Hampden ‘Bee Whisperer’ expects to see surge in bee swarms as rainy weather ends

Posted June 28, 2012, at 9:18 a.m.
Last modified June 28, 2012, at 5:16 p.m.
Peter Cowin checks one of his behives near his Hampden home. Cowin also removes swarms and honeybee colonies from trees or buildings.
Peter Cowin checks one of his behives near his Hampden home. Cowin also removes swarms and honeybee colonies from trees or buildings. Buy Photo
A honneybee clings to the gloved hand of Peter Cowin as he points out a queen cell in a behive near his Hampden home. He said that the presence of such cells indicate that the hive is rearing a new queen and is preparing split.
A honneybee clings to the gloved hand of Peter Cowin as he points out a queen cell in a behive near his Hampden home. He said that the presence of such cells indicate that the hive is rearing a new queen and is preparing split. Buy Photo
Peter Cowin with a swarm of bees.
Peter Cowin
Peter Cowin with a swarm of bees.
A small swarm of bees clustered in a tree where they will wait for scouts to find a location for their new hive.
Peter Cowin
A small swarm of bees clustered in a tree where they will wait for scouts to find a location for their new hive.
Peter Cowin with a colony established only two months ago in the wall of a barn in Orono. With most of the bees removed, the combs are ready to be cut out.
Courtesy of Peter Cowin
Peter Cowin with a colony established only two months ago in the wall of a barn in Orono. With most of the bees removed, the combs are ready to be cut out.

HAMPDEN, Maine — When most people hear about a bee swarm they run the other way.

Peter Cowin can’t sprint fast enough — toward it.

The Hampden resident who is also known by the nickname “The Bee Whisperer” is a beekeeper who specializes in relocating bee swarms and hives without harming or killing the bees.

And he expects business will be booming in the coming weeks. The r ainy weather Maine has seen followed by expected high temperatures increases the likelihood of swarming.

“Swarming occurs when bees are confined to their hives for four or five days. Once the sun comes out, they swarm outside while waiting for scouts to locate a good hive location,” Cowin explained.

The 52-year-old is president of BioEdge, a company that makes and distributes fishing attractants that can be applied to lures. He earned a degree in zoology from Newcastle University in England.

“I’ve been involved in beekeeping since I was 11, but I gave it up when I moved to England as a student,” Cowin said. “Then I started a family and came back 10 years ago to Maine.”

He’s been an active beekeeper since and owns bees that produce 60-80 pounds of honey a year. But he’s always looking for more honeymakers.

That’s why he was disheartened to hear about the large swarm spotted in Bangor’s Fairmount Park last week. The bees flew away from the area before a pest control employee arrived to spray them.

“It was with a bit of alarm that I read about the swarm in the park and that it might have been sprayed because it looked like it was a big one, possibly as many as 40,000-50,000 bees,” Cowin said. “It’s really important for people to find an alternative to spraying them because bees are having a tough time surviving these days due to a parasitic mite that is killing them off by making them vulnerable to various bacteria.

“You also have colony collapse disorder — a bit of a mystery that may be caused by infection from mites — and also pesticides. There are very few feral or wild beehives around anymore.”

Why are honeybees so important?

“Pollination’s importance to our food chain cannot be overstated,” said Cowin, who is routinely sought out by farmers and gardeners to use his bees to pollinate their vegetables, flowers and fruits.

Cowin recently contacted Tracy Willette, Bangor’s parks and recreation director, to offer his services and inform him of the benefits of relocating swarms without spraying.

“We did have a good conversation. We now have additional resources to turn to on other occasions if this happens again,” Willette said.

Cowin said it’s usually much easier to relocate a swarm as opposed to a hive.

“How easy it is to get to it [is what] determines how easy they are to relocate,” said Cowin. “But it’s generally much, much easier to remove a swarm than it is a hive.

“A swarm can take anywhere from two minutes to two hours to remove. Hives can be from an hour to all day or longer, especially for a more established one that’s tougher to get at.”

Still, the cost of removing and relocating is comparable to that of spraying and killing bees, according to Cowin.

Cowin’s tools of the trade include a bee suit, smoker (usually only when a hive is involved), branch cutters, transportation boxes, and ladders. He also has a specialized, modified Bee Vac vacuum that safely sucks bees out of a hive or enclosed space.

While Cowin also removes hornets, wasps and yellowjackets, he prefers to work with bees.

“It’s generally much harder to relocate them and you usually have to destroy the nests,” he said of hornets, wasps and yellowjackets.

Cowin also wants people to know that there are no killer bees in Maine.

“There have been no reports of Africanized bees here in Maine,” said Cowin. “We don’t see them this far up here. They’re mostly just in the very southern areas of the country.”

Anyone with a swarm or beehive problem can contact the Maine State Beekeepers Association at 619-4BEE or go online to mainebeekeepers.org.

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