BioBlitz! helps Oklahomans connect with nature
The fifth annual virtual BioBlitz! is wrapping up its final days of April with more participants and observations than ever before as more people are getting outside.
The sale of Oklahoma hunting and fishing license sales in April is proof of the increased participation in the outdoors. The sale of resident spring turkey hunting licenses is up 53% over last year, while 34% fewer nonresident hunting licenses have been sold, according to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
No doubt, COVID-19 is the reason for both of those numbers. Fishing licenses sold in April to both residents and nonresidents also are up about 10% over last year. More people also are walking, hiking and enjoying nature, all the result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Participation in the virtual BioBlitz! this April has increased by 20% over last year as well, perhaps due to the COVID-19 situation, although the popularity of the event grows each year, said Jena Donnell, wildlife diversity specialist at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
BioBlitz! is a citizen science project of the Oklahoma Biological Survey in the month of April where Oklahomans are asked to document their sightings of plants, insects and wildlife (any living organism) online at iNaturalist.org.
It's a spinoff from the BioBlitz! in the fall where nature lovers physically gather in one location, such as a national wildlife refuge or state park, then disseminate over the grounds and conduct an inventory of all living things. In the spring, the BioBlitz! inventory is conducted online and from anywhere in the state. The April survey also allows observations of spring migratory birds and early flowering plants in the state.
Participants are asked to post photos and basic information about date and location of sightings through their iNaturalist accounts. People can make observations in their backyards, on neighborhood walks or waiting for a grocery pick-up. The data helps biologists better understand the geographic distribution of plants, insects and wildlife in the state.
As of Friday, more than 2,000 plant and animal species have been recorded during the BioBlitz!, an increase of 16% from last year, Donnell said. BioBlitz! continues for a few more days through the end of April, but people can still post their observations from earlier in the month if they have photos, sound clips and know the basic information such as date and location of the sighting.
Even after BioBlitz! ends, Donnell encourages people to continue to use iNaturalist.org to report observations of plants and wildlife in the state. Even if you don't know what you're looking at, Donnell said, you can take a picture and post it on iNaturalist.org and people can help determine what you are seeing.
"It's definitely a great way for people to stay engaged and to contribute," Donnell said. "It's a great place for the nature community to get together and share their observations. They can keep using it after April. It won't go to the BioBlitz! but it is still meaningful data. It can help us better understand distributions.
"We are working on a project to help us get a better understanding of reptiles and amphibians, and we've used some iNaturalist records to show county expansions of where a species was."
Donnell said nothing really rare has been observed during the BioBlitz!, but it's obvious that spring has arrived. People are seeing migratory birds and monarch butterflies along with other critters emerging from their winter slumber.
"It was really exciting to see ring-necked snakes and rough earth snakes, and these things you don't see in the wintertime are really starting to come out," she said. "It's kind of nice that people are getting to see those things that have been gone for a few months."
The five most observed species during the BioBlitz! in Oklahoma have been the common slider turtle, Canada geese, American robin, the Eastern redbud and Blanchard's cricket frogs.