Published July 20, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “BioBlitz finds birds, butterflies, bees, bats and more.”
By Barb Gorges
“A BioBlitz is a 24-hour event in which teams of volunteers, scientists, families, students, teachers, and other community members work together to find and identify as many species of plants, animals, microbes, fungi and other organisms as possible.” National Geographic Society
Microbes?! No one went looking for microbes during the Wyoming BioBlitz.
It was held last month on the longest day of the year at The Nature Conservancy’s Red Canyon Ranch near Lander. And hopefully, no one took home any unwanted microbes.
But we did find lots of other life. More than 70 people participated: putting out pollinator traps, extracting birds from mist nets, bouncing over a mountain meadow after butterflies and bees, dip netting for macroinvertebrates, electrofishing a stream, botanizing up the side of the canyon, searching for reptiles and amphibians, setting small mammal traps, attracting moths to blacklight, and until nearly midnight, netting bats, only to roll out of sleeping bags or beds in town the next morning to count birds before sunlight hit the canyon floor.
It’s one thing to have a scientist come and present their work in a lecture, as they do, for instance, for Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society meetings. It’s quite another to find out firsthand how difficult it is to untangle a bird from a mist net in order to study breeding patterns and longevity.
Then there was the chance to perfect my butterfly net technique with Amy Pocewicz of The Nature Conservancy. It’s like tennis, but butterflies are more erratic and the court is littered with shrubby obstacles.
Sometimes field work is monotony. I went with Wyoming Natural Diversity Database’s (WYNDD) Ian Abernathy and his group to pick up small mammal traps in the sagebrush, little folding aluminum boxes baited with sweetened oats. Each had a tuft of polyester batting thoughtfully provided so the mouse or vole could bed down comfortably for the night in a place not as warm as their own burrow.
To check the traps, we all had to don disposable face masks and gloves to protect us from possible exposure to hantavirus.
We were led by an indefatigable 4-year-old who enjoyed marching ahead to pluck the pin flag marking the next trap.
No critters were captured in any of the 60 traps in the sagebrush and only one in the 20 traps along the creek. Too much human scent from the group setting traps the night before?
Martin Grenier, Wyoming Game and Fish Department non-game biologist, set a mist net over the creek in the evening and his group was able to catch four bats of three different species.
The same evening, Lusha Tronstad, invertebrate zoologist with WYNDD, hung two white table cloths on the Learning Center’s patio, placing one small blacklight against each, and then turned off the regular lights. Moths and nocturnal wasps flocked in and extremely small insects were “vacuumed” into a glass bottle for close inspection.
One special moth will have to be identified by an expert in Florida.
Audubon Wyoming, now Audubon Rockies, is the originator of Wyoming’s BioBlitz, holding the first one in 2008, and has partnered with various organizations, agencies and companies to hold it in different locations around the state.
Wyoming teachers can receive continuing education credits—it’s a lot more fun, one teacher from Bighorn told me, than attending lectures.
This year, the Red Canyon BioBlitz sponsors and partners also included, in addition to those mentioned earlier, the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute and the Wyoming Native Plant Society. During a creative interlude, an artist from the Lander Art Center had us harvesting cheatgrass—an invasive plant—and making art out of it.
The very first BioBlitz was held in 1996 at a park in Washington, D.C., where National Park Service naturalist Susan Rudy coined the term from the German word “blitz,” meaning lightning, or fast.
Search online for “BioBlitz” and you will find 20 more listed in this country plus Korea, Canada, New Zealand and especially, the United Kingdom. It’s a plot to infect people with the awareness and joy of biodiversity.
One of my favorite memories of the weekend, besides all the biota, is camping out on the lawn by the Learning Center and going to bed with the stars in my eyes and waking with birdsong in my ears. The other favorite memory is meeting old friends and new, all interested in the wonderful biodiversity of our home state.
You too, can come along next year, wherever BioBlitz may be.
Audubon Rockies, http://rockies.audubon.org
Lander Art Center, www.landerartcenter.com
The Nature Conservancy, http://www.nature.org/wyoming
UW Biodiversity Institute, www.wyomingbiodiversity.org
Wyoming Natural Diversity Database, www.uwyo.edu/wyndd
Wyoming Game and Fish Department, www.wgfd.wyo.gov
Wyoming Native Plant Society, www.wynps.org