2009-05-01: Remembering The Mission Trails BioBlitz

Grasshopper Sparrow - Ammodramus savannarum
Grasshopper Sparrow: A lucky encounter with an elusive bird at Mission Trails Regional Park, near Santee, California.

I took part in the first three organized BioBlitz events with the San Diego Natural History Museum. The first one took place in 2008 at Balboa Park, the second in 2009 at Mission Trails Regional Park, and the third event was in 2010 at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Each of the three were fun and educational experiences for me, but I believe I was able to capture more satisfying images during the 2009 affair.

So you ask: What is a BioBlitz? As many scientific disciplines as can be enrolled are assembled as part of a team to analyse the ecology of a target area. Citizen scientists are teamed with actual scientists in the gathering biological information. Birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, bugs, plants, and even fungi are studied. Typically, these affairs last for 24 hours, though I started early on opening day and did my best to keep up with the team until I pooped out at day’s end.

My partner on these three events was Phil Unitt. Phil is a fountain of energy, so keeping pace was a challenge. I’m certain I occasionally taxed his patience. I usually need linger with my subjects to achieve the image capture that does them justice. My friend’s mind grasps the world around us so quickly, he’s ready to move on well before most of us mere mortals. Very few can read the scene quicker, or more thoroughly than he. Phil is preeminent among ornithologist of Western North America. He channels that abundance of energy to publish some of the most important scientific literature for the region. Needless to say, it was worthwhile keeping up with him. To be fair to myself, I pack a heavy camera, lens and tripod all day, and Phil carries binoculars and a notebook.

At the end of the day, word came that a Snow Bunting was found downstream near the mouth of the San Diego River at Robb Field. This was the 500th documented bird species for San Diego County. Most of the bird team made a quick sojourn to Ocean Beach to meet this milestone bird. I was not among them. I was much too tired, and I still had plenty of work ahead of me, sorting through the day’s captures. I’ve never been eager to chase rarities, but after the crowd thinned out, I met the bird several days later.

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