Monday, June 21, 2010

A Biothon

For five hours on Saturday I walked along an old logging road, clambered over rocks in stream channels, peered at animal tracks in wet mud, listened for bird songs, climbed up and down wooded slopes, and stepped gingerly across a bog. By noon, our team of seven had recorded 341 different plants and animals. We were participating in a biothon - three teams of people recording as many species as possible from 7 am until noon. This year the event was held on a 1,015-acre property known as Evans Mountain in Strafford, New Hampshire.

The biothon is fun and helps document the ecological significance of a property. It is also a fundraiser. Bear-Paw Regional Greenways -- a local land trust for which I serve on the Board -- purchased this property along with several partners. Now we are raising money to pay off loans used to buy the land. Friends, family, and colleagues pledge or donate money to the biothon teams or directly to the land trust. The results of the biothon will also help with grant applications to public and private foundations.

By the time we recorded our first bird and plant sightings at 7 am, the sun was already beating down on us. We noted the birds singing around us: indigo bunting, broad-winged hawk, chestnut-sided warbler, hermit thrush, ovenbird, rose-breasted grosbeak, eastern towhee, scarlet tanager. common yellowthroat, black-throated-green warbler. The first hour was the best for birds; they grew quiet early under the hot sun.

Meanwhile, the plant people were busy recording trees, shrubs, ferns, lichens, flowers, sedges, grasses, and mosses. They tallied 204 different plants by the time we all slumped under the shade of trees at the end of our route. The animal crew amassed an impressive list too: 41 birds, 12 mammals, 8 reptiles and amphibians, and 53 invertebrates. We also had help from two water quality experts -- they scooped up 23 aquatic invertebrates from several wetlands.

Several highlights generated oohs and aahs during the day. The delicate rose pogonias in full flower in the bog. A muddy spot in the road full of animal tracks that included moose, white-tailed deer, raccoon, bobcat, wild turkey, deer mouse, and coyote. Watching a predaceous diving beetle capture a red-spotted newt. A late morning scramble down a cool stream that splashed over small waterfalls.

We re-grouped with the other two teams on the shore of Bow Lake for a potluck picnic. We all agreed that the heat hampered the bird tallies. Our team was recognized for finding the most species. We did have a couple ringers on our team. Tom, a UNH professor of plant ecology, helped drive up the plant tally. Scott, a crackerjack local naturalist, knew the property well and took us to all the special places.

A successful outing counting species and raising money. Next time I only wish for a cooler day.


  1. You know I've heard the term 'biothon' but never really investigated it. This really sounds like a great idea. I spent a similar hot, sunny day doing a summer bird census here in Philadelphia this Saturday, though fortunately it ended before noon. But back to the biothon. With knowledgeable people, or even curious people, it seems like a great way to learn what is in an area, especially if you're trying to preserve it.

  2. Biothons are fun. Some of the people on a given team need to be pretty savvy on identifying animals and plants, but novices are always welcome - at least on the ones I've done. We had a little (fun) competitive spirit too to energize the search and the fundraising. Biothons have become an annual tradition with this local land trust, so it creates some excitement around a land protection project.