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Thousands of bees create quite a buzz at historic property in Port Washington

Chris Bain, president of the Cow Neck Peninsula

Chris Bain, president of the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society, near the bush at the Thomas Dodge Homestead in Port Washington where about 25,000 honeybees had taken up residence before they were removed and relocated May 18. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A living, buzzing cluster of tens of thousands of honeybees was captured from a large shrub Monday near a centuries-old house in Port Washington that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“There were 50 to 100 bees that got into the house altogether. And a couple hundred were flying outside the house,” said Ross Ber, the beekeeper who retrieved the swarm. “To a non-beekeeper, 10 bees is too many.”

Lonnie Sanders, the tenant who lives in the upper floor apartment of the 300-year-old Thomas Dodge Homestead on Harbor Road, didn’t see the bees at first. As he came downstairs Monday afternoon to head out for some fresh air, he said he heard a buzzing noise by the window.

When he lifted the curtain, he said he saw dozens of small bees flying around as if they were trying to get out of the house. Soon after, Sanders talked to his wife, who went into a panic and called a trustee of the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society that manages the property.

News of swarming bees at the historic house eventually reached Ber, who rushed from Briarwood, Queens, to deal with the emergency.

“It’s an old house,” Ber said. “You can easily find nooks, cracks and openings where bees can flow into the house because they see the light. Of course they all end up by the window because they haven’t figured glass out.”

Ber said the bees that were inside came from a swarm that settled on an overgrown shrub about 50 feet from the house. Though its appearance of a dripping clump the size of a basketball may look menacing, he said the swarm was harmless.

Swarming is a natural process that occurs in late spring or early summer to propagate the species, Ber said. When a colony becomes too crowded, the queen bee flies off, taking a third or half of the bees with her.

“The bees sent out ‘bee scouts,’ like Boy Scouts, to find a new home,” said Chris Bain, president of the historical society, chuckling as he retold what Ber had explained to him after he called for help. “They were checking out the Dodge house as a possible new home.”

After Ber arrived at the property, he suited up and used a high-powered retriever, which functioned like a vacuum, to suck an estimated 25,000 bees into a container. The live bees he collected weighed 5 pounds and will be relocated to another property, Ber said.

He said the swarm appeared to have come from the existing colonies on site. For more than 16 years, Ber has managed three beehives on the edge of the property, selling honey at a discounted price to the historical society, which in turn sold jars of honey to visitors.

The historical society, which hosted tours and exhibitions at the house museum, also used the beehives as an educational opportunity for visitors.

“Bees are good for the environment,” Bain said Wednesday, which was World Bee Day, so designated by the United Nations to raise awareness on the widespread decline of the bee population. “We are happy to have them.”

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