Bugs, birds, plants, oh my! BioBlitz!

Measuring tree circumfrence
Two high school students measure our long leaf pine, can we determine the age this way?

For National Public Lands Day, I hosted an official NPS iNaturalist BioBlitz with Greensboro high school students, North Carolina A&T University college students, and members of the Piedmont Bird Club. In total, 28 volunteers and staff collaborated to make over 250 observations of the park’s wildlife. This by far, has been my favorite event because I was working with enthusiastic high school and college students. I also was able to break out of my office routine and really explore my park – finding creeks, bridges, and forest spaces that I had not yet explored.

Happy BioBlitzers!
BioBlitz volunteers from Greensboro high schools and NC A&T pose with Rebecca (CVA) and EMT VIP Jenn

The high school students and their teachers came from Grimsley Senior High, Walter Page Senior High, Northwest High, and NC A&T STEM Early College. Dr. Nakia Hardy, Chief of Academic Services with Guilford County Schools opened the program greeting these students. I invited Dr. Hardy to speak in an effort to inform the new superintendent administration of Guilford County about the park’s work with local high school students. The two groups who aided the high school students with plant and bird identification were the American Society of Landscape Architects from NC A&T and three birders from the Piedmont Bird Club.

While roving the park in search of the weirdest bugs and the oldest trees, the BioBlitz participants learned about the history of the park from VIP Barry McGee and Ranger Violet Lee-Hayward. A few of the high school students were aware of the park’s Anniversary and the City of Greensboro’s Battle of Guilford Courthouse re-enactment. Those who had attended the re-enactment were excited to learn about the actual battle lines and the discovery of the 3rd Maryland Regiment and historical structures of the hamlet of Martinville. The park is working to restore the battlefield to its original state – a forest – and with this information, the BioBlitzers set out to identify the older trees and document their circumference.

Throughout the BioBlitz, students and the birders stated how appreciative they were of an opportunity to do field studies in a national park. I invited students who want to pursue careers in environmental science, encouraging their teachers to treat this opportunity as an award as well as a chance to learn about career opportunities with the National Park Service. I collaborated with Kelly Coy of the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate, to connect the park’s iNaturalist BioBlitz to the official network of NPS BioBlitz. Alison Loar, NPSpecies Data Manager assisted by creating a species guide for park birds.

Though the BioBlitz was hosted as a fun citizen science day the students, teachers, and birders made great progress digitally capturing 59 species. The birders identified a migratory species, and taught the students how to identify bird calls. The students used an easy macro-lense on their smartphones to photograph orb weaver spiders, moths, and ant activity.

Capturing a spider with an easy macro-lens
BioBlitz volunteers from Greensboro high schools and NC A&T pose with Rebecca (CVA) and EMT VIP Jenn

I almost stepped into the web of the creepiest spider, an orb weaver with spikes. Taking a picture with the macro-lens meant I had to get right in its space, and I’m marking that as my bravest citizen scientist adventure so far. Luckily, my participants were willing to do the same and we captured many spider and ant pictures. While traveling across creeks, one student spotted a brown water snake and we gathered with our binoculars to observe from afar.

The most gratifying part of the day was when I would hear the students get excited about discoveries and say they wanted to come back. I hope to see BioBlitz activity continue even after I leave as CVA, and I believe this can be done through our rangers and staff. When I showed the staff all of our discoveries, I believe it encouraged them to think about the benefits of a BioBlitz to ourselves and our community. I know our ranger and VIP had a good time identifying species.

If you have a knack for identifying plants and insects you can help us finish identifying the species we caught by going to “2016 National Parks BioBlitz – Guilford Courthouse” and clicking on the observations marked need ID.