Monday, October 11, 2010

Stratford BioBlitz - 829 species in 24 hours!

On Friday October 8, dozens of scientists, students, school children and volunteers descended on Stratford again for the 4th BioBlitz, organized by the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, Connecticut Audubon Society and Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo. The goal of a BioBlitz is to find as many species as possible, ranging from birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, plants and fungi to spiders, insects and all sorts of aquatic invertebrates, within the span of 24 hours.

On Friday afternoon at 3PM, Gregg Dancho - director of the Beardsley Zoo and president of Stratford's conservation committee - blows his conch to kick-start the 24 hours of frantic searching.
Dr. Larry Gall of the Yale Peabody Museum hunts for butterflies and other flying insects on Stratford Point...
...while across town, CAS Conservation Technician Scott Kruitbosch keeps his eyes to the sky at the Boothe Park hawkwatch. Leaders of so-called TWiGs (Taxonomic Working Groups), each experts in their own field, guide their assistants to specific sections of Stratford's open space to target the organisms they are looking for.

Meanwhile at our basecamp on Stratford Point others are identifying and cataloguing the findings.

No stone is left unturned and every available corner of town is carefully searched since things have a habit of showing up in places where you'd least expect them. The search continues throughout the night....

...when birders go owling, herpetologists look for frogs and salamanders and the blacklights hum in the coastal grasslands of Stratford Point to attract nocturnal insects. Some of us brave souls even venture into sketchy boiler rooms looking for roosting bats.

The view from basecamp was quite stunning in the wee hours of the morning - it is quite peaceful to look out over Short Beach park with the sound of hundreds of migrating Brant flying in the darkness overhead!

Eventually even the hardiest BioBlitzers get a few hours of sleep while camped out next to the Lordship light house...

...only to pick up the pieces at first light again. Saturday always marks the public component of the BioBlitz and anyone interested is welcome to swing by basecamp to see what has been found so far and to touch a scientist. Part of the mission of a BioBlitz is to educate local people on what lives in their backyard, while providing valuable baseline data for conservation.

Several TWiG leaders offered walks on Stratford Point in the morning. Here CAS Conservation Biologist Twan Leenders leads a birdwalk while in the background members of the Invertebrate Zoology TWiG are sampling tidepools.

Birding was a bit quiet on Saturday morning but several nice birds were seen, such as a Merlin finishing up breakfast...

...and a Northern Harrier still looking for something to eat.

Inside, the mycology TWiG has an impressive display of the different species of mushrooms collected thusfar and the collectors themselves are at hand to answer questions.

People of all ages pass through basecamp to get a glimpse of the action and learn about the species that call Stratford home.

Numerous insects are still added to the collection throughout the day. While some TWiGs collect samples that will be permanently preserved in the Yale Peabody Museum's collections, others rely entirely on photographs and observations for their data.

This American Kestrel posed nicely for a record shot to be included in the bird tally, and luckily even the White-tailed Kite made a very brief appearance on Friday night and Saturday morning. Even though it stuck around long enough to make the official BioBlitz town list, the photo below may very well be one of the last taken here in CT because there have been no reliable reports of the kite since Saturday morning. More on that in a later post...

All in all the 4th Stratford BioBlitz was a big success. This particular event was the first of its kind in the fall -- similar BioBlitzes covering Stratford during winter, spring and summer have taken place in previous years. Together they provide valuable information on the species that reside in town during the different seasons.
The preliminary final tally for this BioBlitz is as follows:
  • Mammals = 10 species
  • Amphibians and reptiles = 10 species
  • Fish = 27 species
  • Birds = 122 species (see here for the complete list)
  • Invertebrate Zoology (not counting insects and spiders) = 63 species
  • Fungi = 111 species
  • Plants = 229 species
  • Insects and spiders = 257 species

The total preliminary count is 829 species, but additional samples will be identified still in the next few weeks to add to the total. If you want to see the official final score and see what was found during previous seasonal BioBlitzes in Stratford, please check the website here.

All photographs copyright Twan Leenders, except for BioBlitz logo and photo 10 (copyright Brian Roach)

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