HANCOCK, NY — From noon on June 28 to noon on June 29, the Upper Delaware BioBlitz was held on a 63.5 acre tract, the “Gales Property” just downstream of the Delaware River West Branch confluence in Wayne County, PA. This property is owned by the Norcross Wildlife Foundation, and executive director Karen Outlaw, explained that this was the first bioblitz ever held in Wayne County or anywhere else in the Upper Delaware Region. Steven Schwartz, who organized this event, was inspired by a bioblitz he attended in Monroe County, PA in 2012 and he thought that the rich habitat of the Upper Delaware would yield even more species of flora and fauna.
A “bioblitz,” a term first coined by National Park Service (NPS) naturalist Susan Rudy in 1996 during the first such event, is a “snapshot” of all species found in a target area in a set time (usually 24 hours). Because of the survey methods and the time allocation in a bioblitz, not every species in a target area will be observed, but scientists can look at survey results and determine if a more thorough study for a particular target species is warranted. A bioblitz is also designed so that the public can interact with the scientists by attending presentations or collecting samples and submitting samples for identification. Findings are presented so that the public (especially kids) can easily understand what is being presented. With this in mind, Schwartz got the ball rolling and a 12-person steering committee was formed. Funding and other resources were provided by several agencies and organizations, such as the Delaware Highlands Conservancy and the National Park Service. Volunteers were recruited to start days before and after the event to tackle the set-up and tear-down of tents, parking and all the other things that make an event like this work. Thanks to the efforts of all these folks and groups, the “boots hit the ground” on that drizzly Friday morning with high water in rivers and streams from torrential rain, and the Upper Delaware BioBlitz got underway with sample collection and setting up for the public programs.
The sample collection and science arm of the Upper Delaware BioBlitz was comprised of nine teams of biologists in nine fields of expertise: aquatic macroinvertebrates, birds, botany, fish, fungi, herps, invertebrates, mammals, and mosses and lichens. The teams collaborated with each other; teams using nets in waterways captured fish, insects, crayfish and turtles and other herps with a single net. The high water curtailed some activities along the riverbanks and streams at first, but alternate sites were found and falling stream/river levels got sampling back on track for affected teams. The high, swift current helped in a few ways; yearling trout were found in abundance sheltering in high grass along the river. The weather got sunny after early morning and most of the teams were out collecting or surveying. Saturday was mostly clear and seasonable; a perfect day to be out in the field. Visitors who came to visit were treated to many interesting presentations and displays, and were able to participate in some activities such as mushroom hunting or birding walks. All manner of plant and animal life were on display at the individual team tables and team scientists were there to answer any questions. Most of the living specimens not needed for later analysis in the lab were released back into the wild at event’s end.
As far as the results of the Upper Delaware BioBlitz, here is a statement from Steve Schwartz as posted a day after the event and shortly before this article went to press:
In all “972 distinct species were identified at the 2013 Upper Delaware BioBlitz according to the preliminary tally at the site at the close of the collection period at noon Saturday. Some teams had specimens they were going to continue to key out to identify back in their labs. The final tally will be well over 1,000 species for the 24-hour event. Thanks to everyone who participated including the teams of scientists, volunteers, sponsors, donors and event steering committee.”
Here are the preliminary species counts by team:
Amphibians and reptiles, 16; aquatic macroinvertebrates, 60; birds, 54; botany, 222; fish, 27; fungi, 47; invertebrates, 457; mammals, 9; mosses and lichens, 80.
For more info and updated results, visit the Upper Delaware BioBlitz website at www.upperdelawarebioblitz.com  or their Facebook page by searching for Upper Delaware BioBlitz. This is indeed a significant number for a 63.5 acre tract of land and is indicative of the rich wildlife diversity of this stretch of river we call the Upper Delaware.