First of all, the birds are back.

The phoebes, right on schedule April 11 (despite the snow the week before) were refurbishing the nest under the eave by the kitchen window. Robins hopping between patches of snow. Canada geese honking and flapping on toward summer. A pileated woodpecker sending signals from the side of the garage.

One morning last week, I heard the mysterious whistle of a cardinal and looked out the bedroom window to see him like a flame in the syringa. His mate, it must have been, was answering from the trees behind the shed. Some normalities for a change.

Mining bees mounds. Photo courtesy of Leon Tsomides

In our first round of the yard for this spring, Silas and I found three or four species of wolf spiders, some of them big; sow bugs from the black lagoon; and worms. I’ve rescued from the kitchen sink several new or sophomore members of the clan of hackledmesh weaver spiders that patrol the counter. Two confused black flies. A deer tick running along my wrist, escaped from the cat’s fur. And, with as it were a defeated joy, a few ants portending the annual invasion of the house.

I have not seen any bees yet, but my neighbor, Leon, an entomologist, has. He sent me a photo of what I would have dismissed, with an auspicious yet dropping eye, as anthills. But these hills were instead the excavations of mining, or digger bees, family Andrenidae.

They start work early in the spring, usually March or April. The males come out of the soil first, where they have overwintered, and search for nectar in early flowers (like the coltsfoot Leon also exclaimed upon, or dandelion, crocus or other early bloomers) and wait for the females to emerge.


Making the best of the opportunities around them, the andrenid queens start digging tunnels. Soon, the little antlike hills appear. Off the tunnels, they construct small cells, which they line with a special waterproof material. In each cell, they place a pile of pollen sweetened and moistened with plant nectar. On each pile, they lay an egg. The pollen-nectar gruel will be the food for the larva after each egg hatches.

Leon said andrenids are solitary bees, but they congregate together in early spring.

“It is amazing to see all the males buzzing over the females’ nesting sites,” he texted to me.

A female mining bee. Photo courtesy of Leon Tsomides

One species of mining bee found in Maine, Andrena crataegi, is thought to build interconnecting tunnels “and may form a large communal ground nest in which each solitary sister bee is a queen,” according to “Bees of Maine, with a State Species Checklist.”

There are 53 species of mining bees in Maine, according to one report. They’re generally smaller than bumble bees, and are less aggressive and unlikely to sting humans. Like many other bees, they’re important pollinators, especially for the blueberry crops.

A quick read through the reports indicates bees in Maine are being disrupted by the changing climate. Wetter weather interferes with their flight schedules, and warmer weather is driving some bee populations out of their southern ranges, but, weirdly, not farther north. Some of these might be going to higher elevations.

Here in the shreds and patches of a strangely disrupted winter, the queen andrenids are doing what queens do, getting their usual early start. All the routine signs of life — the birds and bees and spiders — are kind of reassuring, for an April moment, that some kind of conventional order persists. In the gross and scope of my opinion, anyway.

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at His book “A Backyard Book of Spiders in Maine” is available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: