Bioblitzes have been around for a while, but only in recent years have they have become more mainstream. What is a Bioblitz? Essentially, it is a biological inventory conducted over a particular area by a group of people, during a 24 hour time frame. Birders are familiar with the concept of a Big Day; a Bioblitz is the same thing, except that every species counts (not just birds!).
I have participated in a few Bioblitzes in the past and they are always a good time. Often, experts in different taxa are invited, providing a great opportunity to learn from many of these specialists. The socializing is always a highlight, many interesting species are found, and it is generally a fantastic time nerding out with other like-minded individuals.
I was recently invited to assist with the first ever Bioblitz at the Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary Property near Kingsville, Ontario. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the Bioblitz was postponed last year. It was conducted this year instead, though to limit potential COVID-19 issues, only a handful of biologists were invited. Typically, Bioblitzes are open to members of the public, and different experts can lead walks and outings. Unfortunately, this aspect was not possible this year.
The boundaries of the study area included roughly 400 acres of land south of the Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary facilities, just west of Kingsville. Much of this land is referred to as the Jack Miner Kennedy Woods.
The major treed habitats included a woodlot dominated by Black Walnut on one side and Sugar Maple on the other, and a higher quality, larger forest that contained many "Carolinian" species including quite a few Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) trees. Agricultural fields covered much of the remaining lands, with weedy, shrubby edges where the fields met the woods. Water features included two man-made ponds as well as a well-vegetated, drainage ditch as well as a small creek through the Carolinian forest.
Because I am a numbers guy (and a little bit competitive as well), I made it my goal to personally document as many species as possible. The Bioblitz was being hosted as a project on iNaturalist, so any observations with a voucher submitted to iNaturalist during the right day and right geographic location would be included. A voucher could consist of a photo, video or sound recording. I made it my goal to document 400 species during the Bioblitz. This seemed to be a pretty tall order since habitat diversity on the site was somewhat limited. Even though many thousands of species are found here, to take photos of that many species in just one day can be a challenge.
You have to adopt a particular strategy if your goal is to document as many different species as possible in one day. I basically ignored vertebrates, other than incidental by-catch. The one exception was birdlife. Despite the strong wind, grabbing recordings is relatively easy (remember, recordings count just as much as photos). The vast majority of my bird photos were poor record shots. I think this Savannah Sparrow, below, was probably my best effort.
Most of my efforts went into documenting insects and plants. My botany skills are somewhat lacking, especially with some of the tougher groups like rushes, willows, sedges and grasses, but it was still easy to photograph almost 150 species of vascular plants. It helped spending so much time withe Quinten and Pauline. They are both excellent botanists and they pointed out quite a few interesting species.
Given the habitats on the site, probably greater than 50% of the total plant species I photographed were non-native, often weedy species. This next one may be invasive, but at least it is a pretty one!
The Bioblitz officially started at 6 AM on Saturday morning. Along with Steve Pike, Pauling Catling and Quinten Wiegersma, I camped on the property the evening before. We had stayed up late checking out our moth sheets, but we awoke early to get ready in time for the 6 AM start.
The forecasted weather for the Bioblitz was less than ideal. High winds and swirling gray clouds threatened to put a damper on the weekend, but fortunately the rain mostly held off. The wind was annoying at best, though we made the most of it.
For most of the morning I hiked with several others, including Steve, Pauline, Quinten, and Harrison Priebe. We explored both the walnut/maple woodlot and the higher quality Carolinian-type forest, as well as the water features and some hedgerows. Any and everything was fair game and I photographed at least one new species per minute for the first few early morning hours.
Treehoppers are always fun to come across; this one is in a species complex called the Two-marked Treehopper complex. It was resting on Spicebush. Perhaps that is its foodplant, a key piece of information which would help figure out which species of treehopper it is.
A nice selection of fungi could be found throughout the forests. Below are two of my favourite species from the day.
The threatening clouds dissipated slightly as the morning wore on, and the sun even came out for a bit. That really got the insects moving and the hedgerows and forest edges were quite productive during the mid-morning hours.
Slime molds are interesting little organisms. They include several groups of unrelated eukaryotes which can exist as single cells but can also aggregate together to form multicellular reproductive structures. Slime molds used to be lumped in with the fungi but now they are considered to be quite unrelated to them. I don't know much about slime molds but this eye-catching species was common in the Carolinian forest.
Following a brief snack break, I headed back out with Pauline to investigate a different hedgerow in the 45 minutes that we had before lunch. We added a number of new plants plus a few other odds and ends. While attempting to photograph a hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) sufficiently well to identify later, I noticed this rust on the underside of the leaf. I believe that it is Juniper-Hawthorn Rust (Gymnosporangium globosum), a type of Rust Fungi (Order Pucciniales).
The afternoon was more of the same - wandering hedgerows and fields, the edge of the drainage ditch and throughout the forest ecotypes. The sun was out for most of the afternoon which enabled our insect species lists to steadily increase.
A neat arachnid known as the Six-spotted Orbweaver (Araniella displicata).
Quinten has a keen eye for odonates and he pointed out this Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea) that was taking a rest. Gliders are notorious for never stopping to land; it was great to enjoy nice views of this one!
I had never seen a grape leaf with these structures on it before. Upon doing some research later on, I figured out that these galls are produced by the larvae of a type of midge called Ampelomyia viticola.
As afternoon turned into evening, excitement began to grow amongst the contingent of "moth-ers" in the group. No Bioblitz is complete without a healthy dose of light-trapping for insects such as moths, beetles and flies. Originally, it looked like we would have up to eight light/sheet combos set up all over the property. But one individual had to drop out, while a few others were thwarted due to a generator not working property. When it was all said and done only five lights/sheets were put to work: Mark Nenadov's LepiLED and black light, Pauline Catling's black light, and my two lights (LepiLED and black light). Unfortunately there were no mercury vapor or metal halide setups.
The weather conspired to limit our success as the strong winds picked up into the evening. By setting up our lights in strategic locations and pinning down the sheets with rocks, we were able to avoid the worst of it. Fortunately, the temperatures remained high throughout the evening which stimulated excellent insect activity.
The main factor working against us was the sheer volume of mayflies and caddisflies. Both of these groups evidently had had a massive hatch in the preceding days and they absolutely covered all of our sheets. It was difficult work finding other insects mixed in with the chaos! And small moths were pretty much impossible; they would be smashed away by one (or ten) of the offending mayflies within seconds of landing on the sheets.
Despite these factors limiting our success we still came through with a lot of interesting insects. It helped that we stayed out past 2 AM as well, and we were adding new species right until the end.
The rarest moth of the night was this one, known as the Moon-lined Moth (Spilosoma lunilinea). This species is apparently an immigrant to the north, and it has only been recorded a couple of times previously in Canada. Mark Nenadov had found one at nearby Cedar Creek Conservation Area a few days ago which prompted my interest in this species. When we walked up to the sheet and saw this guy sitting there, I knew immediately what we had stumbled across!
It was a very slow night for big, flashy moths. I don't blame them, I wouldn't want to enter the fray with 10,000+ mayflies either! We only tallied two sphinx moths including this Walnut Sphinx (Amorpha juglandis). Silkworm moths were limited to several Io Moths (Automeris io).
Anyone who knows me well knows about my interest in photographing tiny moths. This one was about as small as they come, about 5 mm in length. I have tentatively identified it as Phyllonorycter tiliacella, a species that prefers Basswood (Tilia americana). If this identification is correct, it would be the first iNaturalist record for Ontario. That is due to two factors - not many people are looking at moths this small, and the identification of these moths can be hard to confirm from a photo, or without knowledge of its host plant.
There is still much to learn about many of the micro-moths. Photographing them will only get you so far, and dissecting adult moths is beneficial to confirm some identifications. With this family of moths in particular (Gracillaridae), new species are being described all the time. Often, this is done by an intrepid individual rearing adult moths from interesting looking leaf mines found on new host plant species.
The hopper diversity was pretty decent. This neat little guy is a type of derbid planthopper called Otiocerus coquebertii that had taken up temporary residence on the back of Quinten's shirt.
Below are a few of the interesting leafhoppers from the evening.
Beetles were another group that were well-represented.
The next moth is called the Ironweed Root Borer (Polygrammodes flavidalis). Its foodplant is Ironweed (Vernonia sp.), and, as its name suggests, the larvae feed on the roots of its hostplant. This moth is restricted to the Carolinian zone in Ontario.
We found a harvestman that appeared to have been parasitized by a fungus, possibly Pandora phalangicida.
Below are a few more moths of note from the evening.
I'll finish this post with a few other odds and ends from our black-lighting.
We finally called it quits around 2 AM, about 20.5 hours after we had started the day. So, how did we do as a group?
So far the tally is around 650 species, though not everyone has submitted all of their data to iNaturalist and there should be more additions in the upcoming days. My personal total for the day was around 390 identified to species, though there will be a few more additions as I figure out some additions identifications which may push my total over 400.
It was a lot of fun and I can't wait until my next Bioblitz!