Thursday, June 23, 2005

Busey Woods Bio Blitz

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One of the characteristics that defines human beings is our curiosity about other forms of life. Witness the number of birders among us, the way children turn over rocks and roll logs to see what’s under them, the pleasure people take in observing stream life looking down from a bridge.

Such curiosity is the foundation for the Busey Woods Bio Blitz, an event organized by the Urbana Park District in cooperation with more than eighty scientists from the University of Illinois, the Illinois Natural History Survey, and various other institutions. The Bio Blitz will take place over the twenty-four hour period beginning tomorrow, Friday, June 24th, at noon, and ending at noon on Saturday.

The primary purpose of the Bio Blitz is to create a one-day profile of life in Busey Woods, a snapshot that captures everything from the eighty-foot tall Bur Oaks that tower overhead, to the microscopic bacteria at work in the soil below, and all that sprouts, crawls, scampers or flits in between. At the same time, the Bio Blitz is also intended to help people connect with the natural world by providing opportunities to see, hear, touch and smell, and to showcase the treasure that Busey Woods represents.

On the chance you’re not familiar with it, Busey Woods is a fifty-nine-acre natural area just north of Crystal Lake Park in Urbana and adjacent to the Anita Purves Nature Center, which will serve as the base of operations for the Bio Blitz. It’s a remnant of what was called the Big Grove, ten square miles of forest that stood in a sea of tallgrass prairie before the settlement of Champaign County by European Americans.

Busey Woods was saved from development as an industrial park in the 1960s, but it has been impacted by other activity. Some areas of the woods were filled with demolition rubble in anticipation of development, and the Saline Branch, the stream that once meandered through the woods, was diverted into a deepened, uniform channel quite different in character from its original course.

Despite these alterations, Busey Woods is home to a much wider range of life than you might expect. For example, the Bio Blitz team that will be tallying birds anticipates finding some thirty to forty different species, including those common to yards, as well as some that depend on a more forested habitat, such as the great-crested flycatcher or the eastern wood pewee. The team scouring the Saline Branch for fish also expects to count thirty species or more, everything from gamefish, such as smallmouth bass, to carp, channel catfish, suckers, darters, and minnows.

There’s really no contest, though, when it comes to which team will count the most species. That prize will go to the group concerned with invertebrates—insects, worms, protozoa, bacteria—all of the tiny creatures that make life as we know it possible, but which we usually overlook on account of their small size.

For these groups, as well as the groups surveying plants, fungi, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, one of the things that makes the Bio Blitz exciting is the potential for finding something unexpected--a thrush that would normally be in Canada at this time of year, a minnow thought to be gone from the region, or even a new species of some microscopic organism in the soil.

Whatever the Busey Woods Bio Blitz turns up, it affords a fantastic opportunity for people in east central Illinois to get to know the nature of our area.

Again, the Bio Blitz will be based at the Urbana Park District’s Anita Purves Nature Center, and it begins at noon tomorrow and runs through noon on Saturday. For more details please call the Urbana Park District, or visit their website.