Saturday, April 10, 2021

Cool iNat Projects: Bees and Beyond!


Here's a list of cool iNaturalist Projects to check out:


British Columbia


NBSBC Bee Tracker (Native Bees of British Columbia)


BIMBY: Butterflies in my Back Yard (David Suzuki Butterfly Rangers in British Columbia)


Vancouver Island Bumble Bees


Edible Plants on Vancouver Island


Biodiversity of Vancouver Island


Bees, Wasps, and Stinging Insects of the Sunshine Coast


Bees and Flowers of the Central and North Okanagan


BC Parks





Washington Native Bee Society:




Oregon Bee Atlas (Bee Pictures)


Oregon Bee Atlas (Plant Pictures)


Bumble Bees of the Willamette Valley




Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park


The Urban Flora of Lethbridge, AB


University of Lethbridge Campus Flora


Lepidoptera of Alberta


Biodiversity of Alberta


Alberta Parks





Bumble Bees of Ontario

“Extra points for anyone that can submit observations of the three at risk bumble bee species: Rusty-patched (Bombus afinis), Gypsy Cuckoo (Bombus bohemicus) and Yellow-banded (Bombus terricola).”


Bumble Bees of Northwestern Ontario




Bees of Canada


Bumble Bees of Canada



More United States and Beyond


Bees of North America


Cuckoo Bumble Bees (International)


Ohio Bumble Bees


Ohio Bee Atlas


Montana Bumble Bees


Bombus and Bumble Bee Sightings (North America)


Queen Quest (Bumble Bees) I think North America? Maybe just U.S.





Friday, April 2, 2021

Flower Hour and the Native Bee Society of BC Bee Tracker



It's officially spring and on warm sunny days in Vancouver the bumble bee queens are out and about foraging for nectar and looking for nesting sites. This is such an exciting time of the year for bee spotting!


We are still in pandemic mode, and with the fatigue and stress of so many months of lockdown, getting out and connecting with nature is more important than ever. I don't know about you, but my mood is very up and down these days. The vaccine is coming, but fatigue and fear is still a very real part of life. I have to keep reminding myself to get my daily dose of flower and bee watching. It does really help me keep calm and carry on doing the work I need to do, moving forward. 



I like to try to get up early and get a good chunk of work done in the morning so I can spend one or two hours outside with the flowers and the bees. Seeing the first blossoms of spring emerge can be very thrilling. After a long, wet winter, it's such a relief to feel the sun on my face and  find a spot where I can safely take off my masks and inhale the scent of the spring air with its delicate floral scents. It's especially glorious to find a re-flowering currant bush, sit on the ground and watch the bees and hummingbird foraging in its fragrant blossoms. The scent is resinous and seductive, reminding me of garden sage, but more delicate and floral. Taking time to enjoy the flowers without my camera in front of my face is a form of regenerative meditation. 

My colleague Tyler calls the time spent outside with blossoms and bees the "flower hour". Love it! Renew your power in the Flower Hour! Inspired to connect with folks who love bees, we've created the NBSBC Bee Tracker project. We'd love you to join in the fun! And so we invite you to go out and spend your "flower hour" with the bees and the flowers and post your photos on iNaturalist with the tag "FlowerHour". If the bee you're seeing is a first bee, ie first  bee of the year, first bumble bee, first mining bee, please feel free to use the tag "BCFirstBee". You can explain how it's a first bee in your notes. I've never used the journal on iNat, but I'm also determined to try out thus feature as well to add more detail to the field notes.

I'd like to personally invite you to a project on iNaturalist created by the Native Bee Society of British Columbia. We would love you join and post your photos of native B. C. bees! If you haven't joined iNaturalist, this would be a great time to start! You don't need a fancy iphone--you can just post sightings from your computer. 

When you're posting photos of bees, it's important to try to crop them down so we can just focus on the details of the bee to try to identify it to Genus or species. In this photo you can see the whole side of the bee and the back leg, which is important to seeing if it is male or female. We also see the shape of the side of the head, the hairs on the "shoulders" of the bee and the side of the thorax and the entire abdomen.

It's also important for us to see all the parts of the bee, including the butt! The colour and length of the hairs and the shape of the very tip of the tail can give us clues to its ID.


In the case of this bumble bee, seeing the underside of the abdomen so we can check the sternites of the bee help us tell if tell two very similar species apart. Bombus calignosus has yellow hairs on the underside of its abdomen. In areas where there are B. calignosus this is particularly important to check. Don't be a perfectionist! Even blurry shots can help build the ID.


It also helps to see the face of the bee--the shape of the face, length of tongue, and the colour of the hairs on the front and top of the head.  You can see why this is called the yellow-faced bumble bee!


It's also good to get a shot of the back of the bee so we can she the thorax, and the middle of the abdomen. This queen was the first I've seen of this year with a full pollen load. Exciting to know she's found a nest and starting to gather food for her first babies! So lovely to see a vigorous queen foraging in a native plant!

When I post a sighting on iNaturalist I like to make a note of what the bee is doing and which plant it is foraging on. If you want, you can make two posts with the same photos: one for the plant, and one for the bee.

I was also excited to see my first B. melanopygus of the year foraging in the sunwarmed blossoms. This is one of the earliest emerging species of our BC bumble bees, so there have been over 40 sightings of them reported on iNat in our province so far this year. Now that the yellow-faced bumble bees are waking up, the numbers of sighting have started to overtake the "mels". I'm having so much fun watching folks post their sightings of BC bees. Please join our project and consider becoming a member of The Native Bee Society of British Columbia to help us celebrate BC native bees!




Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Pruning with Bees in Mind


We are smack in the middle of the "Ides of March" and spring is tantalizingly within our reach. It's been a year since we starting becoming aware of how the coronavirus pandemic was going to affect our lives. It's also that time of the year when we start sowing many of our food plant and annual flower seeds. This year more than ever, I'm determined to experience the wonder of growing human and bee food from seed.

But first, we prune! Garden wisdom says it's time to prune the roses when the forsythia is blooming. It's that time of the year to get plants in the rose family in tune for spring. I head out to my garden on a sunny day with leather gloves and pruning shears to tackle the invasive blackberry that took advantage of the warm winter, and clean up the canes in my raspberries that bore fruit last year. (The ones I missed last fall.) Now there are tiny carpenter bees that nest in the stems of the rose family, so I keep some of the dead stems in my yard in an undisturbed place. The bees can use them once they've dried out. I used to recommend bundling them, but since watching a webinar with a scientist named Colleen Satyshur who specializes in stem nesting bees, I've learned that bundling creates better opportunities for parasitic insects to take advantage, so we don't want that.

Ideally they should be put in a place in your garden that is sheltered from rain and gets morning sun. As for weather they should be vertical or horizontal--experiment! See what the species of bees in your yard prefers. As for those invasive blackberry stems--bees don't generally like to nest in green stems and I have enough other stems to leave for the bees, so these go in the green bin. Some of the raspberry canes I just "crop and drop" at the back of the garden beds. I've also seen these small bees nesting in the stems of salal. Some bees like hollow stems, others prefer pithy stems. Some other plants I've seen bees nesting in include fennel (non-bulbing), bamboo and Joe pye weed. They just need the diameter that suits them and (once cut) the stem itself has to be able to last at least one year so the bees can emerge as adults.

I'm thinking of creating some "stem art" pieces to hang individual stems on my fence to see which bees choose each kind of stem. This way I can keep records and learn as a community scientist what I can recommend to other gardeners. I encourage you to do the same!

For more information, I highly recommend this webinar from the Oregon Bee Project:


Friday, February 5, 2021

Winter in the Riley Park Community Garden


It's so lovely to see the native Oregon grape forming buds. This will be the earliest native plant to bloom here and the hummingbirds and bumble bees will drink its sweet nectar. If you have a small garden, I suggest you stick to early-blooming native plants for pollinators, but if you have more space, then you can squeeze in some winter-blooming non native plants. I think the temptation is to push for those spring flowers that aren't native to the Pacific Northwest because that's how we have been taught that spring should look. However, many spring classics such as daffodils and tulips don't do anything for wildlife here, so to me they really are a waste of space. There are non-native plants that do have some degree of usefulness in winter and early spring. And with climate change, it seems the bumble bee queens may be emerging earlier than ever before, so we may have to cheat and use some exotic plants that produce nectar in late winter.

The winter-blooming varieties of non-native Berberis is prized by overwintering Anna's hummingbirds. It finishes blooming a couple of weeks before our native species of Oregon grape. However, if bees do emerge early because of climate change, perhaps they will also feed on the non-native species. I recommend planting winter heather for early bumble bee queens, even though it's not native.


I have been spending quite a bit of time in the community garden in winter to observe, meditate and do my daily exercises. It has been a pleasure to experience the subtle beauty of the garden during this season. In winter, the bees and other insect pollinators are in diapause or they are hibernating. There life cycles are put on hold until it's warm enough to begin developing and foraging again. Many of the plants are resting too, their muted colours blending in with the birds foraging for their seeds. Today I watched the juncos looking for bugs in the leaves under the shrubs. They are well-camouflaged against the leaves, along with the wrens and sparrows. I've noticed that birds love messy gardens because it gives them a safer place to hide and forage, and more food than gardens that are too tidy.


Anna's hummingbirds are now wintering in Vancouver, even though it is not natural for them to do this. Warmer weather, non-native plants and feeders have made it possible. You can usually hear them before you see them, with their high pitched razzes and squeeks. "Zikka zikka zikka!" The males can also make impressive territorial dives that create squeaks with their wing feathers. There are plants you can grow that bloom in winter specifically for them. These are not native plants.



I have never seen hummingbirds forage on sweet box, but other gardeners say they have so I'll have to do more research. It is a fragrant winter-blooming evergreen shrub with dainty flowers. You smell it before you see it and on warmer winter days the scent stops me in my tracks. I've only seen flies on it and not even looking for nectar, but I have seen photographs on honey bees foraging in it.


The best bets for hummers are winter blooming jasmine and (as I mentions above) the non-native winter blooming Berberis. Hummers will defend the Berberis with much sound and fury. They become quite territorial.


Gardeners say Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' is prized by hummingbird, but again I have not seen them foraging in it. I'll keep on the lookout once the buds open. Winter-blooming honeysuckle will also support hummers. (ETA: I have since found out that at least two gardeners do see bumble bee queens and hummingbirds on this shrub.)


 Hellebores are generally cultivated for looks rather than pollen and nectar rewards, so although there do seem to bee some that are visited by European honey bees, most are not useful for pollinators. 


Winter aconite is another non native plant that is attractive to European honey bees in its native habitat. Just be advised that although not as poisonous as Aconitum species, it is toxic enough that it should not be planted anywhere near a food garden. Most of them are finished blooming by the time the first bees arrive.



Fava beans are a crop that bloom in late winter/early spring and once in a while I will see bumble bees on them, but not enough to say that they are a good plant for bees.


We've had such a mild winter, that some plants are getting a very early start and as long as we don't get a late snow cover, it looks like the cilantro will be blooming early this year and it's little white flowers will attract bees, flies and tiny beneficial wasps.


Again, because it was so mild the, some of the calendula continues to bloom over winter. This means we may eventually have it blooming all year round. I've seen bumble bees sleeping in the flowers waiting for the sun to warm them up.

I've never seen borage overwinter before either, so maybe that's another pollinator plant we'll start to see bloom earlier in the year. What new plants are you noticing that are overwintering this year?

The garlic is poking through its light layer of leaf mulch. Having the beds rounded like this is a way of keeping the plants from getting too soggy in the winter. Many bees nest in the ground, but they like undisturbed soil that won't get too wet in winter. Some bees actually line their nest cavities with a kind of cellophane to keep the damp out.


The spots and texture of these leaves have earned Pulmonaria the common name of "lungwort". The blue and pink flowers are much loved by bumble bee queens when they emerge from hibernation.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Beech Holiday


 I miss going to our local Pacific Northwest Beaches.


I miss the meditation of walking on the beach.



When our child was small we stayed at a motel on the beach on the east side of Vancouver Island. It was called the Driftwood Inn and it was simple, clean and cheap. We walked on the beach and ate simple meals. My favourite kind of holiday. The motel closed down not long after we left. As if it was a magical chimera and hadn’t really every existed at all. 

We hardly ever went on holidays.




 On my walks I look for fungi instead of shells and today I found a crenellated pink fungus that looks like something you’d find clinging to a rock in a tide pool. There is something so human about its undulating folds. The fleshy texture relates to human skin, maybe an internal organ, frenula, vulva, the roof of one’s mouth, or the interior of a yawning cat’s mouth. I found it in a beech tree, along with insect holes and some shrivelled candlesnuff fungus reaching out with wizened fingers. There is one hole that had been filled with plant matter and then punctured by a parasite, leaving a smaller hole. 

This cavity is almost like a little altar in a decaying part of the tree. An offrenda of decaying leaves.


I’m drawn back to this tree and its treasures. I dream about it. It has cast its spell on me, whispered its secret stories and now I am its acolyte.




Thursday, January 28, 2021

Desire Paths: Following your wild heart



It was a magical moment: I saw this witch hazel bush blooming from one block away glowing in the winter sunlight. I felt drawn towards it as if pulled by my heart strings.


Talk about fireworks! These electric pompoms are dazzling. They also have a light and heady fragrance.I was so thankful for the gardener that planted this witch hazel shrub (Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane') on a public boulevard.


At the base of the  shrub, the leaves have dropped in a neat pile, providing a lovely background to the lower branches.


The big question I'm asking myself there days is "how do you increase your capacity for forming relationships with the natural world?". 


As I go on my nature walks, I remind myself to keep my heart open for these kinds of magical encounters--to let myself have the luxury of following "desire paths" along the way. As an insect and herbaceous plant fan, I often find myself scanning the scene from eye level down to the ground, but since I've started exercising in parks, I am seeing things from different perspectives. As I kneel at the base of a tree to stretch I see small oval holes that insects have bored into the base of the tree. As I reach up to the sky to lengthen my spine I see the full height and majesty of the glorious cedar.



If I wouldn't have looked down, I would have missed the little "mouse tails" peeking out of the Douglas pine cones. If I hadn’t looked way up I would have missed the silhouette of their branches and pine needles against the sky. If I hadn’t turned my attention upwards today I wouldn’t have seen two bald eagles: an adult passing through on its way to false creek and a juvenile that perched in a nearby tree, alarming the neighbourhood gulls and crows.


I also need to keep the nattering inner thoughts at bay so I can hear what's around me: the soft mew of a spotted towee as he rustles in the leaves, the chip notes and "ring ring" of the dark-eyed juncos, and the wolf whistles of starlings. I need to take deep breaths and inhale the resinous aroma of the conifers, being careful not to wear too much perfume so I can really be aware of the subtle scent trails.



It's great to have some time walking quickly to get that heart muscle pumping, but it's also important to slow right down and examine catches your eye and piques your curiosity. You become nature's detective, deciphering mysteries and looking for clues. What's up there on that mossy roof?

How do you honour the land today? You kneel, you listen, you sniff, you wonder as you wander and you look waaaaay up, stretching your hands as if to reach for the stars.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Resources for Gardening for Bees

 I've been enjoying so many online presentations lately that I thought I'd start keeping a list of recommended viewing. There are so many wonderful webinars popping up, it's hard to keep track of all of them! I will pin this list and keep adding to it.


I highly recommend a presentation on Winter and Native Bees by Laura Langlois Zurro. Laura has a wonderfully biodiverse garden in Florida and she is an accomplished macro photographer and videographer. Her presentation really focuses on her close observations of bees in and around their nesting sites. Watching this will teach you about sensitizing yourself as a gardener to the life cycles of the bees in your garden. Laura's garden in warm enough that she has active bees in her yard all year, so she focuses on the seasonal changes in species she sees. You can follow her on Instagram (@ecogeekmama)