The BeeSearch Blog (31)
A collection of tales from the bee search.
The choice of the initial Bee of the Week was easy. These are the pictures that started it all, or at least that set Beesearch.org on its current course. This is as good a place as any to tell that story.
I have been interested in native bees and pollinator conservation for years. I spent most of the past decade or two as a freelance writer and developer (mostly for one or another of the local software behemoths), but between projects, I was learning to find, identify, and photograph pollinators in the lower Cascades.
After one too many projects burned to its conclusion in a haze of sleepless nights, I needed to take a break and spend some days working with bees for awhile.
I started trying out new projects that might turn out to be interesting and useful. A few of them – a better field guide for native pollinators, a guide for native bees in apple country, a camera-ready, nonlethal insect collection jar – are still underway, if on the back burner for awhile. Some others were entertaining but impractical, and probably best forgotten.
Rumors of the Lost
The most interesting project was a long shot. I knew about the collapse of the Western Bumblebee, not just by reputation, but from personal experience: in fifteen years of walking around Puget Sound looking for bees, I’d never laid eyes on one. I also knew that they weren’t actually extinct. There were small populations holding out somewhere – maybe in the mountains – but they were still vulnerable, unable to survive in high traffic areas. One of the continent’s great pollinators had literally been driven to the edges of the earth. I thought that that was a story that needed to be told, and some friends and I started kicking around the idea of making a documentary film. (Among other things, we needed a name for the project. That’s when I registered Beesearch.org.)
The general idea was that we would travel to places where the Western Bumblebee had once lived, film what was there now, and so tell the story of what it had been and where it had gone. The final act would have us travel to a distant site to film the last bees in action. Finding that site would be a challenge, we thought, and the search itself would carry the film.
It didn’t work out like that. In the summer of 2013, word got around that a gardener north of Seattle had seen a Western Bumblebee foraging on milkweed the previous year. That didn’t necessarily mean anything: pioneers had blown down from the remnant populations before, but had quickly succumbed to whatever had killed their relatives in the first place. They had never established a nest, and certainly never survived the winter.
Still, the news was interesting, and I decided to go out and see what I could find. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the garden in question except that it was “north of Seattle”. That’s not quite as bad as it sounds: most of the suburbs north of Seattle have well known names, or are closer to those names than they are to Seattle. (If the sighting had been in Everett, the rumor mill would probably say so.) Still, there were about twenty square miles “north of Seattle,” and bees are small.
In the end, I spent about six hours one Saturday night on Google Earth, mapping out sites that looked like good bumblebee habitat. The next morning, Susan and I went out to look for bees.
Welcome to Beesearch.org! We have emerged from the ashes of a spectacular host flameout, and I believe we may actually go live.
The Search for the Western Bumblebee
When I first registered “Beesearch.org”, some friends and I were kicking around the idea of searching the wilds of the western states for the suddenly-elusive Western Bumblebee, and making a documentary film about the whole thing.
We had no idea that I’d wind up finding the darn thing in my own back yard (give or take a few miles.)
It’s been an interesting ride since then. The discovery got some press, the press led to more people finding more bees, and the story turned out to be more interesting than we had ever hoped.
We thought we were composing an elegy. Instead, we may be looking at something closer to a resurrection.
It may not be a movie, but this blog will be my journal as we try to figure out what’s going on. I hope it will be worth following.