My neighbor Cathi Lamoreux and I attended a training May 18 for the Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas, a project to collect critical information on the region’s bumblebees.
Rich Hatfield, senior conservation biologist with the Xerces Society, led the project – a collaboration of the Washington, Idaho and Oregon departments of wildlife and fish and game. The WSU Master Gardener Program provided a training room at the Spokane County WSU Extension offices on Havana Street.
At the morning session we learned all about bumblebees, their importance as pollinators, the risks they face, how to identify them, and how to use the Bumble Bee Atlas website, pnwbumblebeeatlas.org.
In the afternoon we practiced catching and photographing bees. It was an intense training with a lot of new information; we felt a little hesitant about catching and identifying the bees, getting the right photographs, and then posting the images on the website. I began to wonder if we were really going to become the citizen scientists Rich had envisioned. But we set our doubts aside, and moved forward.
Cathi and I live in the South Ridge area in south Spokane. We practiced in Cathi’s yard to perfect our netting technique and launched our first official sampling on June 7.
We adopted the geographic grid area off South Ben Burr Road near Immaculate Heart Retreat Center for the Bumble Beee Atlas project.
We caught six big bumblebee queens and were as excited as little kids. We got them safely in the vials, quickly chilled on ice, and our friend Kari Monagle, who is visiting from Juneau, Alaska, took amazing photos.
We released the bees. Just like Rich said would happen: As each bee warmed up, it went through a grooming ritual of fluffing up its hair and then flew away, no harm done.
The next step was identifying the bees and posting the photos online. Another daunting task.
Cathi and I met on June 12 to study and identify the bees we had caught. We put Kari’s photos on one laptop and the Western Bumble Bee Guide on another. This way we were able to compare our photos with the ones in the guide and use the written description of the bees to help our identification. We spent several hours on this part of the task; the bees have very subtle differences in hair color and face size which is used to identify them.
We got four out of six correct – a satisfying result for our first try.
On July 1 we sampled in the same location, and this time we caught 11 bees with a 100% success rate on our identification.
The whole process from the training to completing our second scientific sampling has been very satisfying. We have learned so much and are happy to do this important work. We plan to go again soon with another neighbor who wants to learn how to help.
The Xerces Society (xerces.org) has excellent educational resources, including a yard sign to encourage neighborly chats about supporting pollinators and several books on what to plant to feed bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Lynn Meyers is a retired French language teacher at North Central High School. She has resided at her South Ridge home in south Spokane for 10 years. Meyers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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