On Rescuing a Bee

Honey Bee
Honey Bee

A few weeks ago I was out for a late season kayak run up the Bull Run River. It was a warm sunny day, as nice as it gets around these parts in late September. On this particular day, I also had the opportunity to make a difference in the life of another creature.

Kayaking is a relaxing activity for me. Depending upon where I’m paddling I usually have a chance for a bit of solitude and wildlife viewing. My favorite area is a five mile stretch of the Bull Run River, starting just above the head of the Occoquan reservoir. This area is slow-moving flatwater, easy for an upriver paddle, and the river winds through conservation and outdoor recreation areas. The shorelines are beautiful and over my many paddling trips I’ve viewed wildlife including bald eagles, ospreys, turkeys, pheasants, deer, herons and numerous types of insects.

On this trip I had paddled about 2 miles upriver when I spotted a tiny object creating movement in the still water up ahead of me. I approached and realized it was a honey bee that had somehow fallen into the water and was now struggling to not drown.

Last winter I participated in a course on backyard bee keeping, with the goal of setting up a couple of hives and producing our own honey. The hives didn’t happen this year (maybe next year) but the course left me fascinated with honey bees. Among the many topics, the instructor covered all the many ever-escalating threats to bees including parasites and pesticides. When I spotted this poor bee struggling in the water I knew it needed to be rescued.

I paddled over to the bee while thinking over how to get it out of the water. I didn’t particularly want to get stung so grabbing the bee with my bare hand wasn’t an option. Once I was close enough I managed to get one blade of my paddle flat underneath the bee, and gently lifted up while slowly juggling the paddle a bit to drain off the water. I didn’t quite get it right on the first try and the bee sloshed off my paddle back into the river. On my second try I got it right; the bee managed to hang onto the paddle after the water drained off. Having successfully gotten the bee out of the water, I wasn’t quite sure what to do next.

The bee had probably been in the water for a while before I came by and it looked pretty bedraggled. I decided it needed some time to rest and dry off. I carefully moved the paddle to the front of my kayak where I had my insulated lunch bag strapped down, and managed to tilt the paddle so the bee could slide off onto the soft top of my bag.

Honey Bee On A Kayak
Honey Bee On A Kayak

I watched it for a minute and saw it was moving so I resumed paddling upriver.

The bee hung out on my lunch bag for a few minutes, then started vibrating its wings and moving. As I paddled along the bee gradually seemed to get stronger and move more confidently. After a while it crawled down the front of the lunch bag onto the forward deck of my kayak. Then it crawled back towards the cockpit and passed right underneath where I was operating my paddle. I was really hoping I wasn’t going to get stung for my efforts, but the bee kept crawling aft.

At some point I was no longer able to turn my head far enough to watch it. I was able to occasionally twist myself around far enough to look behind me, and after several more minutes I saw the bee was gone. I didn’t see anything struggling in the water behind me, so I’m assuming the bee found its strength and flew off to finish collecting its daily quota of pollen.

In the great scheme of important world events, saving one little honey bee isn’t a big deal. But being pulled out of the water made a difference to the bee. I’m sure it had quite the story to tell back at its hive.

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