Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A Bzzzy Spring day

Apricot blossom in full flower
Today is the the first calendar day of Spring and Canberra is full of blossom-bearing trees; almond, cherry, plum and apricot. These images are of apricot blossom in our orchard and while I was taking a few photographs of the spectacle I thought I would try to capture some shots of the honey bees that were busy collecting their nectar.

The flowers have a cluster of stamens and a single style with a stigma at the tip. One can be clearly distinguished
 in the right-hand flower as a grey stem with a simple round stigma at the tip, compared
 with the white stems and double head on the anthers,
Honey bees are feral animals in Australia and can cause harm to native species by such action as taking over tree cavities which denies other animals shelter and nest sites. However, they are here and are considered economically important for their pollination of flowers which leads to fruit, nut and seed production. Last year, our blossom flowered during a cold period and there were very few bees or other insects flying. The result was very few fruits on our trees. This year, the blossom is out during a warm sunny spell and insect life is busy around the trees, but mostly honey bees and a few hoverflies.

A honey bee approaches a cluster of apricot flowers
I was using a 60mm macro lens on my camera for the blossom shots and when I turned this towards the bees in flight I met a considerable challenge to freeze them in flight. Most of these shots were taken at about 1/8000th of a second at F9. This was fast enough to grab detail in the insects' body, but not enough to freeze their wings. Honey bees only travel at about 15 miles per hour, but when close up, only centimetres away, they are in and out of frame in no time at all. To catch a bee in frame was difficult, to catch one in focus more so. I took over three hundred shots and only came a away with about twenty good ones. My camera was a Nikon D700 set at 4000 iso, on high speed continuous shooting, and the battery ran down pretty quickly. I don't use flash for wildlife shots.

This bee's hind legs hang low under the weight of nectar stored in her nectar pouches.
Honey bees flap their wings at 240 beats per second and twist /rotate them for directional control.

They really are very maneuverable; hovering, flitting and zooming about from one flower to the next
I sat at the base of a tree and waited for the bees to come within range as any sudden movement would alarm them and they would fly off to the far side of the tree, or another tree nearby. Once I had determined what film speed to use, all I needed was patience, and quick reflexes when one did come into frame. But just sitting amongst the blossom was an experience itself as the scent was amazing. I wonder how its smells to a bee.

The blossom is well adapted for pollination by hairy-bodied bees.
Once they bees landed on a flower they had to clamber through the tangle of stamens to reach deep into the heart of the flower where the nectar is stored in a receptacle around the base of the style. In doing so, they become covered in pollen and when they fly to another flower they offload pollen onto that plant's stigma, and pollination ensues.

The bees have to reach deep into the flower to reach the nectar.
I could see what was happening at the time, but it was only when I downloaded and catalogued the images that I could see and appreciate the detail of such everyday animal behaviour.

And when they leave the flower, their face, eyes, legs and body are all coated with sticky pollen.

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