Wings, Stings, and Things!

(Credit for the clever title of this post goes to my always wonderful friend, coworker, and fellow cat lady, Sarah!)

It’s bee season! And bird season! And I am so excited. Do you realize – right here on the Pacific coast, in Humboldt County – we are smack in the middle of a gigantic and amazing bird migration route?! It’s true. It’s called the Pacific Flyway, and it is one of four large migration routes in North America. The others are the Central, Mississippi, and the Atlantic, with the Mississippi flyway being the largest of the 4. I’m not sure about you, but spring for me is most certainly marked not only by the arrival of blossoming flowers, but of spring migrants as well. Hundreds of thousands of birds are moving north to their breeding grounds that have thawed and warmed up enough for feeding, breeding, and being merry.

     One of the most exciting parts of birding is the seasonality of it. When I started birding, it seemed so random, and I paid little attention to the range maps including “summer”, “migration”, and “winter” localities. Every time I went out felt like a gamble, and I had little expectations of what I would see aside from those reliable year-round residents (here’s lookin at you, chickadee). Since living behind the redwood curtain for a couple years, I’ve watched birds come and go from one of my favorite birding spots here – the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. Going to the same spot many times throughout the course of a year will give you a good insight into the phenology of a region. Phenology refers to the seasonal changes and cycles of plants and animals.

Let me tell you, I was so excited to learn there was a word for this.

Seasonality is so interesting and vital to everything we do.  It’s not just an abstract idea of environmental changes that control when a bear should hibernate or when a flower should bloom; it’s directly related to our own lives. These changes and cycles are important for the growth of our food, the flow of our water, and the livelihood of people around the world. Furthermore, it isn’t even just about a flower blooming; for few flowers can procreate themselves. Pollination is perhaps one of the most important and beautiful seasonal relationships that the natural world has to offer. Just as a human being longs for the touch of another, flowers open themselves to the embrace of their pollinators; humbly and graciously giving a gift if only for the promise of transport of their potential offspring. Pollination is the transport of pollen in order to facilitate fertilization, and it’s all about the birds and the bees…

Few plants are able to pollinate without animal assistance, and those that do usually use wind or water as a vessel for doing so.

Bees are fuzzy and birds are feathery. This makes them perfect transporters for little pollen grains! A bunch of other critters aid in pollination as well including flies, beetles, butterflies, other insects, and even mammals like bats and some rodents. With the sweet smell of nectar on the air and the enticing colors of petals all around, these pollinators are drawn to blooms for a snack, and inadvertently transport pollen grains among plants. If the pollen introduced to a different flower is of the same species, it will fertilize the flower, and the goal of pollination has been accomplished. Without the help of these nectar-loving animals, plants would be few in number and woefully invariable. Pollination has allowed for the grand array and great number of angiosperm, or flowering plant, species. With different pollinators in all different habitats, plants have created mechanisms, colors, scents, lures, and shapes of almost infinite sorts to attract their pollinators. Some like to reach a wide audience, and are built to accommodate anyone who might stop by. Others – such as orchids – have a single species of pollinator for nearly every species of flower, with each species of orchid carefully tailoring its design to appeal to the fancy of its particular visitor. Some have even gone as far as to mimic a female bee that the male bee pollinator then “mates” with, and gets covered in pollen during the process! Clever flowers…

Nature is so cool. I think I say this in every post. But here, in this discussion, it is not just neat.
It is necessary.
We heavily depend on pollinators. Our main food sources are only possible because of them!

     Think of a large farm, producing some sort of fruit to sell to a large region. Now think of thousands and thousands of plants. Picture the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of flowers among those plants. Now imagine you have to pollinate those flowers, armed only with your own self and maybe some Q-tips. Swabbing pollen from one flower, taking a couple steps, and swabbing another flower to transfer the pollen. With each flower you pollinate, you create a fruit, so it is vital that you pollinate as many flowers as possible. It’s a daunting task, isn’t it?

     Believe it or not, this is happening more and more as pollinator populations are declining from continual climatic changes in our world, and the pollution and destruction of their habitats. I’m not here to stand on a soap box and lecture you about climate change. I am here to put a little buzz in your ear about bees, and other pollinators that are so very important for all of us! There are many little (fun!) things you can do to help bees, and the first is to not be scared of them! I hope you realize how important they are for the life of the beautiful plants around us, and how the health of ecosystems around the world are reliant upon them. Bees are not angry, mean, yucky insects that are out to get you; to the contrary, they would rather not sting you. Most bees die after they sting you. It is a sacrifice they will make only as a last resort. Once you are comfortable with them, consider housing them, or simply feeding them in your backyard! The earth will thank you. Find more tips here, and check out the lovely documentary, Queen of the Sun:

Until next time friends. Go outside and look at a bee! Or make some cool bee art, like this print that I carved and printed myself! Buzz.



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