Tuesday, May 29, 2007

An Emerging Explorer

Ten-year-old Joshua White participated in the BioBlitz with his grandmother, Joyce Jayson. It was Joshua's first visit to Rock Creek Park and his first experience working "in the field."

"I wanted to come out here because I didn't have anything to do at home except watch TV," Joshua said. "Then I got here and heard the speaker talking about animals like the snapping turtle and the king snake, and I wanted to try and find some animals."

Joshua and his grandmother headed out into the park, and the fourth-grader quickly made his first discovery: a tiger swallowtail butterfly.

"I found this leaf that looked like it was up in the air," Joshua said. "I got closer and it was a butterfly. I swooped the net up behind it and caught it!"

As excited as Joshua was, his grandmother was even more pleased by the day's outcome. "We read about the BioBlitz in the newspaper, and I knew that Joshua would like it," Jayson said. "He likes everything that's outside. He's at home out here."

Photograph of Joshua's discovery journal by Mark Christmas/NGS

Saturday, May 19, 2007

And We’re Done!

The Rock Creek Park BioBlitz has officially come to an end. In twenty-four hours we’ve identified 666 plant and animal species. (See breakdown below.) That number will change as the scientists continue to identify and catalog their finds, so check back here for updates over the next few weeks.

And it’s never too early to plan for future BioBlitzes, including our next one, taking place in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in California. National Geographic and the National Parks Service will continue their partnership and host a BioBlitz in a different national park for the next nine years, leading up to the National Parks Service’s 100th anniversary in 2016.

Thanks to everyone—scientists, volunteers, and participants—who made this BioBlitz so successful, and see you again next year!

BioBlitz Species Tally
Amphibians and Reptiles: 17
Aquatic Invertebrates: 21
Aquatic Plants: 30
Birds: 29
Fish: 20
Fungi: 52
Mammals: 12
Soil Invertebrates: 10
Terrestrial Plants: 232
Terrestrial Insects: 243
Total: 666

Photograph of John Francis of National Geographic and Adrienne Coleman of the National Parks Service by Mark Christmas/NGS

In the Spotlight

Photographer David Liittschwager shows a photographed beetle to the National Parks Service’s Ken Ferebee, mammals expert Marc Allard, and Sue Salmons and Dan Sealy of the National Parks Service. For his unique macro-photography style, Liittschwager photographs live specimens in Petri dishes.

Photograph by Mark Christmas/NGS

Caught by the Light

Overnight, a light trap set up to lure moths also enticed this crane fly, a long-legged relative of the mosquito.

Photograph by Jess Elder/NGS


Updated Species Count: 239

“Finding All Creatures Great and (Very) Small”

From a profile of the BioBlitz that ran in today’s Washington Post: “There were caterpillars hiding under leaves, earthworms wriggling under rocks, scientists climbing in the treetops and spiders scrambling in the grass.”

Read the complete article.

Photograph by Lois Raimondo/The Washington Post


Species Count: 414

A Bat in the Hand

One of the findings last night was a pippistrelle bat, caught in a mist net by the midnight bat team. Mist-netting is a common technique for trapping birds and bats. A mesh net about the size of a volleyball net is set up in the wild, nearly invisible to bats and birds, who fly into them.

Photograph by Colin Langston


Species Count: 410

Owl Sightings

One team of overnight owlers found luck last night with two species, the eastern screech owl and the barred owl. The owl team donned night-vision goggles and headed out into the park. Once in a likely spot, guide David Johnson of the Global Owl Project played owl calls loudly over a boombox, luring curious male owls out to confront the fake intruder.

The ploy worked to draw out four eastern screech owls and nine barred owls.

Photograph of an eastern screech owl by Mark Christmas


Species Count: 388

Fine-Feathered Morning

It’s about 6 a.m. It's beginning to get light, and Rock Creek Park is filled with the sounds of birds. There’s already one bird team out this morning, led by Stuart Pimm, and other teams are getting ready to head out for their species inventories.

Overnight, several groups went out on “owl prowls,” looking—and listening—for hooters.

Previous BioBlitzes

Over the last ten years, scientists and volunteers have catalogued thousands of species in BioBlitzes across the globe.

What's it like to be in the middle of a Blitz? As a Smithsonian magazine writer put it: "A BioBlitz is an event in which dozens of scientists fan out across some unlikely habitat, hell-bent on recording every species they can find, dead or alive, in a 24-hour period. ... They [are] prepared to dance like butterflies, sing like chickadees or do almost anything else this scavenger hunt required."

Read about a few past BioBlitzes:

Tennessee (2007)

Gorge, Maryland (2006)

Colorado (2004)

Park, New York (2003)

Connecticut (1999)

Midnight Mothing

To collect moths at night, scientists set up a light trap in Rock Creek Park. They shine two different types of lights—black lights and mercury vapor lights—against a white sheet or tent, attracting moths and other insects.

Despite the cold temperature, about 15 species of moth have been counted, as well as about 20 species of caterpillars.

Photograph by Mark Christmas/NGS

We’re at the Halfway Mark!

The clock has just struck 12, which means we are halfway through our 24-hour species inventory. The action has slowed down a little here at the park—but not much. Scientists are still identifying finds, a new crowd of BioBlitzers has arrived for a midnight Owl Prowl through Rock Creek Park, and some folks are enjoying a bonfire complete with marshmallows for roasting.

Above, a BioBlitz visitor tries out a puppet theater in Rock Creek Park’s Nature Center. Photograph by NGS

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Animal You’ve Never Seen

One of the more unusual species found here in Rock Creek Park is the tardigrade, also known as the water bear or the bear of the moss.

These little-known invertebrates are about the size of a pencil dot, so they are best seen under a microscope.

Learn more about tardigrades.

Photograph of tardigrades in one-eighth of a drop of water by David Liittschwager


Species Count: 277

Bird Count

One of the bird teams reports they found 27 species in their foray into the park. Their finds included two male hummingbirds “thrusting and parrying” in a dispute, Baltimore orioles carrying nesting materials, wood ducks in a creek, forest thrushes, scarlet tanagers, and a bay-breasted warbler.

Photograph from nationalgeographic.com's Animals site of Baltimore oriole by George Grall


Species Count: 277

Mushroom Madness

A fungi team led by scientists from the Mycological Association of Washington collected about 35 species in four hours, including this Laetiporus sulphureus, nicknamed “chicken of the woods.” Why? When you cook it, it tastes like chicken.

Photograph by Mark Christmas/NGS


Species Count: 152

Heading Into Evening

We’re coming up on Hour Six of the BioBlitz. The first teams have come back in, and scientists are busy identifying and recording their finds. The second group of teams has headed out and will be back around 8 p.m., when the third wave will gear up to look for owls and bats in the park’s darkness.

Unseasonably cool and damp weather has kept many species, especially insects, out of sight today, so researchers are hoping for better luck tomorrow.


Species Count: 116

A Close Look

A girl peers through a microscope at a scientists’ table at BioBlitz Base Camp.

Photograph by Mark Christmas/NGS


Species Count: 35

Bug Business

Gary Hevel, entomologist and public information officer with the Smithsonian Institution, speaks with schoolchildren about his mounted insect collection. He’s collected more than 4,000 species in his own backyard in Silver Spring, Maryland, including a new species of moth and a few wasp species that may be new to science.

Photograph by Mark Christmas/NGS


Species count: 27

Tree-Climbers Stumped

When members of the tree canopy biodiversity survey team headed up a tree in Rock Creek Park, they got more than they bargained for: They couldn’t identify the tree. It looked like a white oak, but its bark was very different.

“We picked this tree to ascend because it’s unique,” said Joe Ely of the University of Central Missouri. “The bark is very odd—it’s shaggy and flaking off.”

Looking for an ID, Ely and his team tried technology—an instant plant identification system developed by the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Maryland, and Columbia University. They came up empty there, too.

The verdict came after consulting colleagues and other scientists: The tree was a white oak, after all, just one with very unusual bark.

“We’re not stumped very often,” Ely said. “But it happens.”

Ely and the rest of the canopy team ascend trees by using a slingshot to shoot a climbing line up into the trees. Then they pull themselves up with climbing ropes. As they ascend—sometimes as high as 110 or 120 feet—the researchers collect bark samples, one every ten feet. Then they count the species they find: lichens, mosses and liverworts, fungi, and slime mold.

The tree canopy team will continue their work in Rock Creek Park during the day Friday and Saturday.

Species Count: 14

Photograph of a tree canopy biodiversity survey team member by Mark Christmas/NGS

What's in a BioBlitz?

What’s it like at a BioBlitz? In a word, busy.

White tents near the park’s Nature Center house tables of scientists and researchers, who will help participants and volunteers log their finds.

Groups of scientists and researchers are leading teams of participants out in the park, recording each species they encounter. There are teams for birds, fish, mammals, amphibians, fungi, aquatic insects, plants, and more.

Once the teams come back in, they’ll add their counts to the main species tally. The hope is that we’ll find more than 1,000 species here over the next 24 hours.

Also at BioBlitz “Base Camp” are representatives and exhibits from groups such as the Virginia Herpetological Society, the Student Conservation Association, the Nature Conservancy, National Geographic’s My Wonderful World campaign, and, of course, the National Parks Service.

Check back soon for our next update!


Species count: 5

Photograph by Mark Christmas/NGS

And We're Off!

It’s official—the Rock Creek Park BioBlitz has begun!

The BioBlitz kicked off a few minutes ago with remarks from National Parks Service Director Mary Bomar, Duke University professor and conservation biologist Stuart Pimm, National Geographic President John Fahey, and others.

“National Geographic’s mission is to inspire all of us to care about the planet,” Fahey said. “How better to do that than to get out and see how many organisms are out there. Rock Creek Park rocks!”

Pimm stressed the importance of biodiversity—and the importance of recognizing and preserving it.

“This is where the wild things are,” he said. “There is an amazing variety of things you will see here. Colorful, shiny, interesting, and bizarre.”

Now, teams of scientists, volunteers, and participants have started their four-hour field treks. We'll update our total species count as the teams report back in. Keep checking—there are 23.5 more hours of BioBlitz!

Pictured: National Parks Service Director Mary Bomar and Milaya, a young BioBlitz participant. Photograph by Mark Christmas/NGS


Species Count: 0

Friday, May 4, 2007

Welcome to BioBlitz!

We're just a few days away from kicking off the 2007 BioBlitz in Washington, D.C.'s Rock Creek Park!

What's BioBlitz? It's an exciting 24-hour event in which teams of scientists, volunteers, and community members join forces to find, identify, and learn about as many local species as possible. The Washington, D.C., BioBlitz will be held May 18-19 at Rock Creek Park, home to a variety of plants and animals, including deer, coyotes, owls, raccoons, and more.

Anyone—parents, teachers, kids, and community members—can come out and take part in the species inventory anytime during the 24 hours of the BioBlitz. (It's best to register in advance here.) There will also be special exhibits and programs showcasing the importance of biodiversity.

Learn more about BioBlitz and how you can participate >>

The 2007 Rock Creek BioBlitz is a partnership between the National Geographic Society and Rock Creek National Park. It is the first of ten annual BioBlitzes to be conducted by National Geographic in different urban parks.

See you at the park!

P.S. Check this blog often during the BioBlitz—we'll post news and photos of great finds.