HOW TO BEE HUNT
I am no longer satisfied with simply going for a walk or a hike. These activities are now something much more exciting—they are ‘Bee Hunts’! Each stroll in the neighborhood or hike through the canyon is an opportunity to search for native bees and other fascinating pollinators. Read on to find out how you, too, can transform an average walk into an exciting bee excursion.
What You’ll Need
One of the beautiful things about this activity is that you don’t need anything to do it. You can bring whatever you’d normally bring with you on a walk and simply use your eyes and ears and enjoy the fleeting encounters you’ll have with the bees you find, but if you’re like me, you might have more fun if you catalog your finds.
Cell Phone- I always attempt to photograph the bees I find. Not only because I love photography, but because it is a useful way to identify what species I am seeing. The good news is you don’t need a fancy camera for this. Cell phone cameras will work great. Just make sure to get the bee in focus and try to get shots of it from multiple angles. This will make it easier to identify the bee later.
Macro attachment– Although, it’s not necessary, you might enjoy having the option of getting a closer image of your bee. There are many simple phone attachment lenses that are small and easy to bring with you, but they do take practice to master. You must get VERY close to the bee to get it in focus.
Olympus TG6– If you want to upgrade your photography, you might enjoy this fun, durable point and shoot camera. I love it because it takes high quality photos while also being compact enough to carry in my pocket. It also has special macro settings!
Notebook/Sketchbook- If you want a more contemplative method, you might like to keep written record of your finds. Consider noting not just the type of bee, but also the time of year, what kind of flower they were spotted on and any interesting behaviors. This information could be especially useful to anyone who want to plant for pollinators at home.
Butterfly Net– I never net my finds because I prefer to observe them in a natural state, but some bees are easily spooked or otherwise fly so fast that they cannot be observed. In these instances, I sometimes wish I had a net with me!
Identification Guide- It can be tough to figure out what you’re seeing when you first start bee hunting, but that’s part of the fun! Start with my article on how to recognize bees and when you’re ready to go deeper, there’s no better guide than the book, The Bees In Your Backyard. When I can’t find my answers there I often consult Entomology Facebook groups or submit my photo to iNaturalist and wait for someone to submit their I.D. there. If you want to practice your identifcation skills, be sure to check out my game, Pollinator Popcorn. It will help you improve your identification skills while also having fun.
How To Find Bees
You might be wondering how to actually find bees once you’ve set out on your Bee Hunt. Bees are, afterall, very small and hard to spot from a distance. Luckily, you don’t have to strain your eyes in search of flying bees instead, look for flowers. Bees are attracted to areas with large groups of the same flower type. So, you are most likely to find bees on a lawn that is covered in flowering dandelions versus a singular dandelion growing between sidewalk cracks.
When you come across a grouping of flowers, now the hunt begins. Take your time observing the area. Sometimes the flowers will be buzzing with obvious bee traffic, other times they will seem empty, but if you remain still and watchful, you’ll notice tiny buzzing bees.
As you become more experienced, you’ll begin to recognize the best types of flowers for spotting bees. You may also learn that certain flowers attract certain kinds of bees. In San Diego, for example, I have learned that the Golden Dewdrop shrub (Duranta Erecta) nearly always has bumble bees visiting it.
I have also learned that certain places are especially bee-rich at certain times of year. In spring, for example, I like to go on Bee Hunts in the Balboa Park cactus garden in search of cactus bees (Diadasia) who specialize in pollinating cacti. In late summer, I move my search to another part of the park, the Lily Pond, which usually has metallic green bees, bumble bees and long-horned bees visiting the surrounding flowers. Bee Hunts are a great excuse to get out and explore different parts of your city. Start by reseraching local botanical gardens or parks.
Involve the Kids
It’s also worth noting that bee hunts are an excellent way to spend time with the kids in your life and educate them about the importance of bees. Make sure you check out my new kid-friendly online class All About Bees and/or my book, The Little Book of Bees, first to give your bee hunts some educational context.
Then print out this fun, free Pollinator Scavenger Hunt activity sheet. It’s sure to get the kids in your life even more excited.