Wednesday, June 7, 2017


A few weeks ago, my wife and I participated in our first true BioBlitz. Previously we have participated in what was called a BioBlitz, but was more a park survey. The previous ones consisted of guided walks for the public that were also trying to collect species lists for the local park system to produce guides. And they lasted about 4 hours; an hour each for 4 categories.

This BioBlitz was 24 hours long with with at least 9 taxa groups out surveying the whole of Newport News Park. The park, one of the largest city parks east of the Mississippi, is over 8000 acres. Teams started at 1:00 pm Saturday and ended at 1:00 pm Sunday. We, or course, were part of the birding team; although my wife stuck around to help with insects of the night. More on that later.

I was with a group from the Old Dominion University Tick Lab. We explored a part of the park that the public seldom gets to. The area has a couple of power line cuts, several vernal ponds, and a remotely controlled airplane strip. Starting in the early afternoon on a warm late spring morning is not prime bird finding behavior. And the birds were doing well not to be found. But this is a BioBlitz, not a BirdBlitz, so we were happy to find this luna moth that was just emerging.
Emergent Luna Moth crawling across the ground

Emergent Luna Moth waiting it its wings to expand
How lucky were were to find it while it was still trying to find a place to pump up its wings.

This cricket frog and turtle gave us more herps than birds for a while.

We had collected a few species of birds, including a tufted titmouse making a most unusual call that stumped me for about 10 minutes, when we found this great horned owl sitting in the distance. I had to walk a ways off of the fire road to get this picture.

Interestingly, this was one of 4 owl individuals that were seen during the BioBlitz. We had a special owl walk scheduled for Saturday evening and got none seen or heard on that. We ended up with more frogs on the owl walk than owls. Birds can be so unpredictable.

The weather was odd that week with the temperature really dropping in the evening and wind picking up. As I mentioned, while I went on the owl walk, my wife stayed to help with the insects. Our local bug-guy had set up a white sheet with a bright light on it to attract night insects. But it was so cold and breezy that There wasn't much attracted to the sheets; just a bunch of tiny moths.The Oowl walk was also very slow. In fact, we got none. We did manage a couple of bats on the owl walk. One of the participants had a microphone that connected to her phone that picked up bat echolocation calls and could use the data from that to identify the species. It was a really cool set up.  One of the bats flew in close and we could see it in the dim evening light. A total of 7 bat species were identified (I don't think all at the owl walk). That's amazing.

Sunday, my wife and I headed out together in the Grafton Ponds section of the park. A place we have visited several times before.

We saw a lot of birds that were seen the previous day. The BioBlitz is focused on counting the number of species, not the number of individuals, that are found in the park. We enjoyed the repeat birds, especially ones that I didn't see the previous day, but we tried to keep moving to find new ones (my wife's team had much better luck with birds on Saturday getting 55 species to my teams 15). New ones Sunday included a red-headed woodpecker and summer tanager.

We also spied these mating insects (hanging scorpionflies).

Perhaps our best find was this:

We captured it in a plastic container and took it back to BioBlitz HQ. The bug-guy, who was doing all invertebrates, was over the moon. He was going to keep this leech for his classroom.

All told, the BioBlitz recorded over 600 species, people are still doing identifications on some of the invertebrates and plants that were collected. We had over 120 people participate. And for birds, we tallied 87 species. I had checked eBird and identified 95 species that had appeared in more than 5% of checklists for the city. Figuring some of the 95 are shorebirds and others with restricted habitats, we did well.

Here's looking forward to the next blitz.

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