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Takin’ Care of Beesinus: United States Native Bee Facts, Threats and Conservation

June 11th, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Becky Moore, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort.

Nearly everyone is familiar with the image and idea of a bee. The black and yellow character from Honey Nut Cheerios perhaps, happily making honey in buzzing hives. However, what most people do not realize is that there is a vast, diverse and complicated world of bees outside the classic honeybee, most of which goes largely unnoticed. In fact, there are over 20,000 species of bees worldwide, over 4,000 of which are found in North America. About 600 native species can be found in the state of Washington.

Our honeybee friend is actually not among these; this domesticated species was introduced to North America from Europe in 1640. The majority of native bees in the US are small, solitary species, most of which do not fit any of the classic images people may think of.     

A beautiful metallic green bee (Augochloropsis metallica) visiting a flower. Image courtesy of WikiCommons

These bees have an average size of about 1cm long and live, nest, and feed completely on their own. Females forage to create enough provisions to feed their young, which they encase individually in carefully crafted cells. There are 5 major families of bees, each of which has their own methods of nesting. Some of these tiny solitary bees are miners, digging tunnels underground. Some are leafcutters, lining their nests with perfectly round leaf cutouts, some are masons, creating their nests out of mud and clay, and still others are carpenters, boring holes into wood to lay their eggs. Young bees hatch in the fall, hibernate over the winter, and emerge in spring to mate, begin foraging, and create their own nests, starting the cycle over. Many of these bee species are specialist feeders, meaning that they have co-evolved with specific species or families of flowers and are highly adapted to pollinate them the most effectively. Such plant species would not be able to survive without certain bee species.

» Continue reading Takin’ Care of Beesinus: United States Native Bee Facts, Threats and Conservation

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Springing into Learning: Graduate Spring Natural History Retreat

June 9th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

At the Institute, the graduate students of the 15th cohort (C15) have been hard at work this past year teaching Mountain School, assisting in adult programs and visiting non-profits, all while finishing assignments and trying to find some sleep! Every season though, the graduate students leave all that behind to learn from experts in the field and be fully immersed into the wilderness of the North Cascades. Last fall we worked with beavers and hawks. In the winter we dived into snow ecology and wolverines. Just last week, we ventured out on our last natural history retreat where we tracked our natural neighbors, captured native bees and kept up with all of the birds!

Tracking

Our first stop was with author, photographer and educator David Moskowitz. Since the fall we as a cohort had been using his book Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest as our go-to guide on all things tracking. Having a class with the man himself was an experience all its own.

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Using some of our newly acquired tracking skills.

» Continue reading Springing into Learning: Graduate Spring Natural History Retreat

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Cascadian Farm: It all started in the Skagit!

May 10th, 2016 | Posted by in Field Excursions

While shopping around your local grocery store, you might have seen projects in the organic section with the brand title “Cascaidan Farm Organic: Founded in the Skagit Valley, WA since 1972.” The products can be found in stores nation wide. Last week, however, I took a bicycling adventure to the Roadside Stand of the farm. It serves not only as a great place to get snacks on a long road trip, but also serves as an environmental education tool in the valley.

I’ll let them tell their founding story:

The story of Cascadian Farm begins with the story of our founder, Gene Kahn. 40 years ago, Gene was an idealistic 24-year old grad-school dropout from Chicago, who just wanted to make a difference in the world. He recognized the delicate balance between nature and humans. Inspired by reading “Silent Spring” and “Diet For A Small Planet”, Gene wanted to go back to the land and farm in a way that would not harm the natural beauty of the earth or her inhabitants. So he set out to farm organically on a little stretch of land next to the Skagit River in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. –Cascadian Farm

That farm grew and grew over the years into the powerhouse it is today. You can take a virtual tour of their whole farm to see how they work in and with the landscape.

My little excursion started last Saturday in the bright, sunny afternoon. Biking about eight miles from the Blue House Farm, I reminisced on my first experience with stand; last summer within the first few weeks of my graduate residency. Since it is closed during the winter months, I peddled with great anticipation to experience Cascadian Farm again.

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Blue Berries not quite ready to be picked.

» Continue reading Cascadian Farm: It all started in the Skagit!

orchard mason bee

Mason Bees and Honey Bees: What’s the Difference?

July 27th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Kevin Sutton

There were some things I knew about bees when starting this project; what I didn’t know was exactly how much I didn’t know.

When someone says “bees”, I immediately think of the western honeybee (Apis mellifera).  Maybe it’s because of the honey bee’s depiction in popular culture (see Honey Nut Cheerios) or maybe it’s because of the long relationship between humans and bees.

Humans have been trying to domesticate honey bees for thousands of years; evidence has been found in cave paintings in Spain,Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
hieroglyphs in Egypt, on coins in Greece, and more and it makes sense; bees give us honey, wax, and all of our food through pollinating our crops.

The term wild bee is used for those species that don’t produce honey.  There are 20,000 species of bee in the world, 4,000 native to North America, and 600 native to Washington alone.  With such daunting numbers, I focused on one particular native bee, the orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria).

While similar to A. mellifera in size and shape, O. lignaria differs in coloring, some physical attributes (fig. 1), and most significantly, social structure:

O. lignaria A. mellifera
Metallic blue/green Classic yellow and black striped
Nest in tubes, holes, hollow reeds, etc. Builds a hive of wax
Solitary but will live near other mason bees Social: lives in colonies up to 70,000
Each female lays eggs Only the queen lays eggs
Average range of 100 yards Average range of two miles
250 – 300 bees sufficient to pollinate 1 acre one hive per acre (30,000 – 70,000 bees)
Gathers pollen by stuffing it between hairs on abdomen Gathers pollen by storing it in specially adapted pockets on the rear legs
Stores pockets of pollen between larva Turns pollen into honey and stores for winter
Eggs hatch in summer, larva hibernate through winter, emerge as bees in spring, repeat Eggs regularly tended, hive comes together during winter (like penguins), become more active in spring

 

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For my project, I wanted to see if there were mason bees at the North Cascades Institute.  To do that, I constructed two mason bee houses and stashed them in a rock wall near my house.  Each house is made of the same materials (wood for a base, support, and backing and a compressed cardboard tube for the shell) but the internal pieces, where the Mason Bees will hopefully nest, are different.  The interior nesting holes in house one are made from commercially drilled slats of wood that have been taped together, while the nesting holes in house two are from pieces of bamboo I cut, dried, and tied together (fig. 2).

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I put the houses outside on May 15, 2015 but as of this writing, June 12, 2015, there is no sign of use.  My research said most mason bees are actively laying eggs in early April and with the unusually early and warm spring we’ve had, I expect the process began much earlier than that.  Both houses will stay up until September when I transfer to Bellingham and if nothing else, will try again in March 2016 when I return to my house and garden in Portland, OR.

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The Trifecta: C14’s Last Natural History Retreat

June 21st, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

For the members of Cohort 14, everything is starting to come full circle. The Learning Center looks as it looked when we arrived last July: Pyramid’s faces are bare, Sourdough Creek has slowed to a trickle, the air is warm, and the winds are strong. Many things have changed in the intervening seasons. We taught two seasons of Mountain School, the latter of which ended just one week ago, completed final projects, and attended our last natural history retreat. As I have remarked in previous blog posts (and to anyone I talk to), these retreats have been one of the highlights of this graduate residency. They are a break from our hectic teaching schedule, a chance to reconnect as a cohort, and an opportunity to learn from passionate naturalists and scientists.

While our fall and winter retreats took us to the Methow Valley, we expanded our reach on our spring trip, traveling up to the Sinlahekin Valley. En route, we camped in Winthrop to hike up Tiffany Mountain. On Monday May 25th we hiked up about a mile before meeting large hail and stormy skies.
Foreboding skies over Tiffany.

Tiffany Hail
A sample of the hail

» Continue reading The Trifecta: C14’s Last Natural History Retreat

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Chasing Winter: A Natural History Retreat

February 28th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

One of the highlights of this my time in this graduate program so far (seven months!) has been our seasonal natural history retreats. In the fall, Cohort 14 went over to the Methow Valley, which is quickly becoming our favorite place, and spent a week camping outside of Winthrop. We hiked, explored, skinned deer at the start of hunting season with Katie Russell, learned about the Methow Beaver Project, and counted migratory raptors with Kent Woodruff of the Chelan Ridge Raptor Migration Project, part of Hawkwatch International.

From February 2nd through the 6th (or 8th, for some of us), we tucked ourselves away in the woods near Early Winters Campground in Mazama, WA, and ventured into the snow each day to learn new skills and enjoy one of the few places in the state where winter seemed to be in full swing.

Monday

Most of us don’t arrive until the evening. How cruel of a joke it seems to be that we drive for eight hours from Diablo… only to end up just 50 miles away from the Environmental Learning Center. We rejoiced, however, when we crossed Stevens Pass and saw snow for the first time in weeks. It gave us a taste of the winter wonderland that awaited us in the Methow Valley. But our restless legs were soothed by the sight of fat, fluffy snowflakes falling on a silent stretch of Highway 20 once we traveled west out of Twisp. The whole van fell silent: mesmerized by the calm.

» Continue reading Chasing Winter: A Natural History Retreat

Butterflies and Bee Bowls – Citizen Science in the North Cascades

October 4th, 2012 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Now that it is autumn, I find myself reflecting on all of the incredible Citizen Science opportunities of this past summer season. I remember that with summer came the presence of some of the most beautiful creatures – butterflies! The Cascades Butterfly Project is just one of North Cascades Institute’s numerous Citizen Science projects that are presented in conjunction with North Cascades National Park Complex (NOCA) for individuals interested in assisting in valuable scientific research and giving back to their public lands through volunteer work.

During the height of this past summer, Cascades Butterfly Project volunteers participated in a free training that focused on identification and introduced them to the most common species of butterflies found in the North Cascades. After the initial training, everyone went outside to test some of the field research techniques in order to get comfortable with the process. Then, throughout the summer, happy volunteers were out walking transect lines to collect data at various locations throughout NOCA and Mount Rainier National Park (MORA).

In early August, I had the chance to participate in one of these butterfly field days at Cascade Pass. It just happened to be one of those days in the North Cascades that turns out to be absolutely perfect! Great weather, sunshine, low wind, and, to top it all off, really awesome people. The process of identifying butterflies while they are “on the wing” is actually quite fun, and the butterfly researchers from the Park were able to do it with no problem. There were two groups of us walking a transect line that follows the Sahale Arm Trail, butterfly nets in hand, making an entertaining spectacle of ourselves for fellow hikers! The first group saw 18 butterflies and the second group found 23! Most of them were only identified to species, but that alone can tell us so much.

» Continue reading Butterflies and Bee Bowls – Citizen Science in the North Cascades