Sunday, June 12, 2016

My (Mis)adventures at a Biodiversity Audit

Stale pastries, a couple of long bones, a snake skin, a banana...just some of the evidence on one particular table of people who had arrived at 3 p.m. the previous afternoon, camped overnight, and collected specimens for this year's Bio Blitz.  This year, the Rhode Island Natural History Survey took place at Kenyon Crossroads Preserve, Collins Road, Hopkinton, RI.  This area has woods, meadows, farm, a vernal pool, and streams.  

The tables beneath the large tent that serve as the "Science Center" are arranged by teams: "Litter Bugs" search through leaf litter and pass on fauna they find to others with microscopes and books.  Paper plates hold mushroom samples, their identity written in common tongue or sometimes Latin on the plates themselves.  I can't even begin to describe the diversity in the mosses alone.  So much wonderful texture!  Then there was the lichen table, the mammals, reptiles, mollusks, fish...  I spoke to a very pleasant woman examining squat, fat, bug-like creatures in a petri dish half-full of water who specialized in dragonfly nymphs.

Multitudes of moss!
Looking through leaf litter.
Dragonfly nymphs!
Specimens from the "Fun Guy" team!

There were also artistic teams: Writers and artists.  People posted quick watercolor sketches or got in depth with colored pencils and a microscope.  The writers chatted with each other.  

I was given a luna moth by a coworker and just ordered my insect pins and a shadow box to better display my collection.  These are beautiful.  Just the variety in the sphinx moths alone... I need to get a Peterson Moth Guide!  

An artist at work.
Funny how the travel mug matches the interest.
Note again the matching container. :)

I wanted to stay and learn more, but I wanted to explore too.  I set off on a trail with my map, water, camera, notebook, bug catcher, Peterson Insect Guide, etc. and started walking.  I was told the trail would take about 2 hours.  Since I stopped so often to take pictures, I'm not sure how far I travelled.  I walked for about 4 hours.  (More on that later.)

Lichen colonizes the tree trunk rubbed and gnawed bare of its bark by passing deer.

A portal, perhaps?

Landing pad?

Beware of spider!

A lone pine seedling amidst the lilies.

Who made such windows and doors?

Rooms to let.
Honeymoon Suite
Location, location!
Gnarly, dude!
Faery hill.

I imagined every hole, nook, and tunnel as a faery abode.  Some were tiny homes, some condos or hotels.  One spired dead stump was a goblin's castle.

As heavy droplets fell, the leaves on the ground jumped up.  With umbrella in hand, it was hard not to think of myself as Totoro, laughing at the rain.  


I travelled down many trails, the map of little sense to me.  When I came to the horses I was told about and what looked like a main road, I decided to head back.  I checked my GPS for the quickest route, but it only gave me a compass pointer toward the nearest road, sending me in a 20 minute circle stomping down thorny vines and climbing over rock walls.  Also during that 20 minutes, whatever hadn't gotten wet from walking through ostrich ferns got soaked by a now heavy rain pour.  Once I was back at the farm, I figured following the farm road would lead somewhere, so I took it.  GPS said it would be an hour walk to camp; an hour, that is, once I was on an actual road.  Still, there was much to see.  


Underside of tree felled by storm.
Deer tracks!


A very patient American toad allowed me to fumble one-handed with my camera before I let him go.

At the Science Center tent, I was enthralled by all the experts inspecting their finds, not being able to name a single moss and very few mushrooms.  But now I was walking along meadows with red-winged blackbirds and I could name nearly every plant I saw.  This may be the group I align with next year, to collect wild-flowers and herbs, press them into pages like Emily Dickenson, write poems, paint, and draw.  I have very little documentation of this part of the trip as it was too wet to use my Canon Rebel and my phone camera kept clouding up.  (In fact, I had to use a hair dryer the next day to dry out the charger port so it would charge again.  MacGyver moment.)

A face of fungus greets me,
Who peeled this bark, and why?
I walked over 4 miles, I know that much.  At one point, I passed another farm with what looked like cloned Clydesdale horses.  They stood alert looking at me as I fumbled to wipe off my phone yet again.  I took their photo.  One nodded at me.  I nodded back and went on my way.

Wildflowers through a wet lens.
Marsh near a farm.  Two red-winged blackbirds were enjoying it.

A stare and a nod.
A somewhat rare find.

So, my introduction to Bio Blitz did not go as planned, but no moment was wasted.  I would advise bringing a buddy.  Mine was hard at work on the chicken coop.  Still, despite the parts that were beyond my control, it felt good to take my time and let nature lead me.  We should all make time to do this.