[Editor’s note: Jack Barnett and Mary Anne Carletta, summertime residents of Hawley, PA, were among dozens of scientists and volunteers who participated in the 2013 Upper Delaware BioBlitz (UDBB) last June, a species census conducted on a riverfront property along the Delaware near Starlight, PA. This year, they will again join the UDBB to be held June 28 and 29 at the Ten Mile River Scout Camp in the Town of Tusten, NY. The River Reporter asked Jack and Mary Anne to explain a bioblitz by recalling their experiences of last year’s science and environmental event.]
JUNE 2013, STARLIGHT, PA — It is 8 a.m. on a rainy June morning, and we’re driving north to reach our camping spot and setup prior to the start. Last night was the largest rainfall of the year, with over five inches, and we’re worried about camping next to the Delaware River, right where the West Branch joins the Main Stem. Are the roads open? Will there be flooding? How will we keep our equipment dry? Starting at 12 noon, we’ll have only 24 hours to collect and try to identify as many mushrooms as we can, found on the 63-acre site. The 2013 Upper Delaware BioBlitz is on! But first we have to get there.
We are just two of the 50-plus scientists and amateur naturalists who have volunteered to spend 24 hours, straight, to catalog the bio-diversity of the site, and then host a public educational program the next day. Our team is the fungi team, led by the Delaware Highlands Mushroom Society (dhmushrooms.org) and is made up of four local mushroomers.
We are one of nine such teams, all looking for as many living organisms as we can find and identify in just one day. Our team has no chance at the title of “Most Identified Species.” It’s June; the spring mushrooms are mostly long gone, and the summer and fall species won’t be out yet. Other teams have national and regional experts coming from Cornell, Drexel, Pittsburgh, NYC and elsewhere. The invertebrate team includes lots of young hands (4H club members) with prior experience from the biannual Monroe County Environmental Education Center BioBlitz. The real race will be between them and the botany team, which includes acclaimed scientist and Pennsylvania author Ann Rhoads.
We arrive at the site okay, though later than intended due to storm-damaged roads. At least it’s mushroom weather! Mushrooms love the rain and need lots of moisture in order to fruit. The mushrooms we find are exactly that, the “fruit” of the fungus organisms. However, we would likely find more in two or three days from now, rather than searching the woods and fields while it’s still raining.
Next, it’s time to hit the books, to match the specimens we collected and brought back to the base camp to the correct scientific descriptions in our 200-plus pounds of books (all of which we really want to keep dry, and our microscopes, too!). While there may be as many as five million fungal species, out of the estimated 12 million or more total species currently living on this Earth, we’ll be happy to put proper scientific names on just 50 fungus species collected and identified during this event.
Twenty-four hours later, after not enough sleep, but two wonderful meals catered by local businesses, the public has arrived. Over 200 kids and adults join us to be inspired by nature and all the living beings that inhabit our beautiful region. We’re in a rush to try to find the correct names for the many as yet unidentified specimens we found yesterday and this morning. At noon the count has to be finalized.
By then, the sun has broken through the clouds. But faced with a rushing river overflowing its banks, we’re amazed that the aquatic teams managed to collect and identify 28 different species of fish, and 67 species of mussels, snails and other underwater creatures. Other teams have also identified many frogs and turtles, snakes and salamanders, mosses and lichen, birds and mammals. The botany team has identified 268 different plants and trees on the site. But the overall count leader is the terrestrial invertebrates team, with a grand total of 458 species of worms, flies, moths and other insects. And just ahead of the buzzer, we identify our 51st species of mushroom. Plus we had at least eight more specimens that we couldn’t match to a proper name.
Overall the teams identified over 1,000 species. Such bio-diversity is a good indicator of a healthy and vibrant natural environment. And, we had lots of fun, including many interesting walks and talks with others who love nature as much as we do. You will have lots of fun too, if you come to either (or both) of the two regional bioblitzes occurring in June 2014.
[June 20-21: The Monroe County Environmental Education Center’s 5th BioBlitz at the Austin T. Blakeslee Natural Area in Tobyhanna Township, PA will be open to the public on Saturday, June 21. For more information, call the education center at 570/629-3061, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday.
June 28-29: The 2014 Upper Delaware BioBlitz will take place at the confluence of the Delaware River and Ten Mile River on the Ten Mile River Scout Camp near Narrowsburg, NY. The public hours will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 29. For more information, visit upperdelawarebioblitz.com.]