September 20, 2007

Perils of the Field: What Do You Do When Bees Want Your GPS Unit?

Collecting yesterday was good but not great. It wasn't a great day for gilled mushrooms, but it wasn't a bad one for polyporoids. I found a couple of of Fomitopsis and one wood-decomposer on cut hemlock that I couldn't even begin to identify. I'll have spores from the bizarre thing today and should be able to at least get a genus on it.

The day didn't get off to a very good start, though. I found an absolutely pristine specimen of Amanita fulva growing in the debris that had fallen from a very decomposed tree. I set out my GPS to record its position, took my backpack off and got my specimen case ready, took some notes, and set up to take a photo. There was a little fern frond in the way, so I pulled it out... and bees began swarming out of a little hole in the ground right next to my GPS. I did what any hominid would do in the situation. I yelped and ran away, leaving everything but my camera on the ground outside the bees' lair.

I got stung only once, just behind my right ear. The bees didn't follow me after I'd run away, so I backed off about twenty yards. The last time I was swarmed was about a year ago in Florida; those bees were Africanized and chased me a great distance but New England bees are a good deal more polite, it seems. Nonetheless, I could only watch in dismay as the angry insects swarmed over my backpack and camera bag, no doubt stinging them to death. I couldn't get back to the trail I needed, either, without going right past the hive. With my GPS unit so near the entrance, I spent a good deal of time wondering whether my meager budget could include the cost of a new unit and what, exactly, bees would do with the thing. I suppose that if bees had GPS technology, they wouldn't need to do the old waggle-dance anymore. Clearly I had stumbled upon a hive of bees in the vanguard of cultural revolution!

All I could do was wait, so wait I did. I waited for about 40 minutes for the bees to calm down, having convinced themselves that my gear no longer posed a threat to their hive. I found a very long branch and managed to hook it into the shoulder strap of the camera bag and retrieved that safely, and then I managed to fish my backpack out of the danger zone as well. My poor little GPS unit was quite another story, though. The only thing I could do with that was to use my long stick to push it a couple of feet away from the hive entrance. The bees didn't seem to be responding to that stimulus, so I strapped on my bags and made a run through the area, snagging my specimen case and GPS off the ground as I went. Thankfully, no further stinging occurred. I probably could have just walked by and picked them up casually, but I wasn't about to take any chances.

This morning, the area behind my ear is a bit red and swollen and itches a good deal, but other than that I'm fine. This is just part of fieldwork, albeit an amusing (at my expense) one. Sometimes, Mother Nature is a bitch!

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