Monday afternoon when we braved the brutal heat (96°F/35°C) of these last few days to perambulate the backyard we noticed that Clarissa was not bearding as heavily as she had been while the other hives were as shaggy as the day before. Also the light bee traffic circling her seemed somehow different. Puzzled we continued our walk towards the dwarf fruit trees and spied a swarm in cluster high in the quince with a significant cloud of bees orbiting it. Were they coming or going? Either way we, now being swarm catchers of experience1, immediately ran back to the house, suited up, and returned with a five-frame nuc, a sheet, and a ladder only to find them gone already. This is why the accompanying picture is of a boring tree top with scattered out-of-focus orange blurs.

As we have written previously, there is never any way of telling how long a swarm will stay in its bivouac location. From an earlier trip to the backyard we know the swarm was not there in the late morning. They could have been hanging there for at most a few hours and chose to depart in the ten or so minutes it took us to collect our equipment, leaving a small cloud of bees flying and crawling around their former location in the tree.

Dejectedly we glanced back at the hives and saw a large swirling of bees in flight around Clarissa. Returning to her we observed her face heavily covered with bees in motion. There did not seem to be any fighting, just jostling for entrances. On the ground in front of her was a patch of bees in which, to our confusion, a few waggle dancers were seen. And then slowly the swirling and crawling bees grew fewer and fewer until Clarissa again resembled herself of the previous day.

Might she have tried to throw a swarm but the swarm changed its mind and returned? Something like this may have happened to us one August. Swarming is generally a lengthy process requiring preparations such as starving the queen to get her down to flying weight. But some conditions may cause an impulsive decision to swarm which is then reversed when the queen is not among those departing.

We generally stay out of the hives in these temperatures to avoid triggering comb collapse but we risked peeking into the unoccupied part of Clarissa and found it full of bees trying to stay cool. While we have been otherwise occupied our tiny split has been quite fruitful. While we did not dare examine any comb in the occupied area we did risk moving two empty bars to the front of the follower board to make the living quarters seem more spacious. Until cooler temperatures that is the best we can do.

Since then she seems to still be bearding less heavily in spite of being very full of bees. Did our intervention let them keep the living quarters cooler or did some bees actually swarm off and the swirling re-entry we saw was those bees who decided to stay? Needless to say, we are now on high alert for more swarming shenanigans.

1Yes, we have only caught one swarm but it still counts as experience.