by Anne Richter Arnold, Take It Outside
This Saturday, July 19, the Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historical Park needs your help. You don’t need to bring anything except your senses of observation, although a smart phone or camera would help. If you choose to take part in this event, you’ll head off into the forest and become a naturalist for an hour or two, or a day. Head off into the woods with the help of some well informed guides, and you’ll look for plants, animals, insects and even microscopic creatures in the park. Your mission during this BioBlitz is to try to find as many different species of living things in the park as possible.
So how exactly does BioBlitz work? All day,, from 7 a.m. to 1 hour past dark, everyone is invited to come on the various guided walks, which last 1-2 hours, and have different missions of discovery. The day will start with a bird count and observation. The final activity will start at 8 p.m. and an expert guide will have out “moth bait” to attract these nocturnal insects for observation. Everyone is welcome to participate in any activities they find of interest, but the BioBlitz organizers don’t expect people to stay for the whole day. Even one hour of your time will make a difference and help the researchers learn more about the species that live at MBR.
This year is the first formal year for BioBlitz, a chance to get people in the community involved in citizen science and identify as many species in the park in one day that they can. The identifiable species can be anything from trees and flowers to animals and insects. Basically, if it’s alive its fair game, and if it is dead it’s fair game too. All the information collected on this day is uploaded into the database, the Vermont Atlas of Life, a project within iNaturalist.org. Projects are ways to organize data from specific areas to help scientists and the public learn more about the species within a geographic region. You may not have heard about iNaturalist, but you’ll want to check it out. iNaturalist started as a graduate project of some UC Berkeley students in 2008 and then was further developed by Kenichi Ueda and Scott Loarie in 2011. iNaturalist.org has become an active site owned as of this year by the California Academy of Sciences and maintained by the founders Ueda and Loarie. The site’s mission is to have as many people as possible record their observations of nature on the site for use by scientists and land managers to understand more about changes in biodiversity as well as to allow the public a way to learn more about the species living in a given area.
The idea of a BioBlitz has been around for a while and has been done at other National Parks and in other areas such as the town of Montpelier. Typically it is done in a day long period of observation and is not a headcount per se, except for with birds, but a way to identify the number of species within a given area. Kent McFarland from Vermont Center for Ecostudies suggested the idea for the park and last year a trial run of observation was done and proved quite successful.
To be part of this BioBlitz 2014 you don’t need any special equipment or devices, but they can be used to submit observations. Smartphones, digital cameras and the like will help make verifiable observations. Your job will
be to observe nature, and by photographing and sharing your observations through an account at iNaturalist you will help compile an accurate database of the biodiversity of MBRNHP. You don’t have to do it alone, either, as there will be different people with knowledge in specific areas leading the walks and getting people to learn more about nature and iNaturalist (for a complete schedule see below). If you’d like to participate, on Saturday, July 19 just check in at the Forest Center across the road after parking at the Billings Farm parking area. Guides will be on hand to orient you to the various programs, which will start at Forest Center or at the Pogue, which involves a hike if you are so inclined. All you need to do then is keep your eyes peeled for living creatures, load an observation and someone familiar with the species can identify it through iNaturalist. It is pretty simple but a great way to participate as a citizen scientist.
Kyle Jones, MBRNHP natural resources manager, in charge of forestry, youth work crews, invasive plant removal and numerous other projects, is spearheading this year’s BioBlitz and is hoping to get a large turnout from the community. He invites everyone with interest in learning more about our natural environment to come out and be part of this community event. Says Jones, “Coming to the Bioblitz will give you a chance to interact with fellow naturalists, hone your nature skills, and it will be a lot of fun!” The rangers at MBRNHP do have a great day of learning and fun in store for you next Saturday.
For an observation to be verified and research grade it has to be a photograph, so amateur and professional nature photographers will especially enjoy this event. Children are very welcome and can take photos and submit through a parent’s account, or if this is not of interest the Park will be offering a number of Jr. Ranger programs that they can participate in while mom or dad are off observing. Anyone with even an hour of free time is encouraged to take part in this informative and valuable community event. So grab your camera or smartphone and “take it outside” to the National Park and be a citizen scientist for a day. Take a walk in nature and you’ll never know what you’ll discover!