Category Archives: Plants & Animals

In the News: Ice Age Leafcutter Bee Fossils At La Brea Tar Pits

The La Brea Tar Pits in California are known for saber-toothed cats and mastodons but they also have insects. Recent examination of fossil leafcutter bee nest cells, led by Anna Holden of Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and colleagues, reveal insights into the habitat and climate at the La Brea Tar Pits toward the last Ice Age.

Learn more here: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/la-brea-tar-pits-yield-exquisite-ice-age-bees

Mason Bee Experiment – 2014 – Post #2

Mason Bee Hotel
‘Bee Hotel’ placed facing east on April 8, 2014, against post supporting deck. Architectural shingle used to prove additional rain protection.

After getting rained out yesterday, we got the bee hotel placed today. April 8 is later in the year than we originally intended, but we’ll see whether we are too late soon enough. We first put the blocks under the screened porch, where they would be out of the rain entirely, but decided it would be hard to see them there when the plants start growing. So we decided to move the hotel to a more open area under the deck. Both locations face east, which matters because — according to our reading — young bees emerge and need sunlight to ‘get them going.’

We added a shingle to provide more protection from the elements, and weighted it down with rocks and two bricks. We had to use a hoe to level the ground beneath the base block, which left some exposed mud. If bees move in, it seems reasonable that they’ll use the closest mud to start building. The mud is nice and dark, so it will be easy to find some lighter-colored mud that we can leave in a tray. If they have two choices, both of which are equally convenient, we can observe whether the bees prefer one color over the other.

Mason Bee Experiment – 2014 – Post #1

Mason Bee House
Bamboo canes, trimmed and packed into a cider block.

Pack the tubes into your container as tightly as you can. It may take a little effort to work in the final few.
Read about a simple way to make a bee hotel yourself.
During the winter we looked at an easy way to build a “bee hotel” to attract solitary bees to your garden. Solitary bees — mason bees are the most well known — do a super job pollinating fruits, vegetables and flowers and don’t like to sting. They build nests in long narrow holes that they find already made in their environment. These holes could be hollow plant stems or holes drilled by woodpeckers and insects in wood. The bees use mud to build chambers in the holes, then lay an egg in each chamber. Before sealing up the chamber, they leave a dab of pollen and nectar in each for the larva to eat when it hatches.

Now that spring has finally arrived, we’re going to put out a simple bee hotel and see if we can, in fact, get bees to move into it. If they do, we’ll follow their progress and see what we can learn as we go. If they don’t we’ll go back to the drawing board and see if we can figure out where we went wrong.

First things first. We wanted to make our bee hotel stable, so we went with a very stable and simple design that should be easy enough for anyone to replicate. We used the round collection of canes we made in the winter and placed it in one side of a cinder block, then filled around with additional canes. We filled the second side, which took a lot more time without the head start. As you can see from the picture above, it’s hard to fill all the space because the canes jam on each other when you try to slide them in. You can buy cardboard tubes that are uniform, but we like to use supplies we find around the garage when we can.

We’ll put our bee hotel out tomorrow and document it in its southeast-facing location. Then we’ll wait…

Backyard Science — Counting Birds at the Feeder

In the 1970s, the Eurasian collared dove was introduced to the Bahamas. The Great Backyard Bird Count has helped track its spread across North America. (Photo: lruka under a Creative Commons license)
In the 1970s, the Eurasian collared dove was introduced to the Bahamas. The Great Backyard Bird Count has helped track its spread across North America. (Photo: lruka under a Creative Commons license)

Science is based on observation, so it makes sense that sometimes the scientific community needs a few extra pairs of eyes and ears. The Great Backyard Bird Count is one of the largest “citizen science” projects in the world.

Citizen Science projects allow researchers to organize interested people around the world to help with some sort of research project. They are normally organized online. One example is a project that asks volunteers to look at pictures of distant galaxies and click a button if they recognize patterns of star distribution, such as a spiral pattern. Telescopes photograph hundreds of thousands of galaxies and it turns out that humans can recognize their patterns much faster than computers!

The Great Backyard Bird Count is different in that instead of asking volunteers to look at professionally-collected data, it asks volunteers around the world to make their own observations and report them back to the project. It takes place each February and asks volunteers to watch their bird feeders for at least 15 minutes sometime during a particular four-day period.

Scientists use the reports to calculate worldwide distributions of bird populations. In 2013, Great Backyard Bird Count participants in more than 100 countries counted 17,748,756 birds on 144,109 checklists, documenting 4,296 species. You can be sure that the researchers are glad they weren’t expected to count that many birds without help!

Another great thing about the Great Backyard Bird Count is that it is easy for kids to participate, either at home or as a school project. The project dates for 2015 are already set, but you don’t have to wait until then to roll up your sleeves and pitch in. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society has launched a great web site where you can set up an account and start honing your bird-watcher skills right now.

Check it out at eBird.org: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/

On eBird, your family or school can keep lists of all the birds seen throughout the year, as well as learn what birds other folks are seeing. There are great resources to help you identify birds and learn more about them. Your observations will be added to the observations of thousands of other birdwatchers and will make up part of the ever-expanding data set being used by researchers to understand how birds move around.

Use eBird to develop your bird-watching muscles, and you’ll be more than ready to go next February when the next Great Backyard Bird Count takes place.

Can't tell a sparrow from a thrush? No problem. Build your knowledge with help from the experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology by using their All About Birds web site.
Can’t tell a sparrow from a thrush? No problem. Build your knowledge with help from the experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology by using their All About Birds web site.
Check Out the Great Backyard Bird Count's listing of Top Tens. This site show you the ten most commonly observed bird species using pictures submitted by GBBC participants.
Check Out the Great Backyard Bird Count’s listing of Top Tens. This site show you the ten most commonly observed bird species using pictures submitted by GBBC participants.