Attending BioBlitz! 2019
I first heard of BioBlitz!es when I was studying sustainability and nature in college. The idea intrigued me, but I left it at that, an idea to come back to one day. A BioBlitz! is an intense period of biological surveying where scientists and citizen scientists come together and attempt to document all the living things in a specific area in a 24-hour period. This year, entering my 4th season of teaching Under The Canopy nature classes, I wanted my older students to get the opportunity to try some new science skills and study the biodiversity in one small natural area. The best way to teach this concept was to learn it myself. I started doing research on BioBlitz! happening in Oklahoma. It was very exciting to look through some Facebook events and find one happening the following month only an hour from Tulsa in Sequoyah State Park!
I got my family on board by reading the schedule of events on the BioBlitz! website. They loved seeing all the fun, family friendly programming they could participate in during the 2-day Blitz. We could go camping for relatively cheap, $40 in total to cover registration for a family of 4, and spend our time studying nature alongside field biologists surveying the land. We could become citizen scientists (people interested in science, collaborating with scientists on a project). We could do nature crafts and enjoy the great outdoors with other camping enthusiasts. What’s a naturalist like me not going to love about this event?
The Blitz started Friday afternoon, although we were not able to go until the evening on Friday. Next time I would make sure we could go to the whole event as it would have been nice to be there from the start and understand better what we were doing as participants. The good part of arriving late was that we ended up driving through a large rainstorm instead of setting up camp in it. The storm cleared by the time we got to our spot. Upon arrival we were thrown into a large group of people all doing different things. We asked around and figured out we could camp wherever we pleased within the group campsite. We found a spot on the edge of a field, behind a cabin and set up as fast we could before dark.
I found my way with a flashlight to the check-in station within a building that was called Basecamp. Inside it was warm and full of life, with lots of tables set up with specimens already appearing, frogs in live traps, plants in makeshift vases, even a few snakes had already been picked up. The age range of people was also fun to see. There were young families, like our own, plenty of college students and plenty of older-generation biologists there. This was a true multi-age event.
That evening there were several night hike options. These included examining lichens with infrared flashlights to see them florescence and a night insect-catching with a flashlight and sheet. We saw these happening but were focused on getting our tent set up, so we unfortunately were not able to attend. After dinner, I wrote out all the programming I wanted us to do the next day, and we all fell asleep to the sweet sounds of nature.
Saturday morning began at 7:00 a.m. with a birding expedition to hear the morning bird chorus and document species. This was happening just outside our tent. We awoke eager to join the surveying fun and headed to breakfast, which was included in the day. At this event there was so much going on it was hard to tell where to begin. As a first-timer and nature enthusiast I decided to jump right in. That seemed to be the best way to do it. There were so many different groups of people and so much going on you just had to be your own tour guide. Luckily, as we were heading out for the day, we ran into an acquaintance from my children’s school. She and her family had attended BioBlitz! before, and she had some great pro-tips for us.
- Be mellow about what you can and cannot do. You will miss some things and that’s okay.
- Have fun with your friends and only do the activities that interest you most.
- Take breaks and hang out but make sure you don’t miss the final reports at the end.
The tool they gave us citizen scientists to record with was an app on our phones called iNaturalist. There were several trainings on how to work with the app and use it to document what you see while on the hikes.
Our first hike was at the nature center, a 10-minute drive from base camp. These walks were designed for the families and folks that came to the Blitz to get to hang with scientists and learn from them. There were other groups of students and field biologists actually collecting the specimens for the survey. We decided on the fossil walk. One of my favorite things to do around Oklahoma lakes is to marvel at all the amazing fossils. I knew some things about fossil identification, but there were so many things I did not know. This was a perfect event to become a student again. I also got to watch other naturalists lead hikes and learn from them about what to point out and focus on.
The geologists that lead the hike were some fun, younger women who showed us new finds and explored right next to us. Some of the participants had knowledge too. It was exciting to look at blastoids, crinoid stems and Archimedes (ancient seas creatures) up close while talking about the geologic period (Pennsylvania) in which these fossils lived.
Next, my eldest child (9) felt weary and wanted to go back to the tent. We got her some water and got her to rally for the upcoming herpetology walk. This was a group of scientists and mentees exploring reptiles and amphibians on the trail. The teenage boys that helped lead the hike were just as knowledgeable as their elders. The hike started on the trail but quickly veered off as we lifted logs and rocks looking for specimens. Note: Never go on a hike actively looking for snakes without someone who is trained in working with these creatures. There are many venomous snakes out there and special tools for dealing with the poisonous ones to keep both you and the animal safe.
The hike was a success. We found a number of snakes, including a milk snake and an omnivorous large centipede.
At this point the sun was high in the sky, and my children were hot and ready to go back to camp. I wanted to continue learning, so my husband took them to camp, and I headed to the citizen scientist project that was swabbing frog specimens to find out if they had a fungus on their bodies. As I walked around the tables I got to see several varieties of frogs and toads and ask all the many questions I had about their differences. Someone had also found a medium-sized snapping turtle in the lake. We got to look at all these animals up close in a way I never can do on my own.
I hitched a ride back to base camp with some master naturalists from OKC. This is a program where you can get a certificate for doing naturalist activities and attending classes that include fieldwork. To learn more, visit https://okmasternaturalist.wixsite.com/website
It was great networking with folks from different parts of the state. One of the many benefits of going to this statewide nature event was meeting people from all over.
Back at camp we ate lunch and had some downtime. My oldest child was feeling better, so we went to the collection area at Basecamp. Saturday afternoon of the Blitz was a great time to be at the collections. The majority of scientists were at their tables finishing the documentation of their species list. They had almost reached the 24-hour time period marking the end of the Blitz. Every table we went to was filled with specimens of moss, plants, mushrooms, lichens, toads, and bird and insect activities to do. My oldest played bird bingo with a group of children while I got to talk to a bryologist (moss scientist), lichenologist (lichen scientist) mycologist (mushroom scientist) and Botanist (plant scientist) about the species they had seen during the Blitz.
One of my favorite parts of being at the Blitz was this time to really examine specimens using microscopes and talking to these scientists who were passionate about nature. Seeing moss up close showed me what incredible tiny worlds there are out there, just waiting to be explored. It also showed me how little we can see with our naked eyes and how important it is to see a plant up close and marvel at all its parts. Under the microscope, a small spritz of water on moss revealed a whole lush world of flowers, ferny plants and even tiny insects living within the moss.
At 4:00 we all gathered under a pagoda and got to hear the tallies of species collected in the 24-hour period. We first heard that this was one of the most well-attended BioBlitz!es recorded in Oklahoma, with 450 participants! They said to maybe stop telling your friends it’s so great for fear that the event was at capacity this year. I think this is a sign that people want to know more about their natural environment and the trend toward a more nature-based society is heading in the right direction.
The Tallies were:
*889 Species Recorded
*435 invertebrates (insects)
*25 Herps (reptiles and amphibians)
*24 species of fish
*24 species of moss
*29 species of fungi
There are more species in the park than this, but this was what could be recorded in the 24-hour period. We celebrated all the hard-working scientists at the event, then went back to our campsite for dinner. The evening concluded with a special Cherokee storyteller back at the nature center. It was a wonderful way to end the event with this woman who wove beautiful tails of nature, people and the animal world as we watched the sun set behind her through the pine trees.
BioBlitz! is not only a time to record, catch, and release all the specimens and learn about the land, but also a chance to give back to the places in which it is held. The following morning there was a service project set to clear a part of the park from the invasive Eastern Red Cedar tree. A front came through and the driving rain and wind the following morning kept us from being able to do the project. We hope to do one in the future.
The next BioBlitz! was announced for the year 2020. The event will happen at the Roman Nose State Park in Watonga, Oklahoma. Mark your calendars for this fun, affordable, educational, family friendly event that connects people to the nature that surrounds us in our beautiful state. https://www.facebook.com/bioblitzoklahoma/
Margaritte Arthrell-Knezek is a naturalist, writer and community educator committed to teaching the skills of sustainability and instructing children and adults on how to connect with the natural world that surrounds them daily. Arthrell-Knezek hails from New Haven, Connecticut where she began her work in the arts and environmental activism in 1997. She graduated from The Evergreen State College In Olympia WA, 2010, with a bachelor’s degree in multi-media art and sustainability studies. She has traveled the world and landed in Tulsa, OK where she is the Executive Director and Lead Educator of Under The Canopy LLC. She is a parent to two awesome children and wife to Mykey Arthrell-Knezek. You can learn more about the programs she teaches at www.underthecanopy.org She is a regular contributor to TulsaKids.com and also keeps a personal blog about parenting in all its real and messy forms www.adventuresofmulletmom.blogspot.com. She was also published in Hilary Frank’s 2019 book, “Weird Parenting Wins.”