Corky Catches a Bee Swarm – Joshua McNichols

The tee-ball field behind Salmon Bay School was swarming with kids, excited about the final t-ball game of the season. But in the Northwest corner of the field, just beyond the rubber track, a small group of kids stood mesmerized by a swarming mass of honeybees on a red sweatshirt on the ground. Emboldened, the kids crept closer and closer. The adults all looked at each other. “Shouldn’t we call somebody?” they asked.

Luckily, we were able to reach Corky of the Ballard Bee Company. He had just returned from another emergency and was sitting down for a beer when our call arrived. “What is it about trying to drink a beer?” he twittered later. We were glad he showed up though, because the adults were starting to freak out. It’s pretty hard to keep curious toddlers away from a swarming mass of bees on the ground.

We watched, amazed, as Corky picked up the sweatshirt with his bare hands and placed it in a giant tupperware container. He put on some bee gloves and picked through the bees. “These bees are strangely heavy,” he said.
“Oh, there’s a chunk of concrete in there,” explained a parent. “Some kids were throwing stuff at the bees earlier.”
Corky picked up the concrete, and put it in his tupperware. With a piece of cardboard, he scooped up most of the remaining bees and dumped them into the container. The tupperware container had holes drilled in it, so the bees could come and go as they pleased. “If I succeeded in getting the queen in there, the rest of the bees will follow her into the container,” he explained.

Corky said that this kind of swarm was a natural occurrence every spring. The bees had created a few queen cells. One of the new queens had emerged, and had become the new ruler of the hive. The old queen left the hive, followed by a sizeable portion of the bee colony. They swarmed in a tree branch for awhile, until some kids succeeded in knocking them to the ground with their sweatshirt. Now, the bees were sending out scouts to find a new home. They had not yet decided where to go, when Corky arrived. He would give them a new home in one of his beehives. Corky maintains and rents out beehives throughout Ballard.

If you want to learn more about bees, I recommend the fascinating comic book Clan Apis by Jay Hosler. It’s packed with science, but also manages to give the bees unique personalities and a little earth religion. I read this with my 5 year old son, and I swear I cried a little at the end. It was that good. If you’re lucky, it may even be at your library.

9 Responses to Corky Catches a Bee Swarm – Joshua McNichols

  1. Hooray for Corky! It’s been such an honor to have his bees in our yard and watch him work.

    My growing concern is over kids who don’t have respect for nature and animals. A few weekends ago, I observed a family on the beach and the little boy was determined to kill a crab they’d found. I know kids think that’s play, but it’s very disturbing. What’s to be done?

  2. My neighbor’s hive swarmed this week, luckily just yards from their now empty hive. It is one of nature’s most amazing sites. The bees are gentle and focused on protecting the queen. When mine swarmed last year on a dead branch, they looked like a giant pine cone at first, all aligned to let the rain drip off away from the queen. Nice photos and story Annette.

  3. These are amazing photos and story but they aren’t mine – my friend Joshua who took the wasp eating the caterpillar photos took them and wrote this.

    Tiffany I completely agree but I have to admit when I was a kid with an older brother I did terrible things to ants and grasshoppers. Luckily as I matured I developed a conscience.

    I’m wondering if these kids growing up with video games are developing empathy later on. When I was a kid we just had pinball and pong. ;p

  4. Bees are such interesting creatures. I admire those who have the skills, knowledge, and calmness to work with them.

  5. Hi Joshua, I’ve really enjoyed your first posts on here and your pics are fabulous! Looking forward to reading more.

  6. How interesting! That would have be fascinating for the kids watching.

  7. Tiffany, I struggle with teaching my kids how to feel sympathy for animals. It’s a thin and subtle line between wanton, wasteless killing and the kind of killing we try to do responsibly for our food. For some vegetarians, this might seem a futile distinction!

    Justine, thanks for the compliments! I just landed a new job today, so I may be around less than I’d planned. But I do need somewhere for these sorts of thoughts and photos to go, and if I post here, you all comment, which feels great!

  8. Joshua – I’ll take whatever time you have! Love your contributions.


  9. you got to see a swarm retrieval! that’s so cool!

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