This week brought the first sustained period of 'warm' weather this year: temps in the 50s for a couple of days. That was enough to bring the bees out of their hives and out for some early foraging. From the pale color of pollen many were carrying, it would seem they found flowering willows somewhere nearby. I saw this on both sides of the Connecticut River where we have apiaries. On our farm we've tapped a few maple trees and the bees had discovered the sweet sap too! Though it may only be about 2 percent sugar that was enough to attract honeybees (as well as a few ants).
The weather also allowed us to inspect the hives, get them some sugar syrup and pollen substitute, and check the general conditions of our bees. Alas, it was another traumatic winter and we suffered pretty substantial losses. Not totally unexpected given the health of the bees going into the winter late last year. Fortunately, the hives where we installed mite resistant queens did pretty well. These may be the building blocks for establishing hardier stock.
Currently, most beekeepers in Connecticut source their bees from a supplier in Georgia. Southern bees get a jump start on the season and allow us northerners to replace bees lost in time to get a crop in the same year. The downside is these bees aren't proven in our New England climate so losses tend to be greater. This year we hope to develop a few starter hives (called "nuc's") from our survivor stock so that we can build on their genetic success. In the meantime, we'll be getting some packages of Georgia bees at the end of March and beginning of April.