Yellow Jacket Wars

Yellow Jacket 10-07-2014_8017
Here’s the tale of our yellow jacket woes as told in email and Facebook posts to friends and family over the last couple of days.

Oct. 7, 2014, at 2:45 p.m.Mother got nailed twice while pulling vines off the back of the house. I went into the same general area to load up some firewood and got stung once on the arm. The culprits were yellow jackets. You might think they are bees, but they have skinny waists and they can sting more than once. I think they are in some sandbags we have old kindling in.

I sprayed the area with some magic bug killer, but that just got them stirred up.

Last night, I went out after dark with a flashlight after everybody must have gone to sleep and started pulling the area apart with a hoe. When I felt something hit my beard, I beat a hasty retreat indoors and saw one on my shirt winding up to nail me. I brushed him off and watched him buzz around the room while I searched for a can of bug spray.

I dug one out of my car and went back to battle. I finally spotted the guy and gave him a good blast, but didn’t see him fall. After waiting a few minutes, I figured he had passed on to his just reward.

This guy will NOT give up

About two hours later, I saw something whiz by my ear and start flying around the desk lamp. I waited until he got to a clear spot and I really let him have it this time. I don’t know whether he was poisoned or drowned, but he stopped moving.

We’ll give the nest another crack tonight.

[Note: it’s not easy to shoot yellow jackets buzzing around. The best I can do is point the camera in their general direction and fire away when I see one go by. The autofocus isn’t picking up on something as small as an insect, so the few I DID capture were fuzzy. On top of that, I’m paranoid every time I see something moving in my peripheral vision, I flinch and start swiveling my head around. You wouldn’t believe how many tiny bugs and mosquitoes there are in the air. And dust specks. You can click on the photos to make them larger, but nothing is going to improve this one.]

Oct. 7, 2014, at 3:06 p.m. – Helpful hint from a Facebook friend: Wait till after midnight and add kerosene to the hole. Use a full gallon and then let soak for 60 minutes, then add another gallon and light. Bees be gone.

Oct 7, 2014, at 3:12 p.m. – My yellow jackets are against the house. I don’t think Mother would like it if I burned down her house to get rid of theirs.

Oct 7, 2014, at 3:32 p.m. – Another helpful hint from Facebook: Ken, use a lighter, the long one, like you used on a grill

Oct 7, 2014, at 3:34 p.m. – Lighting it isn’t a problem. Putting it out might be.

I found the nest

Yellow jacket hive 10-08-2014Oct 7, 2014, at 7:39 p.m. – I found the nest. I waited until after dark until there was no activity (well, there was one guy, but I gave him a blast of bug spray and he spiraled down to the ground. I tried not to gloat.).

I pulled two sandbags of kindling out into the yard with no results, but when I yanked a third one out, I exposed the hive and they were none too happy. I made a dash back to the house and got the door closed just as a couple of them were smashing against the glass.

I’ll wait until just before I go to bed and wash the hive down with spray if there aren’t any buzzing around.

How does Wyatt Earp do it?

Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 9:44 p.m. – After watching the second half of Tombstone, a cowboy shoot-em-up movie, with Mother, I went downstairs the check the yellow jackets. I must have carried one inside with me, because he was buzzing around the desk lamp.

Unfortunately, in my hasty retreat earlier, I left the flying insect spray outside. By the time I stuck my head outside to grab it, he was hiding.

I went outside and saw I had split the hive into two pieces and both were covered with bugs. I sprayed them both down until I ran out of kill juice and made a beeline back inside.

I’m sitting at the computer watching for movement out of my peripheral vision and hoping I remember how Wyatt Earp did that quick-draw thing.

Oct 7, 2014, at 9:46 p.m. – I stuck my head outside again. I think I may have won the skirmish. Nothing was in the air (although a cricket by the door frame took a year off my life).

The sizable hive had bunches of dead critters on it and none flying combat air patrol over it.

The guy in the basement must still be here somewhere. My head is still swiveling around and the bug spray is locked and loaded if he shows up. I’m full dressed in a long-sleeve shirt, jeans, socks and a cap. I was wearing gloves up until a few minutes ago.

After I took the gloves off, a mosquito bit me on the back of my hand.

Layers like pancakes

Yellow jacket hive 10-08-2014Oct. 8, 2014, at 10:04 a.m. – I got my first good look at the hive this morning. It’s pretty good size. It was built between the dirt and a sandbag. The spray killed a substantial number of the critters, but there are enough buzzing around in the air that I’m going to leave it alone until after dark.

I thought the hive was in two pieces, but the bulk of it is stuck to the bottom of a sandbag. I don’t see any movement ON the hive, but there are a dozen or so yellow jackets orbiting the area. I’ll let them settle down until after dark.

Oct. 8, 2014, at 9:05 p.m. – Went out with rake and pulled sandbags out into the yard. When I got a closer look at the hive, it appeared to be made up of multiple pancake-sized nests. I pulled apart some of the “pancakes” and thought I saw movement, so I blasted it and the area where I saw the activity this afternoon. Maybe it’ll all be over by morning.

What’s with Cape and stinging insects? I got nailed by a bee when I tried to shoot the destruction of Franklin School in 2012.

The Buzz about Hornets

Hornet Next Kingsway Dr 08-15-2014Mother has a fascia board that needs to be replaced on the back of the house. Mark and I decided we have neither the ladder, the expertise or the ambition to tackle something that would turn into a Big Job if we tackled it, so I reached out for a fellow recommended by Ernie Chiles.

He said he’d get it done it before we the attic filled with squirrels. Before he took the job, he wanted to walk around to see he needed to take care of anything else at the same time. When he got to the window outside Mother’s bedroom, he suggested that she keep the window closed because of the big hornet nest about three feet from it.

I watched the nest for a good bit waiting to capture one coming or going, but didn’t see any. It might be an inactive nest, or they might have been waiting for me to give it a poke, at which time they would demonstrate why wise people don’t poke a hornet nest.

I haven’t had much experience with hornets – bees and wasps, yes – hornets, no. I want to keep it that way.

Butterflies Flutter By

Bees and Butterflies 08-08-2013The butterfly bush (I think that’s what it’s called) out in Mother’s front yard was a clutter of flutter with butterflies and bees this week.

Tattered butterfly

Bees and Butterflies 08-08-2013I felt sorry for this guy. He (or she) has been around the block and is the worse for wear. I know exactly how he (or she) feels.

Photo gallery

Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the side of the image to move through the gallery.

Taking One for the Team at Franklin School


See that DONATE Button at the top left of the page? You folks owe me. I took one for the team Wednesday afternoon at Franklin School.

A couple of Facebook friends posted that demolition of the old school had started, so I figured I’d better get over there before it was too late. I saw a story in The Missourian that said that workers had hit a snag when they stirred up some honeybees. One worker had to be taken to the hospital and a beekeeper was brought in to deal with the situation.

What happened to Ben Franklin?

I had something else I could shoot to let things cool down, so I didn’t get to Franklin until early afternoon. The job site was quiet. No equipment was working and no workers were around. I held my camera over the fence to take a photo of the ripped-up pedestal where Benjamin Franklin, the school’s namesake, used to stand at the southeast corner of the campus. (I wonder if he was salvaged.)

Steps and sidewalk coming out

Then, I wandered to the front of the school to take some shots of the steps where it has been said that some introductory biology classes had been offered. Class looks like it has been dismissed for good.

I read somewhere that the facade around the front door had been preserved. It’s a little ironic because Franklin was the only school in the city that had been built without a name.

Better to ask forgiveness…

I saw an open gate on the north side of the school. An open gate to me means an invitation, so I walked into the parking lot to see an open supply trailer and a couple of trucks. My intention was to find the foreman to get permission to walk around the site since there was no work going on, but I couldn’t find anyone.

Since there was no one to ask, and because I was already there, I opted to observe the “it’s better to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission rule.” I REALLY wanted to see if they had preserved the old flag pole.

Bees and rattlesnakes

I had just taken the first photo of it being on the ground when I saw a dark object buzzing around my nose. “This isn’t good,” I thought. Just about that time, I felt somebody stick a red-hot poker onto my lip.

I knew that feeling. In the mid-70s, on the way back from covering a trucker strike in Georgia and Alabama, I read that Whigham, Ga., was holding a rattlesnake roundup. I called the office, told ’em I’d be on the road another day

I soon found myself wandering around a Georgia pine forest on a chilly foggy morning with a guy who said the unusually warm weather was keeping the snakes above ground instead of curled up in gopher turtle burrows.  (My new buddy would stick a long plastic pipe down the gopher hole, pour down a couple of ounces of gasoline and wait for the fumes to drive the snake to the surface. They weren’t home, unfortunately.)

Since they were on top of the ground, that meant the snakes had as good of a chance of finding us as we did of finding them. I finally got a shot of him draping a four-foot rattler around his neck, and we headed back to the snake pen where the hunters dumped their catches (live and very unhappy, by the way) into a fenced-off area. They were destined for skinning and being eaten.

I was invited into the area. Much against my better judgement, I stepped into the pen. I was assured that rattlers can’t strike longer than their length, so I was “perfectly safe.” I was concentrating on (a) trying to figure out how long my subject was (and adding a couple of feet for safety), and focusing on his flickering tongue when I felt that red-hot poker hit my thumb.

Dead in Whigham

“This boy is dead,” I thought. “Somewhere in the back of Editor & Publisher, the journalism trade magazine, my passing will be dutifully noted: ‘Ken Steinhoff, Palm Beach Post director of photography, died in the line of duty. He wasn’t covering a war; wasn’t trapped in a burning building trying to save an old woman’s Cocker Spaniel; didn’t sacrifice his life pushing a child out of the path of a speeding auto; no, he died of stupidity by stepping into a pen of unhappy rattlesnakes in a nowhere town in Georgia.'”

I found out to my chagrin, surprise and pleasure that I was not dead: that I hadn’t tangled with a rattlesnake, but had stirred up a nest of ground wasps. Still, I decided that the photographs I had taken in the pen were sufficient for my needs and exited quickly.

Back to Franklin

The bee had friends

After the red-hot poker to the lip, I noticed half a dozen other buzzing objects starting to circle my head. Having read that having one bee sting someone will sometimes set the whole hive into a frenzy, I took two more frames and walked quickly and calmly back to my car. I yanked the stinger out of my lip, taking some small satisfaction in knowing THAT bee isn’t going to sting anybody else. (The tiny object at the end of my thumbnail is the stinger.)

Sister-in-law Marty Riley lives a few blocks away from the school, so I stopped by her house to get some ice for a rapidly swelling lip. She, unfortunately, wasn’t home.

I decided drop by The Missourian to see librarian Sharon Sanders, figuring that if I went into apocalyptic shock and fell twitching on the floor Fred Lynch, could shoot a picture of me, filling his spot news quota without leaving the office. Photographers stick together.

One final bee story: my only Workers Comp claim as a photographer came from a bee-related incident. When I got back to the office, I dutifully filled out H.R.’s Description of Injury form: “I was assigned to photograph what was supposed to be 14 million dead bees. The beekeeper wanted to show me his 14,000,000 bee loss, so he kicked the hive apart. 13,999,999 bees were dead. One was not.”

Stings more than the bee

I didn’t go to Franklin, so I shouldn’t have any strong feelings about the school. Still, seeing the flag pole on the ground gave me a feeling of loss. I wondered how many proud youngsters had raised and lowered the flag on that pole. I could hear the sound of the metal clips that secured the flag to the halyards banging against the pole on a windy day.

I also thought of how this flag pole and base was a mirror image of one I photographed in front of Washington School before it was torn down. They could save a few pieces of facade, but not a classic flag pole.

Photo Gallery of Franklin School

I wish I had more photos, but you guys don’t pay enough to keep me shooting with bees swarming around. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.