Blitzing through central park at 5am

Like many Macaulay Sophomores this year, I wasn’t very fond towards the idea of the Bioblitz. What I wanted out of a common event was something enjoyable and engaging that would prepare me for my seminar. With our first common event, the visit to the Brooklyn Museum, I was pretty satisfied because I participated in something that was not only holding my attention but was also exposing me to something I would never look in to. I think this year’s Bioblitz was an ambitious attempt to bring students closer to the scientific aspects of New York City, but still could use some improvement.

I must add that it seems like based on the group, people seemed to have pretty different experiences. For example, some people explored exclusively insects and were thus lead by some insect expert. My group studied the plant life around central park. Personally, I don’t find botany all that interesting, and although I appreciated how the guides were enthusiastic about the different plants in the park, I think a good suggestion would be to have people sign up for a certain subject instead of time. Perhaps this goes against the whole idea of exposing people to something new, but for me personally, I would probably have had a better experience studying something else in the park.

My group met at 5:45am, which was definitely not many people’s first choice. We started pretty quickly by assigning someone to take pictures and log them into the iNaturalist app, and another person to record the family name and species. Right away, I was remembering little things from high school Biology classes, and was surprised at how much I actually knew. I was particularly proud of how I remembered the term “binomial nomenclature” (the method of organizing scientific names of organisms). So it was great to refresh on some biology on top of learning a lot of new information about botany in central park especially relating to the various invasive species that populate a good portion of the park.

We stopped pretty often to look at our plants which was something I wasn’t quite expecting. I thought that we would be traversing the entire park and looking for things that stood out, but our guides stopped us almost every 100 feet to look at something. In the beginning I was able to be very attentive, but after a while I was struggling. I think part of the reason why was because besides the two people recording the information, no one else had any task, so it didn’t seem interactive for the majority of the group.

I was however, very impressed with the knowledge and enthusiasm that our guides had of the botany of central park. There was a point where we were all sitting down and one of our guides looked up and in no less than 3 seconds identified the exact type of bird that was flying above. When I asked how she knew, she broke down the flying pattern, the wing and body shape, and almost algorithmically arrived at the species of bird.

Something I took away as an over arcing lesson in this common event and in my IDC seminars so far has been the idea of looking closer at things. In the arts seminar, we spent a lot of time learning how to truly ‘observe’ art. In the peopling seminar, we learned to slow down on the streets and look closely at the people and buildings around us. And it seems that in this central park excursion, that looking carefully at something as simple as grass can reveal some interesting information. And like the city itself, central park (from a botanical perspective) seems to be an amalgamation of organisms from very different places that somehow manage to survive. One of our guides showed us this vine, and told us that it was a squash plant. When someone asked where it came from, he said that it was probably someones lunch. So I think that it is a cool concept to think that alot of these plants belong in a park full of “immigrant organisms” just like the city is populated by immigrant peoples. So a final thing I learned was how much time and effort it must take for the conservancy to check and monitor all of these plants and make sure that the beauty and safety of central park stays in tact.

So like I said before, I think that the BioBlitz wasn’t perfect. But this being the first year, it was surely impressive and I learned a ton of information. I think in the coming years the experience can and will be improved and I hope that what i learned at the Bioblitz will actually apply to our class.

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