Kicking Off Canadian Bumble Bee Watch Training Events!

During Pollinator Week this year (June 18th to 24th) multiple locations in Ontario and Alberta were buzzing with activity, including an assortment of Bumble Bee Watch citizen science training events led by Wildlife Preservation Canada (WPC).

Although anyone with a camera and internet access can participate in Bumble Bee Watch, a variety of projects are sprouting up throughout Canada and the United States to help give more direct guidance to keen volunteers looking to gain greater skills in bumble bee identification and collecting citizen science data. With the assistance of hands-on training in how to catch bumble bees and take high-quality photos, WPC’s passionate citizen scientists are helping collect important information about the abundance and diversity of bumble bees in important areas, including contributing observations of at-risk species.

WPC’s Native Pollinator Initiative staff have led many activities this summer, including classroom sessions, hands-on training courses, information presentations, and “train-the-trainer” events for organizations interested in hosting their own volunteer survey programs. Check out some of the highlights below!


With care and some simple training, it is easy to catch bumble bees and take photos for Bumble Bee Watch. (Photo by Julia Millen, Alberta Environment and Parks.)


Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, Alberta

Glenbow Ranch is a beautiful and unique park located where the Rocky Mountain foothills meet prairie grasslands. It is both a protected area and a working ranch—with free-roaming cattle! Over 50 people participated in a series of sessions in which they learned how to identify bumble bees and help collect data on the diverse pollinator populations that call Glenbow Ranch home.

The training began with classroom sessions during weekday evenings at a local library, where volunteers received an introduction to native bee conservation and the chance to practice bumble bee identification skills using regionally based materials developed specifically for the citizen science program.

These culminated in hands-on training on a day of beautiful sunshine at the park, perfect for catching bumble bees. Participants learned how to safely catch individuals in a net, transfer them into clear plastic vials, and take photos of them to submit to Bumble Bee Watch. All newly trained citizen scientists then had the opportunity to practice their skills by catching and identifying bumble bees, locating eight different species in just a few hours!

Observations included the two form bumble bee (Bombus bifarius), tri-coloured bumble bee (Bombus ternarius), central bumble bee (Bombus centralis), indiscriminate cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus insularis), frigid bumble bee (Bombus frigidus), Hunt’s bumble bee (Bombus huntii), Nevada bumble bee (Bombus nevadensis), and—an extra-exciting find!—the yellow-banded bumble bee (Bombus terricola). Although Glenbow Ranch was selected as a target location for the program because of the presence of the western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis), a threatened species that has declined rapidly since the mid-1990s, the yellow-banded bumble bee is a species of special concern in Canada that is quite rare in southern Alberta. It has never before been observed at Glenbow Ranch. With the help of volunteers, we now have confirmed two rare bumble bees within park boundaries.


Sarah Johnson, Wildlife Preservation Canada’s lead pollinator biologist, talking to some future citizen scientists about what the training programs entail. (Photo courtesy Wildlife Preservation Canada.)


Participants learning the different bumble bee species. Flashcards made is easier to memorize the small details. (Photo courtesy Wildlife Preservation Canada.)


Once a bumble bee is in your net, how can you get it into a vial for up-close viewing? Sarah Johnson of Wildlife Preservation Canada demonstrates vial-transferring techniques. (Photo by Julia Millen, Alberta Environment and Parks.)


Team effort trying to transfer a bumble bee to a vial and put on the cap, with all ages of citizen scientists participating! (Photo by Julia Millen, Alberta Environment and Parks.)


Newly trained citizen scientists honing their skills on the hunt for bumble bees in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. (Photo by Julia Millen, Alberta Environment and Parks.)


The yellow-banded bumble bee (Bombus terricola) queen observed during training, the first record of this declining species at Glenbow Ranch! (Photo by Julia Millen, Alberta Environment and Parks.)


Pinery Provincial Park, Ontario

Pinery Provincial Park is a longer drive from any large city center, and thus, WPC typically holds a single training event with both classroom and hands-on components on the same day. Unfortunately, events are pre-scheduled and dependent on weather, and the first training session was rained out (bumble bees aren’t very good at swimming) and has been rescheduled for (hopefully) sunnier skies. However, over a dozen dedicated participants attended the presentation component of the training, getting a crash course in bumble bee identification and program protocols.

In a few weeks, after the newly minted citizen scientists have been fully briefed in all aspects of how to catch and photograph bumble bees for the Pinery program, participants can sign up for independent survey slots throughout the summer, with plenty of location options throughout the park to choose from! They will then be free to begin their intensive search for the elusive rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis). Pinery Park is the last place this bee was seen in Canada, in 2009, but there is renewed hope every year that with the help of citizen scientists we can relocate populations that have been lost.


Regional identification postcard for south-central Ontario, used for multiple citizen science training workshops held throughout the area.


Pinery Provincial Park site map. The whole park has been broken down into sets of survey locations for volunteers to target, each pre-scouted for high-quality bumble bee habitat.


Get Involved!

Wildlife Preservation Canada’s citizen science programs strive to create a national community that is dedicated to preserving and protecting bumble bee species, and we hope that expansion of the train-the-trainer program will complement already well-established projects at Pinery Provincial Park and Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.

If you live in Alberta, Ontario, or elsewhere in Canada, and are interested in getting involved or supporting growth in any of the above programs, just send us an email. Happy bee hunting!



By Sarah Johnson, Wildlife Preservation Canada