Bioblitzing

Back from bioblizting in Erie county. Bioblitz is a new phenomena, it is a noun and a verb. Different from a week long bio-foray, a bioblitz is a 24 to 48 hour event where specialists of every sort come together to collect, identify and tally as much biological information as possible. There were over 120 specialists involved. Malacologists, mammalogists, ornithologists, botanists, mycologists, of course we entomologists, herpetologists: all bioblizting the newest state park in our state.

I was very Carabid-centric, spending most of my time in wetlands, streams and on the shore of Lake Erie searching for the ground beetles in mud, muck, sand and gravel. Many a rock was flipped, much bark was peeled and leaf litter was sifted through. We found a sweet spot on the pristine stream for the beetles during the day and returned after dark for a few hours to collect the nocturnal beasts. Our beetle sweet spot was also the sweet spot for the mist nets for bat collecting. I was flanked up and down stream with mist nets and paused in my work to admire a red bat that had been collected.

Every time I go into the field at night I separate myself from the other collectors to have time to myself in the dark. I turn off my head lamp and enjoy the darkness and sounds of the habitat that I happen to be in. I was in an old growth forest, the canopy high and dense above me. It was pitch dark without my light on. I stood silent, observing for a while until fifteen minutes later I saw the light of someone else’s headlamp approaching. As soon as my light was on I saw the reflection of a pair of eyes 20 feet away in the brush ahead of me. It noiselessly skirted away. I did not see what it was, it was just out of the range of my headlamp’s beam.

Later I found out that a red fox, a gray fox and coyote were spotted in the area I was in around the time I was there. Was I silently being watched in the darkness? I heard nothing approach me. I was following my own path which I had baited with banana slices earlier in the day, was my banana trail attracting more than just beetles?

The under-story was exceptionally healthy and diverse, which is refreshing in PA, I am fortunate to get to see forests that have not been devastated by the gross overpopulation of deer. Forests whose floors are blanketed by ferns and lack numbers of wild flowers, whose youngest trees are 70 years old or whose lowest branches are over six feet high are like that because the deer have eaten everything. Current deer densities are 60-70 deer per square mile in PA. Studies in our state involving deer ex-closures and population thinning demonstrate that to have a return of sapling survival for tree species the numbers need to be around 40 per square mile. And to bring back rapidly disappearing wild flowers, the numbers need to reach a healthy 20 per square mile. I’ve hiked around and then through one of these deer ex-closures and the difference side by side is so shocking and striking.

Pennsylvania forests are in crisis. Our trees and wildflowers are in crisis. Actually, all forests are in crisis, this problem is ubiquitous. If you have been in a healthy wood lately, you understand. And it’s getting harder and harder to even see a healthy forest. There certainly are few near here. Deer are not beautiful, they are devastating.

That’s too depressing. The trip was fun, the site was lovely, the weather wonderful and the people fantastic. Bioblitzes and forays are positive events involving the public and media and presents a fun and exciting venue to highlight local biological diversity.