Taking a tip from Rusty, who has a wonderful website that she regularly updates with terrific, relevant info about beekeeping, I hiked out on this balmy, 39 degree January day to take a peek at the hives. Approaching hive #2, which is the first I came to, I noticed right away a number of bees in the snow, spread out in all directions from the entrance, for about 20 feet. This is pretty typical--the bees take off on cleansing flights when the weather permits, and some simply get too chilled to make it back to the hive. The first winter, this drove me crazy as I tried to help individual bees make it back to the landing strip on the hive only to watch them fall over and die. It's what happens. I knocked gently on the side of the hive and even through the pink insulation I could hear a solid hum.
As soon as I removed the lid, I saw the small dead cluster in the center of the top box--pathetically small, given the thousands of healthy bees I encountered when I added the mite strips in late September.