Count­ing crit­ters at the RBG

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MARK MCNEIL

The rich di­ver­sity of plants and an­i­mals on Royal Botan­i­cal Gar­dens prop­erty is well known.

But this week a team of pro­fes­sional nat­u­ral­ists and mem­bers of the pub­lic will try to come to a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the area’s flora and fauna in a first ever in­ven­tory blitz. Fri­day evening and Satur­day, they’ll traipse through the RBG’s 1,100 hectares of prop­erty as well as through the ad­join­ing lands of the Cootes to the Es­carp­ment EcoPark , a nat­u­ral land sanc­tu­ary from the har­bour to the es­carp­ment.

It’s called the RBG BioBlitz, one of dozens of sim­i­lar events across the coun­try or­ga­nized by the Cana­dian Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion to help cel­e­brate Canada’s 150th by “tak­ing a na­ture selfie of Canada.”

Bar­bara McKean, head of ed­u­ca­tion with the RBG says in ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing base­line data that can be used in fu­ture in­ven­to­ries, “we’re hop­ing to find new species. We’re con­fi­dent that we’ll find new things that we didn’t know we had.”

As it stands now, the RBG knows of more than 1,580 dif­fer­ent species on its prop­erty, in­clud­ing more than 1,200 wild plants.

Sci­en­tists with di­verse back­grounds from the CWF, gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, mu­se­ums as well as academia will be on hand Fri­day and Satur­day.

McKean says there will even be a fungi and slime mould ex­pert to of­fer guid­ance. “And I can tell you we don’t know a lot about the slime moulds on our prop­erty.”

The CWF project also has an app called iNat­u­ral­ist that al­lows peo­ple to up­load photos of na­ture dis­cov­er­ies they find. Con­tri­bu­tions can be made dur­ing BioBl­itzes or at any other time.

The app records the lo­ca­tion and date of the dis­cov­ery and plots it on a map. Ex­perts in Ot­tawa will as­sist with iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. So far more than 3,300 dif­fer­ent species have been found from across the coun­try.

James Pagé, species at risk and bio­di­ver­sity spe­cial­ist with the CWF, says “the app tracks species dis­tri­bu­tion across Canada so we can see in real time what peo­ple are find­ing and where these species are oc­cur­ring.

“We want peo­ple to re­al­ize that any­one can con­trib­ute and any­one can make a dif­fer­ence in our knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of bio­di­ver­sity. And at the same time we hope that it in­spires peo­ple to want to pro­tect and con­serve the nat­u­ral world.”

In May, the app was used by a group of peo­ple in a 45-minute blitz of Par­lia­ment Hill in Ot­tawa that dis­cov­ered 137 species in­clud­ing a yel­low-banded Bum­ble Bee, a species listed as of “Spe­cial Con­cern” by the Com­mit­tee on the Sta­tus of En­dan­gered Wildlife in Canada.

Of spe­cial in­ter­est in the RBG study will be whether ex­am­ples of the more than 50 known species at risk on RBG prop­erty are found, such as the Bland­ing’s tur­tle or the South­ern Fly­ing Squir­rel. Per­haps oth­ers that are also at risk will be dis­cov­ered as well.

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY CATHIE COWARD, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

A sam­ple of flora and fauna found at the RBG, clock­wise from top left (around the chip­munk): Pearl Cre­sent but­ter­flies; a Blue Jay; sol­dier bee­tles on Queen Anne’s Lace; berries; water lilies; and wild­flow­ers.

PHOTOS BY CATHIE COWARD, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

A swal­low takes a break from catch­ing bugs on the pond near Val­ley Inn Road.

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