Garden Bioblitz a big success!

Rose chafer (Cetonia aurata)

If you’ve followed my previous posts, you will have heard about the “Garden Bioblitz” event that took place in the UK over the weekend of 21st and 22nd July. This event came about after I chatted about my own ‘urban bioblitz‘ last year on Twitter and a number of fellow wildlife enthusiasts told me that they were also keen to survey the wildlife in their gardens.

Somehow, this casual Twitter conversation turned into plans to start up a national event, and the Garden Bioblitz was born! As I mentioned in my last post, this year was a trial event to allow us to test how it would work in practice, to try out the recording process and to work out the best way to engage people with the wildlife in their gardens.

Garden snail (Helix aspersa) My bug house... partly eaten by snails and inhabited by woodlice

Our aims were to get people looking more closely at the species living on their doorstep, to show them just how much can live in even a small garden, and to hopefully encourage them to do more to look after their garden wildlife.

My huge thanks has to go to all the people who have helped me set this up – somehow we managed to get together all the right people who knew what to do and who certainly had a lot more knowledge and skills than me when it comes to websites, recording forms and the identification of obscure species!

My own Garden Bioblitz

As I had already spent long hours identifying and recording the species in my garden last year, I originally intended to just have a quick look this year for anything extra that I hadn’t spotted last time, while following everyone else’s bioblitzes on Twitter. However, sunny weather, everyone’s else’s enthusiasm and my own curiosity meant I couldn’t resist having another go and doing another full-scale survey.

Money spider (Linyphiidae species) Zebra spider (Salticus scenicus)

Wolf spider (Pardosa species) with egg sac Comb-footed spider (Enoplognatha ovata) Crab spider (Misumena vatia)

Although I would have loved to have set up some moth traps, dug about in the flowerbeds a bit more and spent the evening seeing what came out in the dark, I only had one afternoon to do my Bioblitz. It still turned out to be great fun – a full afternoon of scrabbling about in the garden, uploading pictures, updating everyone on Twitter, fuelling myself up on lemonade and getting funny looks from the neighbours as I peered into the bushes on my hands and knees and pointed my camera at tiny bugs.

By the end of the afternoon, I was exhausted and sunburt and even had some impressive bruises (presumably from balancing on bricks on my hands and knees while peering into flower pots?!), but I had found dozens of species and plenty of new things to surprise me.

Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) Small bee (as yet unidentified) on scabious flower

Buff ermine moth (Spilosoma luteum) Common froghopper (Philaenus spumarius)

Next came the identifying, which turned out to be a big job. Much of what I had photographed was tiny flies, spiders, worms and molluscs, all of which can be tricky to identify from photos. And I hadn’t quite learned the lesson from last year about how closely you have to look at the fine details of a species – what shape are its leaves? What colour are its antennae? How big is it? Fortunately, thanks to the helpful experts at iSpot I was able to come up with at least a family or genus name for most of my species, and those I was able to identify I then uploaded onto the fantastic new iRecord website, where we collated the records from all the event participants.

We decided only to record species that had found their own way into our gardens, and to exclude any plants that we or others had planted – this reduced my total somewhat from last year! I still managed to come up with a respectable 74+ species though, which is not bad for a few hours searching a tiny patio garden.

Wall-rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria) Ivy-leaved toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) Goat willow (Salix caprea) sapling that has decided to spring up in my flowerbed!

Lichen (Lecanora albescens) Lichen species on plant pot

Some of my favourite finds were the rose chafers that kept flying into my head and buzzing clumsily about in the flowerbed – I even caught one in the act of laying her eggs into one of my plant pots, adding a new generation to the dozens of large grubs that are already thriving in there. Some species clearly wanted to be recorded – one caterpillar landed on my notebook just before a spider parachuted down from my head!

Rose chafer (Cetonia aurata) laying eggs Rose chafer (Cetonia aurata) grub

I only managed one moth this year, but it was a new species for me. As usual, my small urban space had no bird or mammal species, but it did have plenty of different hoverflies, plus a number of bees and flies, several spiders, and quite a few different weeds growing up through the patio. It’s always worth looking closely at everything – what looked like a huddle of quite similar woodlice turned out to be at least three to four different species.

Pill woodlouse, Armadillidium depressum Woodlice in the wall

Pill woodlouse, Armadillidium depressum Common rough woodlouse (Porcellio scaber)

Some of my favourite species were also those in my three “bucket ponds” – literally three large buckets of water into which I have planted a few native pond plants. All three were brimming with small daphnia, or water fleas, and I found at least three different pond snail species, which presumably arrived via eggs on the pond plants. There are also tiny crustaceans – ostracods, I think – of various different colours.

Daphnia swimming about in the bucket pond Daphnia

Ostracod Another ostracod

However, my find of the day had to be the tiny new damselfly larvae in one of the buckets. I saw the adults (large red damselflies) mating and laying eggs in there several weeks ago, but wasn’t sure up till then whether they had hatched – they have to be the definitive proof that even a tiny habitat can attract wildlife into the most unlikely of gardens.

Large red damselflies laying eggs in the bucket pond Large red damselfly larva

The original two bucket ponds, before I added a third!

A successful event

The Garden Bioblitz 2012 event has proved to be a big success. We limited the number of participants this time round to under 50, so that we could test out the best way of carrying out the event and try out the new recording forms. We had a great response and a lot of interest – it was great to see everyone enjoying themselves and having a great time spotting new species and enjoying their garden wildlife, and often finding species that they hadn’t realised were there. It was also good to see gardens from across the country being surveyed, with results coming in from as far apart as Cornwall and Scotland!

We have yet to finalise and report on all the results, but the current total as it stands is a whopping 966 species. Not a bad total for people’s back yards – it just goes to show how important gardens can be in supporting a range of wildlife!

Hoverfly (Sphaerophoria scripta) Hoverfly (Sphaerophoria scripta)

Hoverfly (Sphaerophoria species) Hoverfly (Myathropa florea)

At the end of the day, it was the fun and engagement with wildlife that was the overall aim of the event – the records are useful and can tell us a lot about the species that are living on our doorsteps, but equally important is the increased awareness and interest in garden wildlife, and the amount that people seem to have learned from what they found.

I really hope that everyone who took part enjoyed it and felt that their records counted – even one or two records from the smallest garden can tell us a lot, and hopefully the tiniest flies and slugs can be as interesting to people as the fluffiest squirrel or most attractive bird!

Earthworm (Eisenia species) Parasites on caterpillar - probably the larvae of an ichneumon wasp

Flesh fly (Sarcophaga species) Unidentified fly

What next?

The last few records from the Garden Bioblitz 2012 are just coming in, and the team are currently having a look through these – we will try and update everyone on them soon. We are also busy making plans for turning the Garden Bioblitz into a large national event next year, and are looking into the best ways to make the recording and identifying easy for everyone, from species experts to complete amateurs.

We would welcome any feedback, suggestions or ideas, whether you took part this year or not – please do contact us on Twitter @GardenBioblitz, via email at gardenbioblitz@gmail.com, or via our website at www.gardenbioblitz.org.

Please also have a look at some photos from the event on our Flickr group, as well as our results on iSpot and our results pages at iRecord.

We look forward to seeing you at the Garden Bioblitz 2013!


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