Glenn Phillips leads a group of students during the Central Park BioBlitz. Photo © Kaitlyn Parkins
Intern Kaitlyn Parkins, a graduate student in urban ecology at Fordham University specializing in bat ecology, reports:
More than 500 students and expert scientists from around the world descended on Central Park last Monday, August 26. Their goal: to identify as many living things as possible in 24 hours, to gauge the diversity of the Park’s plants and wildlife. The first such study of the Park in a decade, this year’s Central Park Bioblitz was coordinated by Macaulay Honors College at CUNY and the Central Park Conservancy with the help of experts from all over the globe. Students and researchers broke into teams and fanned out over the Park’s 843 acres to identify arthropods, lichens, plants, reptiles, fish, birds, bats, and more.
NYC Audubon supplied the bird buffs, including Executive Director Glenn Phillips, Board President Harry Maas, and interns Darren Klein and myself (although I got to help with the bats, too). We also had the gracious help of volunteers Bruce Yolton, James Buckler, Richard Lieberman, and Phil Cusimano. Between all of us, we took over 40 students out to survey birds, focusing on the North Woods and the Ramble for highest diversity.
The forecasted major thunderstorms held off, and despite the drizzly weather, we saw a great array of species. The students were excitedly documenting the plants, chipmunks, and butterflies they saw while on the lookout for birds. One group that went out Monday afternoon spotted a Wilson’s warbler among the blue jays and starlings, and the Tuesday morning groups listed a blue-gray gnatcatcher and a black-and-white warbler among their findings. Even the bat team got to document a bird species when we accidentally caught a northern waterthrush in our mist net. Of course, he was safely removed and sent on his way.
Along with the census, experts took the opportunity to engage the students in discussions about bird biology, conservation, and the importance of the biodiversity that can be found right in our own backyards. It was an opportunity for college students of all majors and interests to get some hands- on experience in biology, and not the kind that happens in a lab. One highlight: Students who at first could only recognize pigeons were able to point out American redstarts by the end of their session. That just can’t be taught in a classroom.
But the students aren’t the only winners here; the Park will benefit, too. Once all the data from the BioBlitz are compiled, it will be compared to the first Central Park BioBlitz, held in 2003. The Central Park Conservancy plans to analyze how Park wildlife has fared this last decade, and use their findings to inform management practices. Keep a lookout for the final tally and species list, expected this fall.
- Kaitlyn Parkins