Arlington Bioblitz: Nature is Alive and Well in the ‘Burbs!

by Phil Klingelhofer and Lisa Stern

Arlington’s first bioblitz began early in the morning on Saturday, May 20 with a team of bird lovers in the parking area of the Long Branch Nature Center. While waiting for the rest of the teams to arrive, volunteers spotted and identified several birds and the bioblitz was officially underway!

Photo taken during the 2017 Arlington BioBllitz
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) at Glencarlyn Park. Photo courtesy of Steve Young.

Conducting a bioblitz in Arlington was the brainchild of Alonso Abugattas, Arlington’s creative and enthusiastic Natural Resource Manager. A bioblitz is a 24-hour survey to evaluate the biodiversity of a specific area’s flora and fauna (plants and animals).

Nineteen teams of volunteers, each led by an experienced leader, were set up to focus on a specific area of wildlife, including birds, mammals, fish, insects, plants, bees, ferns/fungi, and more. Because this was the first time Arlington had ever engaged in such an enormous and widespread effort, and because so many volunteers were needed, it was not clear how successful the bioblitz would turn out. But when the sun finally set on an exciting and busy day, 92 volunteers (many Arlington Regional Master Naturalists) had identified and reported 1239 observations representing over 460 individual species across eight regional parks!

Photo taken during the 2017 Arlington BioBlitz
Redbreast sunfish (Lepomis auritus) at Glencarlyn Park. Photo courtesy of Steve Young.
Photo taken during 2017 Arlington BioBlitz
Periodical cicada (Magicicada) at Tuckahoe Park. Photo courtesy of Christine Campe-Price.
Photo taken during 2017 Arlington BioBlitz
Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica) at Tuckahoe Park. Photo courtesy of Christine Campe-Price.

Scientifically, the bioblitz was a big success. Volunteers (citizen scientists) used the new phone app, iNaturalist to document observations, which helps professional scientists gather data so they can map where wildlife is living and how changes occur over time. Cataloging the presence of wildlife (what might be missing or new to the environment) is critical in determining how well or poorly we are protecting species. The bioblitz information will be used, along with data from other observations over the course of the year, to update the Arlington Natural Resource Management plan.

But just as important as the raw data collected, the bioblitz was successful in engaging the public and raising awareness of Arlington’s extraordinary diversity of plants and animals, which is remarkable for an urban community with limited natural park land. Several bystanders happened upon the organized bioblitz teams and clamored to join in, including a pair of cyclists. Having just learned about the event from one of the teams, they returned breathlessly to report seeing a Common watersnake eating an American eel just around the bend.

Photo taken during 2017 Arlington BioBlitz
Common Watersnake ((Nerodia sipedon) eating an American eel (Anguilla rostrata) at Glencarlyn Park. Photo courtesy of Alonso Abugattas.

Other highlights of the exciting day included Mr. Abugattas engaging in a patient, careful dance with an oddly-behaving raccoon (ensuring that it did not harm anyone), volunteers (under staff supervision) rolling over large logs to uncover buried beetles, and eager team members anticipating new findings as a wooden plank was lifted to reveal snakes curled beneath. And, imagine the expression of wonder when a child volunteer learned how his team expert could tell that the small dried remains on the ground were indications that a raccoon had passed by recently. Not to be outdone by the other teams, the fish team experts, in gear reminiscent of Ghost Busters, waded into Four Mile Run to gently shock and identify the fish. Then, at the very end of the day, Penny and Robin Firth in Rachael Tolman’s team discovered a huge 40 centimeter puffball! There were smiles across faces of all of the teams participating!

Photo taken during 2017 Arlington BioBlitz
Giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea) discovered by Penny and Robin Firth. Photo courtesy of Alonso Abugattas.

Though this one day of excitement and discovery is now history, there will be another chance to participate in the next bioblitz in the fall of 2018. Keep your eyes open for the announcement.

In addition, the raw data from this year’s bioblitz needs to be categorized in taxonomic order, along with existing inventories of plants and animals in the county. If you are interested in working on this project or need additional information, please contact Alonso Abugattas at

Finally, if you are interested in cataloging your own observations in nature, go to to download the app.

And be sure to view the wonderful video of the 2017 Arlington Bioblitz at:

Leave a Reply