Union County hosts its annual Bio-Blitz

UNION COUNTY, NJ — On June 10 and 11, Union County held its annual Bio-Blitz at Kawameeh Park in Union, Black Brook Park in Kenilworth and Galloping Hill Golf Course in Kenilworth. The free, 24-hour event surveyed all living things at each of the three locations in a race against time to find as many life forms as possible.

Teams consisted of scientists, naturalists and members of the community, who collected data for a look into Union County’s biodiversity with the goal of protecting local wildlife.

According to Betty Ann Kelly, environmental specialist for Union County’s Department of Parks and Recreation, “An exhibit/field lab tent was available for folks to see species collected from the field and rub elbows with scientists or purchase a native plant from Toadshade Wildflower Farm to plant in his or her own backyard.”

Bio-Blitz kicked off Friday, June 10, with naturalist Debbie Naha hosting a walk that involved foraging for edible plants, where participants were introduced to edible wildlife.

“The event was a lot of fun,” Union County Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski told LocalSource. “I especially enjoyed the edible walk with Debbie Naha. She’s very informative as to what’s edible in our own backyards.

“They didn’t finish counting all the species yet. So far there were about 70 to 100 species of birds, hundreds of insects, 100 to 200 species of plants and 600 to 800 species altogether. It’s good to know the status of nature. It’s beneficial to the development of parks, and knowledge of the environment can provide us with information about what kind of shape the parks are in at the moment. I attended my first Bio-Blitz in 2005 at Lenape Park. Ever since, it’s grown and gotten better.

So many children get put in touch with nature, even if they are accustomed to indoor activities. Every year more and more people get involved.”

In addition to the search for wildlife, there were also educational walks and talks for families at the event. Bio-Blitz central offered displays and allowed visitors a chance to meet with scientists and people were offered the opportunity to get in touch with the natural environment as they listened for the sounds of owls, searched for insects late at night and identified mushrooms and plant life.

Bio-Bliz Bingo required players to identify species of plants and animals throughout the park and mark off a Bingo card; the first 10 winners received a bird poster for their efforts. Additional prize drawings were offered at the exhibitor’s tables.

Inside the junior naturalist tent, young naturalists were invited to decorate their own binoculars, borrow a net to catch insects, get a nature tattoo and examine natural artifacts. And for PhotoBlitz, participants brought along cameras and joined photographer Jacki Dickert on a photo expedition.

After dark, the fun continued with an “owl prowl,” led by Emile DeVito; a late-night star watch with Marc Rogoff; a presentation by naturalist Blaine Rothauser under the Bio-Blitz central tent titled, “Moths: the Silent Majority,” and an insect-trapping session.

On Saturday, June 11, visitors could join members of the bird team for an early morning walk at 7 a.m., or help the mammal team search for mammals, checking live traps and tracking stations to see which animals had been roaming the woods at night.

The aquatic insect team took interested visitors on a stream-sampling expedition, and there was an electrofishing demonstration by the fish team and the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.

In addition, a hunt for spore-bearing plants, and a nearby “Mini-Blitz” were among the Saturday activities scheduled from early morning until the Bio-Blitz event came to an end at 5 p.m.

“As one of Union County’s most popular events, Bio-Blitz has become an annual rite of spring for hundreds of residents and visitors,” said Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen in a recent press release. “It enables them to experience a close encounter with our natural environment, while scientists create a record of species diversity in our public parks.”