Thursday, 26 April 2012

The bee and bird dance

Summer is coming! Nature is in uproar: not only are the plants shooting up to the sky, the dogs also feel spring in the air, the bitches are on heat, and the cats are meowing everywhere. After some showers lots of snails are crawling around and you see plenty of beetles, amongst them a funny striped one I have never seen before. And then there are the birds who all seem to be into dancing.

In the evenings we enjoy sitting in the twilight that throws a red glow over the mountains and gives the rare little passing clouds an edge of gold. And under those clouds are other clouds: swarms of birds which nosedive in formation into a treetop. They twitter loudly as if participating in the Eurovision Song Contest. And then suddenly another swarm appears, moving in frivolous patterns, also nosediving into that same treetop, adding its numbers to the overpopulated tree. Branches are moving heavily, not disturbing the birds who are apparently partying. And when everybody has found his place in the tree, some lonely birds are left flying above. Could they be the directors who twitter excitedly and announce what is next to happen? Because suddenly a swarm of hundreds of birds shoots out of the tree, taking to the air in elegant movements, looking for the next treetop. A little later another swarm follows, and then another, until the tree is emptied and silence is restored. More swarms come from quite another direction, join the group and they twitter and twitter, like they are the main choir of Lesvos in rehearsal. Only when darkness really settles in Eftalou, do they fall silent and peace is restored in the trees and the air.

Those thousands of birds, performing dances in the air, formed an amazing spectacle. Although I had no idea which birds they were. They were flying too high or too fast to get a good look at them. Even when passing under a tree with hundreds of birds singing in it, they are so well covered by the greenery that still you cannot get a good look at them. I thought they were sparrows.

This morning I encountered another loud swarm, but this one gave me the creeps: it was no swarm of birds but rather a swarm of small and fast moving missiles, buzzing loudly and barring my path: wasps! Not for a million euro would I step nearer to them. I am not afraid of a wasp, but I am when there are thousands of them. I was happy that I met them on my way to the sea and not the other way around, otherwise I would never have dared go home.

A little later I went looking to see what had became of them: they were now huddled together around a tree branch in a huge knot. I called for a friend because I was now too afraid to pass that tree along the path to my home. My friend Jan van Lent armed himself with his camera and took pictures of this buzzing ball of creeps. But when I sent a picture to Joris at the Wildlife Hospital of Lesvos, he accused me of being a city girl: it was a swarm of bees!

Bees might be less threatening than wasps and Joris might say: ‘They will not hurt you as long as you don’t threaten them’, but my reasoning is that when I panic they will panic and I don’t want to run for my life. And I will never be as courageous as the person who understands bees and encourage them to cloth him in a lively bee coat like the man in this movie.

On the internet I learned that this must have been a spring swarm where they all (40,000 to 80,000) attach themselves to their queen (called a beard of bees). And yes, I am originally a city girl: I have never encountered this amazing phenomenon in the cities in which I have lived, not in Paris, not in Amsterdam.

With the help of a hazy photograph Joris also identified the partying birds: starlings, birds that I do know from the city. Because of their massive performance and their sing-songing I didn’t recognize them, and I still doubt it, because up-close they more resembled a bunch of sparrows celebrating a Dutch Queensday.

I then had to wait to see what the swarm of bees was going to do. Would they stay, I had to call in a sturdy beekeeper to take them away. I first enjoyed a lovely lunch at the seaside with friends and when coming home I found that the bees had fled. Danger was gone and the next day it was back to a normal life and enjoying beautiful Lesvos.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2012

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