An aborted bee swarm from a kept hive.
Hi! I'm a very new beekeeper--I was given a hive this Spring--and I had something strange happen today (July 7). At about 3:00 in the afternoon, thousands of bees departed the hive and then flew around the neighbors yard in a large and buzzy bee cloud. After about fifteen minutes, the bees all returned to the hive as if nothing had happened. Very strange! I was wondering whether you would have any insight on what they might have been doing. Thanks so much! Al Weiss, Forest Grove
What you observed is known as a "false swarm" - and its pretty rare, so good job in observing it. During a normal swarm the workers literally chase the old queen out of the colony. But sometimes the workers are unsuccessful in getting the queen out. The workers recognize the absence of a queen and return to the colony. Long and short, the colony is still at risk of swarming and you should thin that colony down substantially if you want to prevent it from swarming (if it hasn't already).