Monday, August 15, 2011

First Annual Metchosin BioBlitz 2011

Comandra umbellata (Bastard Toadflax)

What is more fun than Christmas, Easter and Halloween combined? The First Annual Metchosin BioBlitz, held on Saturday, April 30th, would easily compete for my favourite day of the year.
Is anything more exciting than waking to the first sunny day in a long, long time and sharing it with dozens of equally delighted scientists, naturalists and residents as you engage in a treasure hunt of immense proportions?
Metchosin District lies within one of the rarest forest ecosystems in Canada, the Coastal Douglas-fir forest, a component of which are our endangered Garry oak and associated ecosystems. For many years some of us have waged a stealthy campaign to painlessly impart knowledge of the biodiversity and importance of the natural ecosystems and native species of Metchosin to its residents. To that end there have been dozens of Talk and Walk (natural history) events, newspaper articles, a booth at our annual Metchosin Day fair, school walks and myriad other efforts aimed at developing an enthusiasm and appreciation for our wild areas and species, which we hope will in turn foster a culture of stewardship.
A BioBlitz is a 24 hour recording frenzy of all living species within a certain area. In 1996, at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, DC, Sam Droege and Dan Roddy conducted the first modern BioBlitz and the concept has been gaining popularity since then. Whistler had its first BioBlitz in 2007.
Without significant funding from any level of government in the foreseeable future, the responsibility falls upon landowners and residents to provide protection of habitat. Unfortunately, most people can’t name even twenty of the native species with which they share their community, let alone understand the complexities of the interrelationships that comprise ecological communities.  BioBlitzes and similar events help landowners and residents to put names to species; knowing the names awakens in us a comprehension of the non-human species that live in our communities.
Andy MacKinnon, raconteur, author of many field guides, and fungophile (Andy puts in fun in fungus), Kem Luther, author, computer whiz (, and talented amateur botanist and teacher, and myself, self confessed keener and incessant prodder, organized the Metchosin BioBlitz. Both Andy and Kem have been involved in the Whistler BioBlitz in previous years and we were eager to craft a “made in Metchosin” version of this event.
Partnering with CRD Parks, The Metchosin Foundation and the District of Metchosin, our first BioBlitz was a huge success as we recorded 850 species, including 325 species of vascular plants, 60 mosses, 14 liverworts, 60 lichens, 71 fungi, 28 algae, 4 amphibians, 5 reptiles, 110 birds, 2 fishes, 5 mammals and 166 invertebrates. Of these 13 were blue-listed and 6 red-listed species. There are many more species to be recorded in future fun-filled BioBlitzes, but even this beginning list demonstrates the diversity and abundance of our wild neighbours to local residents.
It was interesting to note the breadth of knowledge of many of our 60+ experts. It was a birder who found a rare plant, a botanist who found the exciting rare bird sighting and two mycologists who found the rare slugs…
For those participants who had the desire and stamina, Hans Roemer led a dedicated multidisciplinary team on an all day foray into the Metchosin hinterlands and Sugarloaf Mountain. They came back with an impressive list of more than 225 species.
Botanically speaking, the highlight of the day had to be the sighting of Viola praemorsa ssp praemorsa (yellow montane violet), a red-listed species.  Found within a local regional park, it was the first record ever of this delightful little violet in Metchosin. Sitting demurely by the edge of a path, with only a few yellow flowers to mark its location, a violet-eyed birder was the first to spy this gem.
Red-listed Grindelia hirsutula var hirsutula (hairy gumweed) was found on some rocky outcrops at higher elevations. It can sometimes be found in association with Orobanche californica ssp. californica (California broomrape), although this broomrape species doesn’t make an appearance until July and August.
Limnanthes macounii (Macoun’s meadowfoam), a diminutive annual linked forever in my mind with Adolf and Oluna Ceska, was another red-listed species spied during the day.
Allium amplectens (slimleaf onion) was recorded at one site, but only because the recorders knew where to look. Examples of this blue-listed species would be quite a challenge to find so early in the season, long before the emergence of their distinctive flowers.
Allium amplectans (Slimleaf onion)
Blue-listed Pseudocyphellaria crocata (yellow specklebelly lichen) made the day for Daryl Thompson, the lichen expert, who was overjoyed at his good fortune at being able to add this species to his life list.
The second Metchosin record for the semiparasitic Comandra umbellata var californica (bastard toadflax) was also identified during a walk along the shoreline of Parry Bay. It is widespread but not common throughout the province, except on Vancouver Island where it has a very limited occurrence.
Youngest ever found blue-grey taildropper
(Photo by Adolf Ceska)
Very young, tiny, blue-grey taildroppers (Prophysaon coeruleum) were found nestled within a hollow mushroom, perhaps giving researchers a new glimpse into the habits and habitats of these elusive slugs. Rare mollusks were also represented by a threaded vertigo (Nearctula sp.), a minute snail (less than 3 mm), that resides in rich, mature second growth and old growth mixed conifer and deciduous forests.
The spider brigade claimed they found the most exciting species of the day with two unique spiders. The finding of Nesticus sylvestrii was only the second record of this species on Vancouver Island and the first since 1930. Coreorgonal petulcus, which has a very peculiar head, even for a spider, has only been recorded three or four times before.
The birders were also crowing about their find, a pair of western bluebirds (Sialia mexicana), whose Georgia Depression population is red-listed. The female had some food in her beak, so the hope is that they are a nesting pair. Western bluebirds are occasionally seen migrating through in February but their appearance in late April gives further credence to the possibility they are raising a family. The last nesting western bluebirds on Vancouver Island  were seen over thirty years ago. Our American neighbours have reintroduced them to the San Juan Islands and it is possible these birds ventured onto our island from those successful releases.  
Western Bluebird
(photo by Jeremy Gatten)
From the ordinary to the extraordinary, discovering the treasures of your natural communities can increase the awareness and appreciation of their value and encourage stewardship of our wild lands. Plans are already afoot for Metchosin’s second BioBlitz on May 5, 2012, when stalking will be an accepted activity.

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