Nature Education…Stepping on a Nest of Ground Bees!

Today, I went into the field with our land manager and another coworker to do some work on invasive species – namely, buckthorn. It was storming when I awoke around 6 a.m. and I was not sure we’d go due to thunder and lightning but it seemed to be clearing as it approached the time to leave for the site. So, after a quick email check, I was on my way to the site to do some “land management.”

I didn’t go to the office, instead, I drove North to Trempealeau Lakes.  It was an unusual September morn – humid and potentially hot. Still, I knew we’d be working by water, so I wore long pants, a sweatshirt, a t-shirt, and brought my bog brand boots, as well.  I had a container full of potable water and bug spray.

After finding the site, which has been underwater for most of the prior season, I parked and joined my co-workers.  We were shown a map of the site, educated on where we’d be working and why, and made a hike into the site where we would be cutting down the buckthorn and treating the stumps.

The bugs- mosquitos, mostly- did not bother me much.  We walked through the brush on a barely visible trail with our land manager pointing out interesting facts on the way.  He showed us poison ivy – leaves of three, let it be, as the saying goes.  We also saw several types of ferns – one of which was called simple fern. And, saw Cardinal Flower growing in a wet boggy patch. I felt good about the cardinal flower as  I correctly guessed its name.

After this brief orientation, we were soon working at cutting down and stacking buckthorn limbs.  Our land manager welded a chain saw, while my co-worker and I dragged and stacked the cut limbs to a pile that grew ever so fast!

I don’t think we were more than a half-hour into our work when I stooped to pick up a cut log and a group of ground bees swarmed up into my face!  Off went my baseball cap and protective glasses, as I was simultaneously stung in the face around my left eye! One, two, three stings I felt on my cheek, temple, and eyebrow.

The bees were persistent. They followed me away from where I had stepped on their nest – a good 15 to 20 feet away.  One was in my hair and stung my scalp. Another stung my right knee, and one got me high in my inguinal area, although at the time I called it my crotch!

Luckily, I am not allergic to bees. Yes, they hurt. Yes, I was stung multiple times. Did I whine? No. Did I continue to work? Yes!   Shortly after I was stung another gentleman showed up to help with our workday in the woods.  He welded a second chain saw and cut down large chunks of buckthorn. We carried what was cut to our pile – which ended up being very tall.  Soon, another pile was stacked from more cut wood.

Why would we do this? Clearing out invasive brush like buckthorn, allows more light to reach the ground so oak seedlings can receive that nourishing sunlight.   It was physical work but not all that hard. We sweated. We were stung. We got dirty and wet. Yet, it seemed satisfying in some strange way. We were helping our local environment.

A massive, old oak stood by silently while we worked. I am sure she appreciated it.

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