Metchosin is a land of rare beauty and a home to important ecological resources. From her rocky shores on the Juan de Fuca Strait, to her rural and agricultural lowlands threaded with streams and lakes, to her conifer-populated highlands, Metchosin is home to a vast array of plants, algae, fungi, lichens, birds, mammals, arthropods, and marine life.
Metchosin BioBlitz 2013
Steel Wheels, Rain in the Valley. BioBlitz coordinator Kem Luther knew the performer on the right when he was a baby bump.
As dawn broke on April 27, 2013, waves of spring showers wafted through Metchosin. Dozens of species experts, dressed for the wet weather, began to converge on the Mel Cooper cabin at the Boys and Girls Club to carry out the third Metchosin BioBlitz, a 24-hour inventory of species. They would later head out from the cabin to trek through the Metchosin ecosystems -- Douglas-fir forests, Garry Oak meadows, mountain balds, sandy and rocky seashores, farmlands -- to count and record local flora and fauna. These researchers would find, before the sun set behind a wall of clouds, 1200 distinct species within the borders of the District of Metchosin. The count for 2013 would surpass the 2011 and 2012 BioBlitzes counts by more than 250 species.
The events of the 2013 Metchosin BioBlitz began the evening before, on Friday April 26th, at the Talk and Walk for April. Land arthropods -- insects and spiders -- were the special focus of this year's blitz and arthropod field naturalists were invited to do presentations. A crowd of sixty people gathered at the District Office to hear James Miskelly and Libby Avis talk about their passion for butterflies and moths. Libby told about the evolution of her moth collecting methods, James about his adventures on the annual Victoria-area butterfly counts. The rapt audience enjoyed the amazing butterfly and moth photographs that the two of them have taken. James reminded the group how loss of habitat has reduced the butterfly populations of an island that was once a butterfly paradise.
Libby Avis (moths) and James Miskelly (butterflies) give talks at the Friday night introduction to the 2013 BioBlitz. Photos by Jemes Holkko.
Martha Haylor's incredible buns. Photo by Kem Luther.
The first species experts to arrive at the Mel Cooper cabin on Saturday morning were the birders, who came at the crack of dawn. Andy MacKinnon was there to greet them with coffee, tea, and a bin full of Martha Haylor's cinnamon buns. Several Metchosin residents, avid amateur birders, also rose early to join the birding teams. Ann Nightingale co-ordinated the birding events. As bird sightings trickled back to the cabin she tallied them on a sheet taped to the window. By the end of the day, birders had spotted 102 different species, bringing the three-year BioBlitz bird count to 131. This year they were fortunate to spot the elusive Townsend's Solitaire (more on this bird below) and the Cackling Goose, a smaller cousin of the Canada Goose.
At 8:00 am, the rest of the 55 experts joined Andy and the other BioBlitz coordinators at the cabin. (See the list of participants and photos of them taken during the BioBlitz events) At this year's BioBlitz, strong teams of bryophyte and alga experts joined the lichen, plant, fungi, reptile/amphibian specialists, so counts for mosses/liverworts and seaweeds were especially high: almost a hundred species of alga would be identified (quadruple the number in previous years) and 125 mosses/liverworts (doubling earlier totals). The lichen count would also more than double, thanks largely the increasing expertise of Ryan Batten and Daryl Thompson. The vascular plant count jumped to 410 for the day -- unexpected, because vascular plant specialists were underrepresented in comparison with previous BioBlitzes. The high count was a result, in part, of a team traveling with Hans Roemer. They zipped around Metchosin, recording a new species every 40 seconds for a period of just over five hours. Not your average plant walk!
Taxonomists gather on the front porch to organize into groups and get their foray assignments. Photo by Kem Luther
The count totals entered into the BioBlitz database as of 25 May 2013. Click to open an enlarged version of this image in new window/tab.
The specialists who converged at the cabin picked up their gifts of BioBlitz T-shirts and, with Andy MacKinnon's help, organized themselves into several search groups. The groups were sent out to foray (1) Camosun College's Van der Meer Reserve, (2) CRD's Matheson Lake, (3) the beach areas around Parry Bay, (4) DND lands at Rocky Point, and (5) CRD's Albert Head/Tower Point. Marine experts connected with a CRD beach seine, a family program at Witty's Lagoon. Three hours later the groups reconvened at the Mel Cooper cabin to enjoy soups prepared by Jo Mitchell and Mairi MacKinnon, pizza donated by My-Chosen Pizza, and baked goods from Royal Bay Bakery. At 1:00 pm the experts, joined by more members of the public, reformed themselves into teams and headed out to new locations. Two groups went to Camp Thunderbird. Other groups tackled Devonian Park and Camas Hill.
About 4:00 pm, the weary searchers reconvened at the Mel Cooper cabin for an end-of-blitz wine and no-cheese party (catering mixup!) to share stories and discuss the day's events. They also surprised Hans Roemer with a cake provided by his wife Heidi for his 75th birthday. Four special prizes for the first persons to spot and take a picture of a bear, a cougar, a sasquatch, and a bluebird were available. Moralea Milne claimed the bottle of wine for the bear sighting, even though she only spotted bear scat (She promised to only smell the wine.) The saquatch-spotting prize, a stuffed animal, was handed out to a young participant. It is not clear whether he actually saw Bigfoot, or wished he had.
BioBlitzers surprise Hans with a cake, made by his wife Heidi, for his 75th birthday. Photo by Kem Luther
Finally, a look at six special species that were found at this year's BioBlitz (Click on images to open enlarged versions of the pictures in new windows/tabs).
The moss group, (l. to r.) Wynne Miles, Olivia Lee, Steve Joya, and Kem Luther, look at Crumia latifolia. Photo by Garry Fletcher.
Garry Fletcher found this moss on a morning seashore foray along the shores of Parry Bay, at a seepage area above a rock beach. When he brought the moss back to the BioBlitz headquarters for identification, Steve Joya recognized it. The moss team made a detour in the afternoon to see Crumia in situ. "We only have a handful of collections from B.C.," says Steve, "and these are mainly from islands in the Strait of Georgia area plus one from Limestone Island in Haida Gwaii.... I am not aware of any modern collections from Vancouver Island proper, so the Metchosin record was interesting."
Wilf Schofield, the late doyen of BC mosses, extracted this moss from a motley classification group and moved it to its own genus, naming it after the famous moss biologist, Howard Crum.
Pyropia nereocystis, Nori
A BioBlitz team examines Pyropia (Porphyra) nereocystis.
The BioBlitz algae group led by UBC's Mike Hawkes found Pyropia nereocystis in the drift on the beach below Devonian Park. This alga grows exclusively on stipes of Bull Kelp. Two of the Japanese species in the Pyropia genus are known as Nori. Nori is the most important algal agricultural crop in the world -- people in Southeast Asia have collected and cultivated it for thousands of years. Almost everyone has eaten Nori at one time or another -- sushi roles are typically wrapped in strips of it.
The first person to formally describe this species (1899) called it Pyropia californica. It was later renamed Porphyra nereocystis. Sandra Lindstrom, another of the 2013 BioBlitz scientists, contributed to a 2011 article in the Journal of Phycology that sorted out the Bangiales, the order to which the Pyropia belong. This article returned this alga and its cousins to the Pyropia genus.
Ensatina eschscholtzii, Lungless Salamander
Ensatina, a alamander. Christian Englestoft found two at Glinz Lake during the 2013 BioBlitz. Photo by Moralea Milne.
Ensatinas can often be found under logs that are located near streams or lakes. In our area, Ensatinas are reddish and have legs that are a lighter colour than their bodies. These salamanders hatch from eggs that the female deposits underground, usually in groups of three.
Ensatinas are lungless salamanders. They breath through their pores. Special care has to be taken when handling these sensitive salamanders.
Subspecies of Ensatina eschscholtzii living in the Great Central Valley of California have been extensively studied in order to determine how speciation, the (usually) gradual transformation of subspecies into full-blown species, occurs.
Myadestes townsendi, Townsend's Solitaire
A Townsend's Solitaire was spotted for the first time at a Metchosin Bioblitz. This photo, by Mike Yip, is from a pre-Bioblitz sighting.
Townsend's Solitaire, a thrush, is a long-tailed gray bird that can be up to 8 inches tall. BC has seen a steady decrease in the number of Townsend's over the last few decades, so spotting one at the 2013 BioBlitz caused some excitement. The Solitaire was not seen in the two previous Metchosin BioBlitzes.
Townsend's Solitaire winters south of BC, in California and Mexico, where it feeds almost exclusively on juniper berries. They come north to breed. Both males and females are highly territorial, ferociously defending their own patches of berries. Their BC nests are often on the ground or under overhangs that are along banks.
Aster Curtus, White-topped Aster
The photos above were taken by Moralea Milne. The main photo is from BioBlitz 2013. The inset, an earlier photo, shows what the White-topped Aster will look like in the early fall.
White-topped Aster, recorded for the first time at the 2013 BioBlitz, is a red-listed (endangered) species in BC, occurring in the province at only about a dozen sites, all in southeastern Vancouver Island and adjacent small
islands around Victoria. It is more common in Washington state; even there, though, it is listed as a threatened species. Moralea Milne made a special trip to a known Metchosin site of the plant to nab it for the BioBlitz count.
The decline of Aster curtus is thought to be related to desctruction of its habitat and to the suppression of fires -- the spreading plant prefers open, grassy areas and fire suppression has allowed Snowberry and Douglas-fir to encroach on these ecosystems. Increase in the invasive Scotch broom is also thought to play a role.
Crucibulum laeve, Bird's Nest Fungus
A common spring sight in Metchosin woods is the Bird's Nest Fungus. BioBliltz 2013 photo by James Holkko.
Crucibulum laeve is one of the Nidularia, a family of fungi whose reproductive structures resemble birds' nests. The tiny, cinnamon-coloured "nests," only a few milimeteres in diameter, are actually splash cups, and the "eggs" in the nests are groups of spores in waxy shells. When a drop of rain kicks the eggs from the nest, they stick to surrounding vegetation (In the photo you can see that some of the ejected spore cases have stuck to the sides of surrounding splash cups.).
Crucubulm laeve has a small cord attached to the bottom of each spore case, a definitive identifying feature. The sticky cord aids in attachment to whatever the case strikes when it is tossed out. Later in the season the cord on the cases that are still in the cup withers, making it difficult to distinguish this species from other bird's nest fungi that have no cords. All of the bird's nest fungi, doll-house teacups, provide a special delight to budding mycologists.
The Metchosin Biodiversity Project acknowledges the many people and organizations who made the 2013 BioBlitz possible. Our partners include the Metchosin Foundation, CRD Parks, the Victoria Natural History Society, the District of Metchosin, Costco, and My Chosen Pizza.