BioBlitz: Celebrate, explore nature

Posted: Friday, June 11, 2010

Families, scientists and naturalists will converge on Eaglecrest Lodge June 26 and 27 for BioBlitz, an assessment of all life in the Fish Creek drainage on Douglas Island.

 The event combines cataloguing life with an array of free activities including bird banding, animal tracking, sea creature touch tanks, workshops on nature photography, papermaking and composting, and presentations on owls, trees, insects and toads. The public is invited to join teams of scientists as they document fish, mammals, amphibians, sea creatures and plants.

“BioBlitz offers an excellent opportunity for families to get outdoors and see what biologists really do,” said Steve Brockman of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Documenting the presence of animals, capturing animals, it’s the fun part. We’ll have bird surveys from the alpine down to the beach. This is a good opportunity to go birding with people who really know what they are doing. If you want to learn about plants, and not just wildflowers, we’ll have plant ecologists going out. We’ll have people who are experts in fungi and lichens and invertebrates.”

Karen Blejwas is one of the organizers. “We’ll have folks out in boats looking for marine mammals and seabirds, divers bringing stuff up from the subtidal, people in the intertidal, people in the streams, people in the alpine, out in the woods, and in the muskeg meadows,” she said. “I’m going to take some bat detectors out and do nighttime surveys.”

Blejwas is part of the Wildlife Diversity Program at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Experts from across Alaska are joining local biologists and “citizen scientists.”

“Think about what taxon team you want to be on,” said Mike Goldstein of the Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center. “You can register for a team at 11:00 (Saturday morning) and leaders will begin taking teams out at noon. Some teams will head out later, and some will also work in shifts.”

Taxon Team Leader K Koski heads the fish group. He’s identified five survey areas, from Cropley Lake down the length of Fish Creek to the intertidal, and will have a team leader for

each area.

“The team leader will pick two or three people to help them sample these areas,” Koski said. “They’ll sample with elecrofishers or electroshockers, probably pole seines, and minnow traps. We really want to get our hands on these fish so we have a positive identification. I think it’s a good idea to bring representative samples of fish back (to the Eaglecrest Lodge) so people can see what’s in these areas.”

Koski is a fisheries biologist and a contractor with National Marine Fisheries. He’s particularly curious about Cropley Lake.

“There may be brook trout in Cropley Lake — it’s rumored to have been stocked years ago,” he said. “They may have also interbred with native Dolly Varden.”

Wildlife biologist Tom Schumacher will lead the mammal team in live trapping, camera trapping and documenting animal sign, such as beaver-chewed sticks.

“We don’t know if there are any beaver on Douglas now, but there have been in the past,” he said. “Beaver cuttings would be a pretty good

indication.”

BioBlitz is an opportunity to improve knowledge about which mammals live on Douglas Island and establish a baseline to monitor future changes in species distribution, he said.

A barbecue at the lodge with food provided will wrap up the day’s festivities on Saturday.

Activities and surveys will resume Sunday morning. Underwater footage from the Fish Creek intertidal will be shown, images from the camera traps will be displayed and the live traps set overnight will be checked. The final tally of all the species discovered during the BioBlitz will be announced at noon on Sunday.

Vans will provide transportation from the Eaglecrest lodge to the various survey sites, so participants can simply meet at the lodge.

BioBlitz events, sponsored by universities, state agencies and communities, have been held in places as diverse as New York City’s Central Park and Whistler Ski Area in British Columbia. The exact nature of the event depends on who organizes it.

“Sometimes they’re organized by museums,” Blejwas said. “They want to collect specimens for the museum collection, and in that case the public may mostly just observe scientists at work. Others have a more educational focus, where the public actually goes out into the field with the scientists, like the one we’re doing. Other times they’re in parks, and managers want to know what organisms are found in the park, if they have any rare or endangered species, or any invasive species.”

Alaska has seen one BioBlitz already, in Homer, and Sitka recently conducted a BioBlitz variation looking at invasive species.

BioBlitz is collaboration between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the City and Borough of Juneau, and a variety of non-governmental organizations such as Gastineau Guiding, Juneau Audubon, Sealaska Heritage Institute and Discovery Southeast.

More information is available at www.wildlife.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=education.bioblitz.

For more information, contact Karen Blejwas at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at (907) 465-4328 or email: karen.blejwas@alaska.gov.

• Riley Woodford is a writer and producer with the Division of Wildlife Conservation at the ADF&G.



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