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Vashon BioBlitz provides a window into the natural world
This weekend Vashon wildlife lovers will spend 24 hours searchings for bugs, listening to birds, studying the shoreline and trapping small animals — all part of a new effort to better understand Vashon’s diverse ecosystems and document their changes over time.
The first Vashon BioBlitz, an intense biological inventory of a specific Island area, will take place this weekend at the Neill Point Natural Area on Vashon’s south end. Local naturalists and members of the public will work to identify as many plant and animal species as they can at the 50-acre preserve both during the day and in the dark, between 3 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.
“Having people see the actual biodiversity of where they live, you really can’t appreciate it until you can go out and go through a place like this with a fine-tooth comb,” said Bianca Perla, who is heading the event. “It’s a great experience for people.”
Perla, an ecologist who grew up on Vashon and moved back with her family a few years ago, recently began the Vashon Nature Center, a private organization with an online presence and a goal to better document the Island’s plant and animal life. When she proposed that the center hold a BioBlitz, a type of species survey held in many communities in the United States and other parts of the world, several of the Island’s nature experts and amateur naturalists jumped at the opportunity, she said.
“There are so many longtime naturalists on the Island who are excited about it and supportive of it,” Perla said. “We’ve had a lot of help.”
Neill Point Natural Area, a King County property on the southern tip of Vashon, was chosen for the survey because of its varied landscape. Perla said the preserve is small compared to many Island parks — a manageable size for the first event — but still contains a forested area, a grassy meadow, a few small ponds and more than 2,000 feet of shoreline. The diverse habitat means the point is likely home to hundreds of different plant and animal species.
“It’s just a neat habitat,” Perla said. “We could see some things we don’t see in other places.”
Most BioBlitzes have a public outreach component, Perla said, with experts on hand to teach the public about local wildlife. However, since this weekend is Vashon’s first-ever blitz, Perla said, the small but enthusiastic corps of volunteers will focus their efforts on the survey itself.
Even so, Perla said, the public is welcome at the event — as long as they’re willing to be put to work.
At Neill Point, volunteer naturalists, as well as anyone who is up for the challenge, will break into groups to survey different types of life. One group, for instance, will scour the beach at low tide on Sunday to document shoreline plants and animals. Another will record birds they spot or identify by song on Sunday morning, while another will spend the nighttime hours trapping and releasing small mammals that are most active at night. Also in the evening, a group working to identify insects will make a tent of light out of a sheet to see what insects fly into it.
“I’m really hoping we get good weather so we can do that,” Perla said. “It’s really magical to see all these things at night.”
Kathryn True, a naturalist and Vashon Nature Center volunteer who is helping organize the BioBlitz, said she hoped the event would be the first of many on Vashon.
The center’s plan, she said, is to hold a survey at a Vashon park or preserve at least once a year and eventually return to spots surveyed in the past and compare results. The data could eventually show how Vashon wildlife is changing — something that has not been measured in a significant way — and perhaps how human actions affect the Island’s ecosystems. The data, True said, could even be used to guide future land-use decisions.
“It gives us an environmental baseline,” she said. “It can gauge how we’re affecting the environment, if we’re making it more conducive of less conducive for different forms of life.”
Rayna Holtz, a naturalist and a leader in the Vashon Beach Naturalists program, plans to jump between the BioBlitz and the Beach Naturalists event also being held on Sunday. (See box below.) Neill Point, Holtz said, has an active landslide area that may change its habitat over time. Other factors, such as climate change, could also affect the area, something naturalists won’t know until they return to the point for another survey, she said.
“We’ll see if there are species you see one time and not the other. You can speculate about it,” Holtz said. “Over a period of time it can enable the citizen naturalists to build up kind of a baseline of how things are changing.”
There are no established trails at Neill Point, meaning some volunteers will have to tromp through thick underbrush and muddy areas. But wildlife lovers who are willing and able to accompany them will likely find the trek worth it. Even inexperienced volunteers are welcome to join a group surveying the species they are most interested in — be it plants or amphibians — and can help out by simply acting as another set of eyes.
“I think it would be enjoyable because it’s always infectious to be around naturalists that really know what they’re looking at,” Perla said. “You tend to get excited about things you never thought were possible.”
The bioblitz will take place from 3 p.m. Saturday, June 2, to 3 p.m. Sunday, June 3, at the Neill Point Natural Area, located at the end of Bachelor Road S.W. For more information see www.vashonnaturecenter.org. To RSVP for the event, contact Bianca Perla at firstname.lastname@example.org or 463-9443.