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UCC’s Norval campus hosts its first BioBlitz

Upper Canada College’s Norval Outdoor Education Centre hosted about 200 people on Oct. 1 as part of the BioBlitz Canada project celebrating the country’s 150th birthday.

BioBlitz Canada is a national partnership of leading conservation, education and research organizations. Its goal is to document Canada’s biodiversity by connecting the public with nature in scientist-led participatory surveys of life.

The Norval BioBlitz was its first and focused on finding and identifying as many species as possible over a 12-hour timeframe. Species experts led groups of all ages and experience to count the number of different plants, animals and other organisms that could be found around the 450-acre Norval campus.

BioBlitz Bill Elgie

Norval director Bill Elgie addresses BioBlitz participants.

“I was captivated by the idea of expert scientists and motivated amateurs coming together to create a biodiversity inventory at a given location,” says Norval director Bill Elgie. “We discussed the idea with Tom Babits, who oversees Norval as well as the Primary Division, and Tom loved the idea.”

The Norval BioBlitz was a joint project between UCC and the rare Charitable Research Reserve, a 900-plus-acre land trust and environmental institute situated at the confluence of the Grand and Speed Rivers in Waterloo Region. Elgie says rare, which has run a number of BioBlitzes, looked after most of the administrative details.

BioBlitz 2

BioBlitz participants in quest of species to identify.

A dozen experts led groups of enthusiastic amateurs on six guided BioBlitzes at Norval, while many naturalists came out for what Eligie calls an “intensive” BioBlitz. These field ecology experts wandered the property on their own or in small groups booking for specific biological categories, but didn’t lead groups of amateurs.

“We do not know the exact number of species confirmed yet since data is still coming in,” says Elgie. “Early estimates show more than 400 different species of plant, animal and fungus confirmed on the property.”

Participants could upload photos of what they sighted using the iNaturalist application.

The data collected will be given to the Canadian Wildlife Federation to be compiled with the results of the 34 other Canada 150 Signature BioBlitz events that were held across the country this year. That data will be made available to scientists and be used as a benchmark for future comparison and study. The data will also be available to UCC as well as local naturalists and conservation organizations such as Credit Valley Conservation.

BioBlitz 3

Norval visitors had a chance to do some beekeeping.

The BioBlitz replaced Norval’s usual fall open house. In keeping with open house tradition, three family-friendly nature activities run by Norval teachers were also held during the day. Brent Evans and Liz Jankowski led a session in making apple cider. Elgie and Natalie Kemp took people on a nature hike around the property. Norval beekeeper Katie Tanz offered visitors the opportunity to suit up and visit beehives. Upper School jazz musicians entertained participants at lunchtime.

“I’m thrilled with the results of the day,” says Elgie. “The turnout was excellent, especially for our first-ever BioBlitz.

“The weather was perfect, and the unusually warm September led to many summer species still being around in early October. Many participants asked that we do more BioBlitzes in the future, and asked to be invited.”

While Elgie believes that a BioBlitz is an exciting way to get a snapshot of the biological activity at Norval in a given 12-hour period, he emphasizes the importance of him and his staff and students being on the property every day.

“There are probably hundreds more species who live at Norval that we didn’t catalogue on Sunday. On Tuesday, for example, I was out hiking with the boys of 7G when we came across a porcupine. We didn’t find a porcupine on Sunday, so that species isn’t on the BioBlitz tally, but we know they’re here.”

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