For three years now, Tiffani has been invaluable in our effort to survey bumble bees in as many sites as possible across Ontario. These surveys are conducted in a narrow spring window when bumble bee queens are still emerging from hibernation and only beginning the search for a place to initiate a colony. Tiffani has quickly grown to love the rush of excitement and the challenging daily grind of these spring surveys, and her passion for bumble bee conservation has been evident in her dedication and commitment as a Crew Leader in the Thunder Bay region since 2018. We were elated when we found out she was interested in branching out and experiencing bumble bee surveys in a new light—read about Tiffani’s experience surveying for bumble bees in a new province, a new season, and using new methods!

Tiffani at her new “office” in Alberta, Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park [Photo © G Rowe]

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

After conducting my spring surveys in Thunder Bay in 2019, I earned the privilege of working in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park in Alberta for the summer and fall seasons. Surveys here were very different from what I was used to for many reasons, and they are how I began to experience bumble bee surveys in a new light. Here’s a look at three of the ways bumble bee surveys changed for me during my temporary move from Ontario to Alberta.

1. Easy-Breezy, Lemon-Squeezy

The perpetual panic we often feel surveying in the Thunder Bay region usually stems from a need to locate one specific species—the yellow-banded bumble bee—so that we can maintain our conservation breeding program. In Alberta, that panic doesn’t exist! While we are still dedicated to monitoring rare and at-risk species, our surveys in Alberta are conducted at a much easier pace in only three survey sites. I even recorded the yellow-banded bumble bee a few times despite this easy-breezy pace!

Left: Tiffani spending time taking in the view at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park and enjoying a new opportunity to observe bees passively [Photo © Unknown]. Right: Tiffani enjoying a new “easy-breezy” pace to surveys! [Photo © Unknown].

2. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

WPC’s spring survey efforts across Ontario are really designed to maximize survey coverage despite the narrow time window. Things in Alberta were VERY different—instead of visiting dozens of sites and only rarely revisiting any of them, I got to survey the same three sites within the Park at least once every week! This meant that instead of only getting a quick snapshot in time of the bumble bees in a site, I got to witness the gradual shift in plant species and bumble bee species in each site as the seasons passed.  

A photo showcasing some of the floral diversity at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park in the summer. Pictured are, shrubby cinquefoil, wild bergamot, harebell, and northern bedstraw. [Photo © T Harrison]

When I began my surveys in July, the three sites were seas of pinks and yellows, dominated by cinquefoil, rose, and bergamot. As time went by, the pinks began to dwindle and were replaced with the pale purple of smooth aster, but the goldenrod blooms intensified the yellow. The rest of the landscape, which was lush and green when I began, dried up and turned yellow and brittle. It was as if I was viewing the Park through a sepia-toned lens. Leaf litter began to cover the ground, and the seedpods of Canada thistle floated throughout the air like little snowflakes. Speaking of snowflakes, I even got to see the Park covered with a blanket of snow long before my Ontario blood was expecting it!

As for the shift in the bumble bee community, that was definitely a different experience for me because it was the first time that I had been surveying regularly throughout each shift in the bumble bee colony lifecycle. In my first few weeks of surveys I was still catching some queens even though I began in early summer.  Gradually, as I saw fewer queens with each survey day, I began to record more and more workers. Little bumble bees, in most cases miniature versions of their queens, flooded the Park’s rich floral resources, working hard to collect pollen for their growing colonies. As summer progressed further, I finally started to see males! I had only surveyed males once before my time in Alberta, so this was a new and exciting experience for me. Initially, I didn’t realize that what I was seeing were male bumble bees, looking quite different than their female counterparts; much lankier, with longer antennae, and much harder to identify because their colour patterns are highly variable. Since male bumble bees don’t have stingers, I could really get to know them up close without any hesitation, and the results? I absolutely fell in love! Adorably fuzzy and friendly, after surveys I’d plop them onto my legs, hands or even onto my nose for some fun photos and I’d admire them until they decided to take flight.

Tiffani having a fun photoshoot with male bumble bees after surveys. [Photo © T Harrison]

I got to know the males well, and in some cases to the point where I could quite accurately identify what species I was about to catch just based on his behaviour alone. From this, I got to witness first-hand the different behaviours that are common to certain species, behaviours like the highly active flight patterns of the red-belted and indiscriminate cuckoo bumble bees, or the tendency of the Nevada bumble bee to sit perched on top of a flower, chasing anything that flies by, or even atop my finger just to ramp up the cuteness even more!

A male Nevada bumble bee (Bombus nevadensis) perched atop Tiffani’s finger at the end of a survey. [Photo © T Harrison]

3. Intimate Moments With Royalty

What might have been the most rewarding part of conducting this new kind of survey was being able to monitor one specific tri-coloured bumble bee colony I had found at one of our sites. I never actually recorded the queen that established this colony, but I did get to see her hard workers regularly. Every once in a while, I would sit by the nest after a survey and just watch all the action. Worker after worker, they would fly out and disperse to the flowers around me, or they would fly in carrying pollen they had collected for the colony. I was even lucky enough to see two new queens (also known as gynes) sitting outside the nest! Watching one colony develop through every stage of their cycle was incredibly fulfilling as I knew that meant the colony had been successful.

Two tri-coloured bumble bee gynes outside their nest at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. [Photo © T Harrison]

Ultimately, my experience surveying in the summer and fall in Alberta was incredibly unique and rewarding in a whole new way. Although nothing quite compares to the rush of catching newly emerged queens across the province in the spring, I’ll admit that being able to monitor the same sites and colonies over time definitely had its perks too. I can’t wait for what’s in store next!”

—Tiffani Harrison

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tiffani has been a huge part of our program’s success in 2019, and we are glad to hear that she had a lot of fun along the way despite the hard work and dedication required of her in helping us to conserve and recover Canada’s bumble bees!

—The Bumble Bee Recovery Team