Friday, July 29, 2016

Bog to Ridge BioBlitz In Review

Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve BioBlitz compilation at the Outdoor Classroom. (photo by Karen Stubenvoll)

A BioBlitz is really an incredible thing. It provides a unique opportunity to go out in the field with a professional or enthusiast to learn from them and witness their passion for a particular group of flora or fauna or the natural world. Birders know the feeling all too well, but what of the folks who enjoy lichens, moths, sedges, or dragonflies? Generally, those folks don’t get the same level of community and instead venture into the field solo, learning what they can and perhaps finding a person or two with whom they can share experiences. A BioBlitz offers a bit of community for those folks who themselves are enthusiasts or just hoping to learn something about a group of species that they hold dear. 

July 16th and 17th held host to the Bog to Ridge BioBlitz. This was the 4th year for the Sax-Zim Bog BioBlitz, which partnered this year with Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory to conduct BioBlitzes at two locations: Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve and the Sax-Zim Bog. Though both locations are in the northwoods, the Bog to Ridge BioBlitz offered great chances for field trip participants to get a feel for the entire area; from the bogs and conifers of the Sax-Zim Bog to the upland forests and rock outcroppings of the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve.

Sax-Zim Bog BioBlitz folks prepare to go out in the field. (photo by Rubin Stenseng)

Each year, the BioBlitz turns out more and more participants, of all ages and abilities, to explore and document as many species as possible with 5 or 6 hours. On the first Sax-Zim BioBlitz, there were four participants, which is a stark contrast to the over 50 participants at this year’s two day event. Field trips this year were also a bit different from the standard expert lead explorations afield. The Sax-Zim BioBlitz format involved an expert/enthusiast/professional lead trip to find and learn about a particular group of species, ie birds. However, the Hawk Ridge BioBlitz had a generalist focus, look for anything and everything, giving trip leaders the opportunity to share information and excitement about more than just one collection of species. 
BioBlitz participants Ben Yokel and Karen Stubenvoll look on as a species is being discussed. (photo by Janelle Long)

Overall, the Bog to Ridge BioBlitz had two focuses. First, the Bog to Ridge BioBlitz hoped to show the public a particular location through the lens of a particular species, so that they may begin to understand and care for their local ecosystems. Second, the Bog to Ridge BioBlitz had a goal of data collection. By connecting the public with the task of data collection, it gives greater stakeholder value to the true diversity of a place. Last, by educating the public about a under observed species, it is hopeful that they will, in turn, educate someone they may know and build greater appreciation for a given species or area. 

Trip leader Bill Tefft photographing a butterfly at the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve BioBlitz. (photo by Janelle Long)
This year, the Bog to Ridge BioBlitz was lucky enough to have a team of 9 experts lead field trips during the course of the two day event. At the Sax-Zim Bog BioBlitz Jim Lind and Dave Grosseuch lead a trip looking for dragonflies and damselflies; Sparky Stensaas and Ben Yokel lead a trip focused on birds; Clinton Nienhaus lead a field trip documenting fish species; Chad Heins lead a group looking for spiders; Jerry McCormick lead a trip looking for Butterflies; and Kelly O’Brien lead a trip documenting plants. Clinton and Sparky also lead trips at Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve, along with Bill Tefft. Each trip leader went out in the field to document species and to educate one of the over 50 field trip participants.
Numbers of species can often be telling of the diversity of an area, however, we cannot always give each species the credit (observation or documentation wise) that it is due. For example, this year during the Sax-Zim BioBlitz 90 new species were added to the already towering species list. In the 90 new species, 20 were moths, 17 were spiders, and 14 were grasses or sedges. Good numbers of new species are great, but there were some astounding records made by Spider Field Trip Leader, Chad Heins. Of the 17 species of new spider added to the Sax-Zim Bog species list, 10 had never been recorded in St. Louis county and 2 species had never been recorded in the state!! As equally exciting as the new records are, all of the spiders found by Chad’s field trip were found within close proximity to the Friend’s of Sax-Zim Bog’s Welcome Center!

The Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve BioBlitz proved equally fruitful, locating 75 new species to the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve species list including a whopping 26 new species of lichens and plants, and 17 new species of insect. The most impressive point to this list is the amount of new plant species observed. Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve had previously undergone a fairly intensive plant survey, yielding thorough documentation of the area. However, species like Ragged-fringed Orchid, Narrow-leaved Cowwheat, and Wild Geranium had slipped past surveys and avoided previous documentation. All in all, Sax-Zim Bog field trips found 374 species and Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve field trips found 159 species, for a grand total of 424 different species over the two locations!

 Pictured above are a selection of species seen during the BioBlitzes (from top to bottom: Tile Lichen (photo by Clinton Nienhaus), Williamson's Emerald (photo by Clinton Nienhaus), White Eulithis (photo by Clinton Nienhaus), Indian Pipe (photo by Rubin Stenseng), Baltimore Checkerspot (photo by Jerry McCormick), and Rock Polypody (photo by Clinton Nienhaus))

Each BioBlitz that is done sheds new light to each location, no matter how well we may know its secrets. Case in point, the Sax-Zim Bog master species list was nearly 800 species and field trips were still able to add 90 new species!! What an amazing show of diversity in a location that has had strong documentation. Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve had an impressive list of over 450 species and added 75 new species under the premise of a general species hike. At each of these locations there are certainly more species to be found. Documentation of those lesser known or hard to observe critters like insects, salamanders, moths, and aquatic invertebrates may add much to our already deep understanding of the northwoods. Who knows how fast the species lists can grow if more experts and more field trips are out exploring our local wild spaces?!

FOSZB Board Member Gene Oillia looks on as trip leader Clinton Nienhaus talks about a longnose dace captured in the Sax-Zim Bog. (photo by Kristina Dexter)

Thank you to all that participated, field trip leaders (Jim Lind, Dave Grosshuesch, Sparky Stensaas, Ben Yokel, Clinton Nienhaus, Chad Heins, Jerry McCormick, Kelly O’Brien, & Bill Tefft), Larry Weber for his wonderful evening program, and to the species that let us enjoy and appreciate them. We hope you can join us for another BioBlitz in the future! 

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