About fifty citizen scientists and volunteer experts are converging in the south Sound Saturday for a "bioblitz." That’s when people get together for a few hours and try to document as many species as possible in one place.
This bioblitz is organized by the Washington office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s taking place at Wolfhaven International in Tenino, which has one of the more intact prairie ecosystems in the region.
Americorps volunteer Ruthie Aldrich will be leading the blitz. She says Puget Sound prairies are unsung heroes of our environment because they clean our drinking water.
“Most of our water comes from ground water, so without the prairie ecosystems, we wouldn’t have some of the best drinking water in the world,” Aldrich said, adding that the draw for a lot of the people who volunteer their time is seeing the wide array of unique species that live on prairies in the wild, which is part of what makes that particular ecosystem special.
“It has very high biodiversity,” she says. “And a lot of those species that live on the prairie are actually listed – on the state or federal level as well.”
The event brings together “citizen scientists” who volunteer to help spot and record species of plants and animals they see, with scientists, who are also volunteering their time. Those experts can be called on to make sure the techniques used are generating good data and to lend their expertise if there are any questions during the event.
Jamie Hanson is a Prairie Ecologist who moved to the Olympia area two years ago and will be taking part.
“It’s really fantastic to see people of all ages identify plants and animals that they might not have seen in real life before – or that they might never have even heard of,” she said.
Those species include the bright yellow golden paintbrush wildflower, which is currently in bloom, as well as the Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly that uses it as habitat. There’s also the rarely seen Mazama pocket gopher and the streaked horned lark, which is more common on the prairie lands to the north, at Joint Base Lewis McChord.
Participants will use their eyes and ears, paper and pencils to record their observations, as well as cameras, smartphones and an app called iNaturalist.
That's also a website, which is widely used and generates data for legitimate science, even though it's so fun to use. Aldrich says it's "basically like Pokemon Go - but with real creatures."
She says you take photos and upload them, then they are identifyed and can be fed into data sets. And the free smartphone app can be used anytime, anywhere, which can be particularly fun when wildlife is abundant, in spring and summer.
Saturday's event is Fish and Wildlife’s second annual “Prairie Blitz” in the south sound. Registration is closed, but the agency's Facebook page lists other upcoming events.