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BioBlitz Bliss by Cindy Carpenter
This past weekend we held the first ever and long awaited bioblitz at the Cradle of Forestry in America, Pisgah National Forest. The Pink Beds BioBlitz, named for a high elevation valley that, as folklore goes, settlers named long ago for flowers, was a great success. This success was not due to the number of participants or the number of species recorded, but that it happened at all.
I have been intrigued with the concept of bioblitzes since reading an article in an NAI Nature Center Administrators section newsletter a decade ago. It described engaging scientists and other experts in an all-taxa kind of survey over a 24-hour period. This year timing and capacity aligned grant funds from the US Forest Service recreation program and the energy of an imaginative co-worker, Courtney Long. Courtney dealt with many moving pieces while leading the effort to engage youth and adults alike in observing nature and learning about a southern Appalachian forest ecosystem while spending time on their public lands.
The Pink Beds picnic area served as the center of operations for the bioblitz. Here participants visited booths staffed with specialists on fungi and bryophytes. They learned about the hemlock woolly adelgid threatening biodiversity. They browsed a vast selection of field guides at an identification assistance booth. They learned about the iNaturalist app, a tool for recording findings and getting help with species identification, and won items in raffles to help them explore the world around them.
During the Pink Beds BioBlitz forest visitors joined guided walks and activities at selected locations along a trail from the picnic area. An all-species guided walk was led by volunteers from the Blue Ridge Naturalists. Other walks and searches focused on birds, reptiles and amphibians, trees and shrubs, aquatic macroinvertebrates and fish. The leaders of these experiences humbly conveyed their passion, knowledge and love of learning about the natural world, and their enthusiasm was contagious. They recorded results on a large white board visible to all attendees.
Surprises were the number of salamander species found on a single stump during a night time exploration. A highlight for me was witnessing in late afternoon light a bat catch insects active over a stream and dipping for a drink on the wing.
This first bioblitz in the Pisgah National Forest showed that natural resource partners and specialists welcome the opportunity to interact with the public and engage them in discovery and discussion. Although we were prepared for many more participants than the approximately 60 who attended, Courtney’s plans, equipment purchases and networking laid the groundwork for future endeavors to engage the public in nature education.
Time invested in nature study is time well spent, and technology tools common today add an entertaining and meaningful dimension that did not exist a decade ago. From our public lands to our backyards it is fun to learn and share the diversity of life around us every day. Bioblitz bliss!