Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Crocus Pantry

Last week on one of the two rare sunny afternoons I had a yen to find some bumblebees. I thought about what flowers might be blooming, and remembered that at Olympia’s Woodruff Park there were several fine beds of crocus. So I decided to go over and check them out.

The crocus grocery had opened its doors for business: it was flourishing. At 4:15 on a sunny afternoon, temperatures close to 50, there were several customers.

First I noticed some narrow-bodied flies, of an unknown species, actively clambering around on blossoms and drinking nectar.

Then there were the honeybees, flying in from the west (someone in the neighborhood west of the park must have a hive.) The honeybees were only interested in pollen, probably collecting it to feed their new brood. Crocus flowers have lots of orange-yellow pollen, and this pollen was completely coating the bees, making them look like tiny fish sticks ready for the fry pan. As the bees completed their pollen loads, they lifted off slowly, heavily, with dangling pollen baskets stuffed full. Then they headed west, back to the nearby hive.

As the afternoon wore on, the honeybees left and did not return. But a late afternoon visitor appeared: a queen yellow jacket. She had probably just emerged from her winter sleep, and appeared a little slow and clumsy. She landed on a crocus, took some nectar and then stayed there, stupefied, for awhile. As the sun started to sink in the west she finally stirred herself and took off, no doubt finding a place to shelter for the night.

Finally I heard the old Brewery whistle, blowing five o’clock from down the hill at Fishtale Ale brewhouse. The sun was sinking and the temperature was rapidly dropping. I was disappointed that I had not seen any bumblebees. But as I was walking back to the car, my eye was caught by a HUGE black bumblebee: a Yellow-faced queen posing nicely on a white crocus. She allowed me to take her picture before buzzing off at high speed. That made my day.

And once again, the crocus has come through to feed our emerging pollinators.


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