Metchosin Coun. Moralea Milne and Kem Luther take a gander at springgold plant flowers. Milne and Luther

Metchosin BioBlitz turns up rare bluebird, slug

As Moralea Milne rose out of bed, she relived her childhood excitement and anticipation of Christmas morning. Instead of gift exchanges, she was heading outdoors for the largest game of eye-spy she’d ever play.

From rare slugs cuddled up in a mushroom cap to the return of the western bluebird after a 30-year hiatus, on April 30 wildlife specialists scoured Metchosin in the attempt to identify as many species as they could in a single day.

About 60 volunteers and taxonomic experts in many fields, including lichen and spiders, combed regional parks and private properties from dawn until well past dusk. Volunteers hiked, crawled and even snorkeled searching for more species to add to the tally.

From identifying large Garry Oak trees to a three millimetre long threaded vertigo snail, search parties identified 800 plant and animal species.

Although the experts set out searching for species in their areas of expertise, oddly enough all rare finds were made by experts outside their fields.

Those seeking out vascular plants spotted western bluebirds, mushroom experts found blue-grey taildropper slugs and birders came across the yellow montane violets.

Western bluebirds were last seen in Metchosin in the 1980s, said Kem Luther, a BioBlitz organizer. The bluebird was a common site on Vancouver Island until the 1950s.

“It’s so exciting,” Milne said, excitedly noting the birds were spotted in an area where the invasive Scotch broom was removed.

The birds like to live in wildlife trees otherwise known as “dead trees with holes in them,” said Milne, a Metchosin councillor and a BioBlitz organizer.“Occasionally people seem (bluebirds) in February, then they are just migrating though.”

BioBlitzers spotted a male and female bluebird pair nesting on a hilltop on private property. The female had food in her mouth.

The blue-grey taildropper slugs were found in a Capital Regional District park. The slugs have been spotted in Metchosin, but it’s still a rare occurrence, Luther said.

“They actually drop their tail when they are being attacked. The tail wiggles on the ground while the slug makes it get away,” Luther said chuckling that it would be a slow escape. “It’s a very common defense mechanism for reptile amphibians of today.”

Another find in a CRD park was the yellow montane violet, located in a Garry oak meadow – the first verified sighting in Metchosin.

In the case of the violets, there are still very few, Milne points out. While some seeds will fall and germinate, others will not seed properly or be eaten by birds.

“We have lots of other species, some we spotted the very next day, but they don’t count (towards the BioBlitz),” said Milne, explaining she’s spotted a sharp tail snake the day after the event.

Metchosin is home to bears and cougars, but none were spotted that day nor was their scat. Luther pointed out many plant and animal species appear at different times in the year.

“If the BioBlitz was held in the fall, we would have found 200 fungus species instead of just 50,” Luther said.

Beacon Hill Park hosted the last BioBlitz in the region in 2007, and emerged from the U.S. Forestry Service in the 1990s. For future Metchosin BioBlitzes, Milne and Luther agreed it would be beneficial to have more experts in additional fields such as worms.

While the results of the BioBlitz are being shared, the locations of these species are being kept secret.

“Some species like the western bluebird or other rare species are barely holding on. These species could be trampled or scared out of their nests (if the public start searching for them),” Milne said. “When some people hear something is rare often they want to collect it,”

Organizers plan to hold more BioBlitzes in the future, possibly at other times of the year. They plan to seek permission to go onto Department of Nation Defense lands including Tower Point and Race Rocks.

As any special occasion such as Christmas or a BioBlitz, Milne and Luther must wait until next year to experience it again.

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