Sunday, August 2, 2015

Our First BioBlitz

On Friday July 31, my wife and I joined the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance's pilot BioBlitz at Bennett's Creek Park in Suffolk, VA. For those not in the know, a BioBlitz is an intense survey of wildlife, usually to make a catalog of animals, plants, insects, etc. living in a region.  This particular event was aimed at starting a field guide to wildlife in Suffolk to promote tourism. NRPA plans several more in the coming years at other parks and locations around town.

Pair of Spotted Sandpipers
Approximately 20 people showed up to participate. This event was also being used as an outreach event so instead of splitting us into teams focused on different biological orders, we were scheduled to spend an hour on birds, plant life, insects, and aquatic life. The bird expert they had scheduled ended up stuck in traffic (not that uncommon in Hampton Roads) so we started off without them. Sharon and I stepped up and helped out the back-up leader. We had done a little background research using eBird and the park had not been actively birded in the past. There were only a few checklists submitted and most had just a handful of birds. And the start of the walk was exceedingly slow. The highlight was a lone Great Egret across the creek. A few heard birds added to the list but not the groups enjoyment. Finally we came out of the the wooded area to a large field and found the birds. In addition to the typical mowed-lawn birds, like mockingbird and grackles, we had a few eastern bluebirds, barn swallows and a great crested flycatcher. We ended the walk at the boat dock were we flushed a spotted sandpiper who flew across the creek, circled around a bit, picked up a buddy, and the both landed on a downed tree on the far side of the creek. The most unexpected bird of the day and pleasantly good views.

Searching for Marsh Grasses
We then turned our attention to plants and trees. We had a professor and doctoral student leading the walk. We started with a really old cypress tree and some of the other plants and trees that surrounded it. The student guide, Peter, walked out into the marsh and collected several plant species to show covering the range of grass, sedge, and rush. This walk brought many more questions than the bird walk; perhaps due to the tie to gardening. We also found a couple of fragrant plants and passed those around. As that hour wound down we received news that the insect leader would not be attending. So the leaders decided to continue on with the botany talk but also the group would try and point out any insects they could identify. This was a little disappointing to Sharon and myself as that was the second most interested walk to us. Sharon did start us off well with spotting this red-spotted purple butterfly. We saw a few other things but most everyone's attention was on the plants. We discovered later that a small group of knowledgeable people had splintered off and identified a few dozen insects. We wish we had known and would have joined them.

Red-spotted Purple Butterfly
The final walk was aquatic life. A couple of people had a sieve net that they put in the water at the boat dock and scooped up some fish, crabs, shrimp, and oyster shells. There was really a pretty limited diversity here. Perhaps due to the warm temperatures in the creek as well as the limited survey area. As the water temperature rises, the oxygen level falls so many fish move to deeper waters to stay cool and have access to more oxygen.

Amongst the participants were three newspaper reports. The organizers must have done an excellent job promoting the event. The large turnout is testament to that as well.  Here are the two articles in the Virginian-Pilot and the Suffolk News-Herald. Something to add to our scrapbooks. There's been talk of the master naturalist chapter that I am part of doing a BioBlitz. If so, I will return to the topic again.

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