Looking for native stingless bees takes practice. It is an exercise in mindfulness. They don’t hide from us; it is just that they are so small we don’t usually take notice of them.
Take your time. Carefully and patiently take in your environment, using all your senses. Even one bee in flight can alert you to a hive entrance, or perhaps you hear a whir of wings, or notice a dense honey smell that signals a hive nearby.
Make a habit of checking the flowering plants around you; view them at different times during the day if you can. This will give you a great insight into the pollinators you have in that area.
One good way to practise insect spotting is to stand in the shade of a tree, and gradually scan the sides of the trunk and branches for movement in the halo of sunlight.
If you see a stingless bee, its hive is within a 500 metre radius of that spot. Do a 380-degree turn, asking yourself – ‘If I was a bee, where would I make my home in this environment?’ Bees in nature make their hives in rock crevices up high or on the ground, in hollow branches and tree trunks, termite mounds, earth banks, and even bull skulls! Bees living around people make their hives in walls, doors, under cement flooring or footpaths – in any hollow object really that will offer some protection.
If you are not sure what insect you are looking at (remembering there are about 2000 solitary Australian bees and many other insect pollinators), catch one with a butterfly net and take a photo on your smart phone through a clear glass jar. Post your photo to Facebook groups such as Bee Aware of your Native Bees or Australian Native Bees and someone will magically come back with identification within a day.
Remember the solitary bees can sting, as can wasps of course, so handle insects carefully!
If you own a hive, keep observing your hive and get used to recognising your bees in flight, in and around the hive. This practice will help you spot them elsewhere. It will help train your eyes and senses to recognise them.
Note when your bees are active and when they are not. When they are active it is a good time to practice looking for them in the garden or out bush. (If your bees are active then the wild ones will most likely also be active.) The bees go through stages of being less active in cooler weather and when pollen and nectar supplies are low or of a poorer quality, like at the end of a hot day and during times of the year when food is scarce.
I am always happy to chat about any of the above. Happy hunting and bee good!