Leave them bee

As the summer of 2019 slows and the fall approaches there are a few critter notes to share.

The Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) were not too bad this year. Not absent, but not obnoxiously present either. I’m confident we’ll fall far short of the 5 gallons of beetle carcasses we collected a couple years ago.  Perhaps to take their place on the pestering front we had more than our share of sweat bees to keep us company. I’ll not venture a Genus and species identification… there are many hundreds (thousands?) of identified sweat bee species. And if you are interested in sweat bees I should point you to others… though to make some readers curious I can offer there are some kleptoparasitic species  . among the horde of these little pests. Kleptoparasite or not, a sweat bee up the nose is not pleasant for either of us.

My personal contribution to the rise of sweat bee abundance this season may be from nutrient provision. I can be a fairly prodigious source of sweat. Like our friend at the South Roane Agrarian, I too can soak more than a couple shirts in a day.

We are being serenaded by crickets again, though I’ve no data to compare this season’s cricket count to any prior season. Grasshoppers seem to be down in numbers; like the Japanese beetles, not absent, just less obtrusive.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) seem to be on an upswing here in 2019. Always welcome guests when working ground, planting, or walking plots to take notes – in the past I could usually count a mere handful of swallows swooping around at various times. But this year the numbers seemed many multiples more. No complaints – though I do wish they’d eat some sweat bees.

Killdeer might be off a touch. We still see some occasionally. We’ve never had large numbers; a few nesting pairs is typical. Our local vixen had a large brood this spring – five kits – and her success may spell the ground nesting Killdeer’s difficulty.

No red-tailed hawk this year. In the past we could count on having one keep a lookout on the overhead power line that runs across the farm. There are still plenty of hawks in this region, and if the foxes are on the ascent in our immediate surroundings then the fields here might not be as rewarding for a hawk. Other birds one can find in this part of Ohio but very rarely at the farm include Canada geese, turkeys, great blue herons, pheasants, and bald eagles.

Racoons, groundhogs, foxes and white-tailed deer count for the majority of the mammalian critters on this landscape. Some squirrels, and an occasional mink can be seen. I haven’t seen a rabbit on the farm in years, and I give the foxes credit for that.

Reptiles are very rare here as well. One snake earlier this year. We have seen several toads this summer – perhaps the very wet spring was to their liking.

The farm sits in a wide expanse of fertile agricultural land, corn and soybean fields on all sides. The nearest timber lines the Big Darby creek about a mile and a half north. There are some tree lined fence rows south of the farm, but very little habitat for songbirds and others more common where trees and shrubs are abundant. Surface water is available – a county ditch runs through the eastern half of the farm and another runs through the neighboring farm to the west (almost a mile away). There are no ponds or small lakes any closer than the Big Darby (unless one counts the temporary ones we suffered with last spring).

I can’t really speak to the longer-term changes in the fauna and flora of this site. Even though I’ve worked at this location for nearly 20 years now, it hasn’t changed much over the period compared with the changes it has witnessed over a couple hundred years. There would have been much smaller farms, more people, more livestock, and likely a different mix of wild critters.

Pair of monarchs at Woodstock summer '19 - cropped

Even Monarchs – with or without a milkweed…

One might recall, from a couple posts back, how I don’t spare the milkweeds when preparing fields for planting on this landscape.  In late July, while making crosses, we did happen to see this pair of Monarch butterflies being all romantic.  The pigweed they found to host their courtship was only a few meters from our crossing block.  She would eventually need to go in search of some milkweeds I’d not killed (the ditch is another 50 meters east of this and would have something for her).  We took their picture, and left them to themselves.  Tis a shame the sweat bee isn’t a part of their diet either.




  1. We were both commenting last night on the same, the sweat bees seem more numerous this year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting – and the habitat of South Roane is quite different from the Woodstock plain. Have you noticed any other swings in critter populations over the years?

      Jeff Ollerton who passes through from time to time does quite a bit of critter counting. His ecology research depends upon it. They keep good census records over time in order to document exactly the sort of change we’re talking about.


      1. Large swings with Japanese beetles, they’ve been on the downswing the past 2-3 years. Growing increases in ants of all stripes…everywhere. Flea beetles, aphids, cabbage loopers, potato beetles each have decided we provide a convivial banquet.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never even heard of sweat bees.
    I’ve noticed a decline in monarchs in the last few years. They used to be quite plentiful. The only chemicals we use on the ranch is stuff like ivermectin and relatively little of that. I wonder if there might be some kind of downstream cumulative affect…


    1. Had to look up ivermectin… as a plant scientist I’ve never had cause to employ it. As for downstream cumulative affects of insecticides there is of course the famous history of chlorinated hydrocarbons such as DDT which you are well aware of. My favorite means of dealing with our insect pest problems center on crop rotation, scouting (and IPM), pheromone traps, and lastly the chemical pesticides if and when nothing else seems to be effective. Proud to say I haven’t deployed an insecticide in many years (oops – I must admit I do occasionally use some mosquito repellent).

      BT corn. There’s a good start for controversy. Not sure I want to put my fingers in harm’s way on that subject.


  3. BTW I just read your post over at Small Farm. Thanks for the heads up on the book.


    1. Appreciate the intel on your other insect neighbors. We do indeed provide some habitat for other critters. One might wonder if on balance we give back enough. But that is a value judgement.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Further intel: ants love circular saws. I was halfway through cutting some nice (expensive) poplar plywood last evening. Once I fired up the saw it was discovered a massive ant colony had taken up residence in the motor housing. They poured out and all over my hands and arms. Meanwhile I tried to maintain a steady cut. Ants? I hate ’em.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s incredible. Have heard of ‘ants in your pants’; leaf cutter ants; fire ants; and now saw ants. Who knew?

      Happy to be able to host your ant rant.

      From time to time an ant will make an appearance in our humble home. I’ll typically squash such an explorer. They’re only trying to make a living, but my better half would rather they take their business outside where it belongs.

      Am now headed out to the garage to inspect our circular saw – hoping to find it ant free.


  5. The Big Darby–you must be somewhere W or SW of Columbus (but still in Franklin County?).

    The Darby Plains were one of the few prairie ares in Ohio at time of exploration and settlement (along with the Killdeer Plains of Wyandot Co., near where my mom is from). These were island-like outliers at the eastern edge of Edgar Transeau’s “Prairie Peninsula” that extended across Indiana from Illinois. They were almost certainly maintained artificially, by Indian burning, given their climatic and edaphic characteristics.There is no evidence that explosives were used in large-scale tree removal, which is a little disappointing.


    1. The farm described here is in Champaign County, west and a bit north of Columbus. And while I have no way to be sure, I would imagine burning did have a lot to do with maintaining the openness of this landscape. My own farm sets right on the Little Darby Creek in Madison County – directly west of Columbus. A few miles north of me the Prarie opens up and very much resembles the flat, fertile Prarie you’ve described.

      Jonathan Alder once roamed these parts – for those with an interest in the earliest European incursion on this landscape. Since that time there has been far more explosive reformatting of the landscape – and widespread fire has been suppressed.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’d like to find out more about Alder and any of his writings–not heard of him before.

    The problem with the area between the Scioto and Little Miami is that it is all within the Virginia Military purchase, and the land surveying in there was thus not done according to the standard rectangular system rules (I think it was by the old “metes and bounds” system but not sure). So the historical ecological information is a big unknown, and I’m not even sure if each county would have records thereof (as is the case for all rectangular survey areas).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is a decent article about Alder in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Alder
      His life experience is quite different from most of the early settlers and so offers a unique perspective.

      As for metes and bounds… you are correct – previous to Thomas Jefferson’s presidency all the surveying and land allocation was M&B. Am not convinced that “all” the land between the Scioto and Little Miami is within the military district, but certainly a great deal of it is. There is also the pattern of settlement outside the district… easiest lands to develop were developed first and until the Township/Range (rectangular) system of surveying was passed M&B served. There is a patchwork of the two styles, and to this day there are consequences… consequences such as the ability to navigate across the landscape by dead reckoning (pretty hard to do when the roads don’t go where you’d wish they might). But to your point about historical ecological information… glad you brought it up, now I have another item to add to the list.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You are quite right Clem, not all of that area is VMD–the southern part of it is the Symmes purchase area (N of Cinci). The rest of it is all VMD though also, I said VM “purchase” above, which isn’t right–it wasn’t a purchase, it was partial payment to Virginia’s Revolutionary War veterans). I’m reading a lot right now about the settlement and military campaigns of SW Ohio, and the land survey is my specialty, research-wise.

    I’ll see what I can find on Alder–anybody named after a tree has to be interesting. I also wonder if Audubon ever made his way through the area.


  8. Scratch that part about the Symmes Purchase–that was the lower part of the area between the two Miamis–I got confused and had to refer to my land survey map. So….I do think the entire area, or the vast majority of it, between the Little Miami and Scioto was in fact VMD land. The relevant point is that the surveyors in that area were not nearly as systematic or thorough in their collections of tree/veg data, as they were in the rectangular survey areas.

    Some of the rectangular survey system areas in Ohio do precede Jefferson’s presidency (e.g. the Seven Ranges and Ohio Company Purchase are)–but not his influence–he was instrumental in the Continental Congress adopting that system (way back in 1785!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great stuff. We should compare notes sometime. I’ve done a bit of reading about the early agricultural pursuits of settlers in the region and how decisions made centuries ago have had lasting impacts on the landscape (think Zane’s Trace, Erie Canal, survey systems, land tenure law, Indian relationships).


  9. […] in the ditches under consideration. Not sufficient. Plant some more. I’d have provided evidence of Monarchs procreating on water hemp at the farm… but given the anticipated number of hoops… well, I chose to let that dog lie and get on with […]


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