Volunteer Naturalists Count 1,066 Species in 24 Hours at Rhode Island Preserve

By TODD McLEISH/ecoRI News contributor

During the June 10-11 BioBlitz, 70 kinds of moss were identified. (Todd McLeish/ecoRI News)

During the June 10-11 BioBlitz, 70 kinds of moss were identified. (Todd McLeish/ecoRI News)

HOPKINTON, R.I. — More than 200 volunteer naturalists explored every corner of the Kenyon Crossroads Preserve recently during the 17th annual BioBlitz, and in just 24 hours they tallied 1,066 species on the property, from birds and mammals to mushrooms, dragonflies and spiders. They even identified two viruses.

“To have gone over 1,000 species on a 100-acre parcel with no coastal or marine component is huge,” said David Gregg, executive director of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, which organizes the annual event. “I’m pretty sure that’s the highest total of any BioBlitz site without a marine component.”

Among the species identified were 21 mammals, 79 birds, 12 fish, 12 amphibians, eight reptiles, 432 plants, 70 lichens, 81 fungi, 30 dragonflies, 49 beetles, 21 butterflies and 117 moths. The most notable discoveries were a rare species of honeysuckle and two presumably breeding northern parulas, a small songbird known to breed in only a few locations in the state.

The preserve is owned by the Hopkinton Land Trust, which hosted the volunteers, many of whom camped overnight at the site, including a group of middle-school students from Central Falls and the Envirothon team from Coventry High School.

“We’ve owned the property for quite some time, but we finally got it looking the way we want it, with the parking lot and the trails in,” said Ed Wood, a member of the land trust who helped organize the June 10-11 event. “So now we’re trying to make it more well known. That’s one of the reasons we wanted BioBlitz here.”

Keith Bowman traveled from Swarthmore, Pa., to participate in the event and lead the team counting mosses and lichens.

“I don’t get to do this on a daily basis, so it’s a chance to interact with people who are interested in the same things I’m interested in, and a chance to share what I know with other people who want to learn about it,” said Bowman, who manages a tutoring office.

He said the 70 species he identified was a good total for a 24-hour event.

“Mosses take a lot of work to identify,” Bowman said. “A lot of them have to be verified under a microscope. When I’m in the field, I’m looking for those with different color, texture, size, and from different substrates and environments. The differences are very small-scale differences, so when they’re under the microscope, I’m looking at cell size, shape, structures and veins.”

While most of the members of the BioBlitz dragonfly team wandered the preserve with insect nets attempting to capture dragonflies and damselflies, Kirsten Martin contributed to the team’s effort by using a microscope to identify dragonfly larvae scooped from the muck of a nearby pond.

“I’m addicted to Bioblitz,” said Martin, a professor at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, Conn. “It’s a lot of fun. ... I enjoy hanging out with like-minded people, especially since I’m one of the only environmental scientists at my university. So this is a chance for me to play. You get to start seeing the same people year after year, and I add some knowledge about conservation.”

Her expertise added 11 species to the dragonfly list that wouldn’t otherwise have been included. “And they all came from just one scoop,” she said proudly.

Lou Perrotti, director of conservation programs at Roger Williams Park Zoo, led the reptile and amphibian team, which spent most of its time looking for snakes by walking the edges of fields, turning over rocks and logs, and investigating stonewalls and brush piles.

“We got the likely suspects, but I would have expected more snakes here, given the remoteness of the area and the fact that we’re within range of a lot of species that only occur in a limited area,” he said. “Box turtle and black rat snake should have been here, but we didn’t find them.”

Perrotti said the zoo sponsors BioBlitz almost every year as part of its mission of conservation and education.

“BioBlitz is a great way to inspire the next generation, to bring folks with expertise together to pass information along, and to collect a snapshot of data about the biodiversity of the state,” he said.

Last year’s BioBlitz was held at the Dundery Brook and Goosewing Beach Preserves in Little Compton, where 1,204 species were identified.

Rhode Island resident and author Todd McLeish runs a wildlife blog.