrupted by something more ill-tempered as they sorted out their airspace.

Perhaps one of the best lessons one can take from a Sunday afternoon walk is to learn to be content with the wonders readily at hand. Though I wasn't far into my intended rambles, and was aiming for miles before I slept, looking back, I didn't have a good reason beyond that to leave those bees at all, and I am rather sorry I went on, though the rest of the walk was lovely. They were beautiful. ("A really big sort of carpenter bee," I guessed. "But aren't those solitary?") It would have been a worthy afternoon's work, either to have managed a good picture of one of them, at least to have given more time to figuring out exactly what they were doing, or merely to have enjoyed watching their loud, determined flying rather indefinitely. (People go whale-watching as a treat; why not bee-watching?) As it was, the only one I managed to capture on film was the one in the lower right corner of the photo below, and I left, none the wiser.
 I had a session with Google when I got home, and found several interesting things. First, you will be relieved to see, much better pictures of similar creatures, courtesy of, herehere, and here. They are beautiful, aren't they? Secondly, as you may have gathered, from reading under the pictures I've linked to, they are indeed carpenter bees, Valley Carpenter Bees, or Xylocopa varipuncta, to be exact. . .and they are indeed solitary. But the examples I saw were males, hilltopping, congregating in hopes of attracting females. An interesting aside--the females (of which I saw no examples on this occasion) are quite distinct from the males.

It seemed such an unusual encounter that I was quite astounded, a day or two later to come across another two of the creatures, this time having claimed the airspace over a Citrus Heights parking-lot garden, about a yard square, as their own. Which, if you ask me, makes a pretty good case for taking bee-watching as you can get it; when is the last time you saw a whale on your way to the grocery store?

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