We’re buzzing with excitement about Pollinator Week! Let’s celebrate (and help pollinators out) by going on a virtual walk with bumble bee expert Elizabeth Braatz.

Elizabeth Braatz on a Field Trip hike, holding a camera.

Elizabeth Braatz on an NRF Field Trip hike at Rush Creek State Natural Area, holding a camera. Photo by Marc Williams

Happy Pollinator Week!

What better way to celebrate Pollinator Week than by going on a bumble bee walk? I’ll be your guide. I’m Elizabeth Braatz, the Bumble Bee Brigade Coordinator and Terrestrial Insect Ecologist with the Department of Natural Resources. We run the Bumble Bee Brigade, a participatory science program that relies on people like you to submit bumble bees to the DNR website.

First, let’s check the weather outside. Becoming a bumble bee observer is a great choice for nature lovers who enjoy sleeping in, because the best days and times to look for pollinators are beautiful, warm, sunny days. Although, I’ve actually seen bees after a rain, too. They get really wet and bedraggled – it’s quite funny – but sunny days will get you more bees.

Bedraggled male Lemon cuckoo bumble bees (Bombus citrinus) after a rain.

Bedraggled male lemon cuckoo bumble bees (Bombus citrinus) after a rain. Photo by Elizabeth Braatz

Is it sunny? Warm? Now that sounds like a perfect day for a walk. Grab a camera and a water bottle, and let’s go. Don’t worry if you don’t have a fancy camera – cell phones work just fine. Next, we need to decide on a place to go. Think of your local neighborhood. Where can you find flowers? This could be your yard, a local garden, a state park, or more. Head over to that area and keep your eyes open for bumble bees. Some flowers are especially attractive to them (and can be planted in your own yard) – check out this guide for some recommendations!

Fun fact – the plants in this guide were determined thanks to data from the Bumble Bee Brigade data collected by people like you. You can find even more suggestions on bumble bee habitat under our Resources page under “Conservation.”

Wait – did you see that? A round, fuzzy critter, flying fast and buzzing – we found our first bumble bee! And there’s another one! And another! Quick, photograph them!

blurry photo of a bumble bee

Not one of my better bee photos. Photo by Elizabeth Braatz

Oops. That’s OK. You don’t have to be an expert photographer to be a wonderful conservationist and Bumble Bee Brigade volunteer. I think I see another one. Let’s try again.

This time, focus on only one bee at a time. Try getting your phone or camera ready, going to a patch of flowers, and waiting until the bee lands. Also, try taking a series of photos – some cameras allow you to take a ‘burst’ of several photos at once if you hold down the photo button. You can even try taking a video, and then taking screenshots of that video. Try to get shots of that bee’s face, back, and side (example below). This is easier said than done, so no worries if you can’t always do it. However, it does make identification much easier later. To help keep photos of the same bee separate from photos of other bees, try taking a ‘spacer’ photo of the sky (or a selfie!) after you finish taking photos of each bee.

Collage of images to show different angles to photograph a bumble bee for species identification, on it's back, side, and face

Example of a bee with its back, side, and face photographed to help with later identification. Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Braatz

Great job! We found a bee on a flower and got some good photos!

Bumble bee on a pink flower

A bumble bee on a pink flower. Photo by Elizabeth Braatz

After we’ve gotten all the bee photos we want and filled up half our phone space with bees, it’s time to head back and view our haul. Grab a comfortable seat. Get yourself a cup of tea or coffee. These steps aren’t mandatory, but they’re highly recommended.

To enter our bees, let’s create an account with a name and email, click the green button to ‘add data’, and put in where we found our bees and photos of each bee species you found. There’s a helpful video on how to upload things to the Bumble Bee Brigade website here.

Screenshot of sign in page for WI Bumble Bee Brigade

This screenshot shows where to log in to enter bumble bee data, or create a new account (circled)

Now, it’s time to educate ourselves. Check out our resources page here or this free online bee ID guide here and take a look at your photos. Does your bee have red on it? Is it all yellow? Do you have no idea? Take your best guess and enter it into the Bumble Bee Brigade website. It’s OK to make mistakes. You can also share your finds with friends on the Wisconsin Bumble Bee Observers Facebook Group and then enter your best bees. 

I have a good feeling about that bee we found – it had a reddish “rusty” patch on its back, so it might be an endangered rusty patched bumble bee! One thing to keep in mind is to only enter a single individual bee for each observation you enter. It can get really confusing for the DNR verifiers when you have many different bees in the same observation. Also, please crop the photo so the bee is easy to see.

The next step is waiting. This part is not part of our bumble bee experience today, so go ahead and do whatever you’d like now!

Finally, after a couple weeks, it’s time to check back on our bee submissions – they’ve been verified!

Screenshot of a verified bee observation on the WI Bumble Bee Brigade website

A verified bee observation (screenshot). Huge shout out to Bumble Bee Brigade team member Judy Cardin, who verifies most of our bees!

We were right! The bee we found was an endangered rusty patched bumble bee. Great find! Check out this neat wild fact video on them.

This data will be used by the Department of Natural Resources to improve our understanding, management, and conservation activities of Wisconsin bumble bees. Specifically, we use it to improve statewide conservation and management of bumblebees, impact habitat management plans, improve national conservation of the Rusty patched bumble bee by sharing data with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, assist with conservation grants, and assist with research.

Now, have a very happy Pollinator Week and go on your own Bumble Bee Walk!

Guest blogger

Guest blogger

Elizabeth Braatz (she/her/hers)

Bumble Bee Brigade Coordinator and Terrestrial Insect Ecologist with the Wisconsin DNR

Elizabeth loves running around looking for bugs, and encouraging other people to do the same for participatory science. Prior to joining the WI DNR, Elizabeth worked for five years in Florida as a Conservation Technician.

Want to get involved with the Bumble Bee Brigade?

Other ways you can help pollinators

Helping bees and other pollinators

The Natural Resources Foundation is proud to have supported the Bumble Bee Brigade program for the past five years through our Wisconsin Pollinator Protection Fund. The Wisconsin Pollinator Protection Fund supports pollinator habitat creation, research, education, and outreach efforts. Additionally, NRF partners with many groups across the state to create and enhance pollinator habitat, such as local nature centers, land trusts, community organizations, schools, and farms. We also partner with Wisconsin State Parks and other WDNR properties through the Pollinators in the Parks program. We are a proud supporter of the Wisconsin Monarch Collaborative, which is helping recover the monarch butterfly. NRF supports community science programs, such as the Integrated Monarch Monitoring Program, Journey North, and, of course, Bumble Bee Brigade!

Thank you to NRF’s members for supporting Wisconsin’s pollinators!