Saturday September 22, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- No bug, leaf or salamander went unturned on Friday morning when about 75 students scoured the shores and trails by Onota Lake during a BioBlitz at Burbank Park.

A BioBlitz is an intense survey of a specific area over a short period of time to determine the range of wildlife living there. A public Berkshire BioBlitz exploring the biodiversity of the Berkshires will be held today and Sunday in Burbank Park, with day and evening activities. Last year's counts included 50 species of lichen, 38 species of birds and 40 species of bees -- including two newly collected in Mass achusetts.

Fifth-graders from Egremont Elementary School got a head start on Friday as they joined professional scientists and naturalists -- from an astrophysicist to butterfly and bird experts -- in collecting and releasing specimens, recording data, and identifying native and invasive species of plants and wildlife.

"I think it's really interesting. I can't wait to see a snake," said fifth-grader Eva Simon, whose early finds already included some invasive plants, a yellow jacket and a red eft, otherwise known as a red-spotted newt.

"We're learning a lot. We've already been studying," her classmate Cami Diehl said.

Diehl's comment refers to a new year-round environmental science partnership between Egremont Elementary and Berkshire Museum.


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The initiative is coordinated between school science specialist Sandi Keen and museum educator and naturalist Emma Kerr.

Kerr said the museum will be working with Egremont students for five weeks in the fall and five more in the spring. This program was made possible by a multi-year grant provided by the Cooper Meadow Fund of the Berk shire Taconic Community Foundation.

The school's fifth grade has spent the first few weeks of school learning how to identify, document, and classify numerous plants and animals found in Berkshire County.

Using a "no-kill" policy of research on Friday, students digitally documented sightings and captured specimens to create a species profile that will be uploaded to the website Project Noah (www.pro
jectnoah.org), to create an interactive digital map that will be available online to anyone interested in the area's wildlife.

"The idea is to get them out here. A lot of [students] still have the idea that a scientist is a guy in a white lab coat, and that's just not always true," Keen said. Fleece jackets, jeans and cargo pants, in fact, were the more popular attire among the scientists who led student groups on Friday.

A primary goal of the day, according to organizers, was to create a sense of environmental stewardship among students. In addition to cameras, clip boards and observation lenses, students also carried bags to help pick up trash in the park.

"People who are the most excited and enthusiastic about the environment are often the best ones to protect it," said Bruce Winn of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team.


If you go

What: The third annual Berkshire BioBlitz. Participants will join more than 30 scientists and naturalists in their exploration to identify and document plant and animal species in the area.

Where: Burbank Park, near the pavilion, Onota Lake, Pittsfield.

When: Today, from 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday, from 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. A spaghetti dinner and welcoming ceremony will be held at 5 p.m. on Saturday at the Frank Controy Pavilion. For a complete schedule: www.berkshirebioblitz.org.