Out, for The Count

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Honey bees on a passion flower

Last month, just at the very end, I discovered that Friends of the Earth were in the middle of running a citizen science project called the ‘Great British Bee Count‘. It is an initiative to raise public (and subsequently government) awareness of the role of pollinators and their recent decline. Count participants could download a simple, free phone app that allowed numbers of bees and bumblebees to be recorded, together with a location.

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Buff-tailed bumblebees (I think: The thorax band is very faint, but there is a buff ring at the start of the white tail) on echinacea

Recorded sighting will apparently be verified (? not sure exactly what this means, although submissions included phone photos) and will feed into a new official national insect monitoring scheme.

Simple geocoded bee IDs give valuable information about the on-going spread of some key species and the optional timed counts should pinpoint important plants to these pollinators.

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Leaf-cutter bee on field geranium

So I downloaded the app, studied the identification information (as well as you can in theory) and headed to the garden to count some bees. Interestingly, rather than getting you to input precise species for some bumblebees, you were asked to classify them into grouped types, e.g. banded white-tailed species (buff-tailed, white-tailed, garden and heath bumblebees), red-tailed black species (red-tailed, red-tailed cuckoo, red-shanked carder bumblebees), then distinct species for Early, Tree and Brown Carder bumblebees, together with honey bees and various solitary and mining bees.

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Red-tailed bumblebee on salisfy

Almost in real time the sightings were added to an online map and, for whatever reason, that made the whole thing seem real and more satisfying.

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Pollen covered Buff-tailed bumblebee on hollyhock

I do find the identification of the banded white-tailed bumblebees a tricky task, with there being three different classes (male,worker and queen) for each species and then variations in band colour and density within that. So I was happy that I was allowed to be a bit vague by choosing a group, rather than species, in their tick-box criteria.

Sadly, the active input part of that project is now over (last entries were on 30th June) and I am guessing that the verification stage is now under way.

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Common Carder bumblebee on teasel

Well, that was fun, but what’s a citizen scientist to do now?

Happily, the annual BIG Butterfly Count run by Butterfly Conservation re-starts on 14th July and runs until early August, so there is not too long to wait for my next counting fix. Plus I feel much more confident in IDing butterflies.

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Will you be counting too?

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About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
This entry was posted in Bees, Nature, Science, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Out, for The Count

  1. pbmgarden says:

    What a great project. Your photos are amazing.

  2. Thank you for sharing such a worthwhile project. 😊

  3. Tina says:

    A great post and big kudos to you for participating. I’m impressed that you’re asked to differentiate the kinds of bees in a particular species. I’m woefully inept at that–I can certainly tell drone, worker, queen of my honeybees, but even telling gender in most of the native bees I see? No way! Beautiful photos and I look forward to your butterflies!

  4. FlowerAlley says:

    AMAZING!!!! I so love these photos. Great job.

  5. Sharon says:

    I lost count of the bees at RHS Hampton Court today.

  6. Eliza Waters says:

    I was wondering if there was a similar count over here … there must bee! 😉
    That photo of the pollen covered bee could be a contest winner – it’s awesome!

  7. Fantastic photos. Technology usually freaks me out, but when it can really help with wildlife observations I am all for it – keep sharing the links!

    • Thanks Cathy. I love seeing those citizen science maps develop as the counts/spots come in. Nature’s Calendar publish time-lapse first-sightings which are really interesting to watch.

  8. What a great way to get people involved, the map is very interesting. Fab photos!

  9. Sue says:

    Great photos, I really love that first one, it’s amazing. I just love citizen science! I participated in a bee count here in Australia a few months ago, but it included any insect you came across on the one plant/flower in a specified period of time and you could also include unidentified insects by giving a written description or include a photo. These events are not only enjoyable but you learn a lot too and are helping scientists with their recordings and research.

    • Thank you. The passion flower is grown from seed and flowering for the first time and I had no idea it was so popular with the pollinators. I totally agree with the you about the two-way learning benefits of these kinds of projects.

  10. Brian Skeys says:

    Great pictures, especially the pollen covered Bumble Bee.

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