Bio blitz plunges people into nature – Quad City Times

If you would like to listen for frogs while hiking in the dark or hear owls answer human calls, plan to attend a “bio blitz” event happening Friday-Saturday, June 23-24, at Loud Thunder Forest Preserve in rural Rock Island County.

The purpose of the blitz is two-fold: To survey as many plant, mammal, insect, bird, amphibian and reptile species as possible within a specified area during a 24-hour period and to educate the public — especially children — on the value and importance of Quad-City-area habitats and biodiversity.

The event is being organized by a new nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization called Guardians of the Prairie and Forest, with help from an estimated 70 to 90 volunteers. Included will be nearly 40 scientists and graduate students from Illinois and Iowa colleges and universities, said longtime Quad-City-area naturalist Marilyn Andress, a member and organizer.

Previous bio blitzes have been held in a wetland owned by the Quad-City Conservation Alliance, East Moline, and at Black Hawk State Historic Site and Milan Bottoms, both in Rock Island.

In addition to surveying the 1,621-acre Loud Thunder property, scientists also will be scouting the adjoining Martin Conservation Area. This 240-acre tract was given to the Rock Island County Forest Preserve District after farmer Ralph Martin died in 1994 and is actually part of the same ecosystem as the Milan Bottoms.

By attending the bio blitz, the general public will have an opportunity to explore this area under the wings of scientists who can identify and talk about what they are seeing. Among the habitats in the conservation area are 170 acres of native woodland, 22 acres of tallgrass prairie restoration and 4,360 feet of gravel bottom stream.

“It’s a primitive site that really has a lot of diversity,” Andress said. “There’s a lot of cool stuff in there.”

Ben Mills, head ranger at Loud Thunder, said he is looking forward to having a working inventory of the species that exist in the preserve, as this will be the first official survey.

“Hopefully, we will find some threatened and endangered species so we can make better efforts to conserve and protect them,” he said.

Among the species he would be delighted to find is the rusty patched bumblebee, a pollinator that recently was listed as federally endangered, he said.

The blitz offers a chance for the general public to work alongside experts, and there will be numerous hands-on activities for children.

In addition to the frog and owl hikes, kids may be especially interested in seeing a falcon fly by their heads, bats caught by mist nets or following along as Deb Kutsunis breaks apart an owl pellet (indigestible material that is regurgitated), revealing the bones of animals the owl consumed.

Overall, scientists will explain how the plants and animals found at Loud Thunder are part of the natural world that allows our human-built world to exist. Without this web of life providing ecological services, humans could not survive. These services include absorbing carbon dioxide, producing oxygen and the pollination of food-producing plants.