Blog Post Allie Gaither-Banchoff Apr 12, 2012

BioBlitz at Saguaro National Park

A young student reflects on her explorations in nature.

Today’s guest blog was written by Allie Gaither-Banchoff, an eighth-grade student at Paulo Freire Freedom School who took part in the 2011 Saguaro National Park BioBlitz.

In November, I participated in the 2011 Saguaro National Park BioBlitz. During BioBlitz, I backpacked up the Rincon Mountains with ten other people from my school, five scientists, and a paramedic to the Grass Shack campground where we stayed for four days and three nights. The Rincon Mountains are one of southern Arizona’s unique sky islands, a biologically diverse and forested mountain range surrounded by desert and grasslands.

Our goal was to help identify and record plants and animals in Saguaro National Park. Two of the scientists studied bats and small rodents. We helped them trap rodents such as pack rats and pocket mice, recording things such as their weight, their gender, and where we caught them. With these same two scientists we also caught bats in mist nets.

Working with the bat scientists was my favorite part because I love bats and I am interested in protecting and studying them. While we were helping we got to set up mist nets in the evening—large nets that are made of such thin material that the bats can’t sense them until they are caught. Once we caught the bats, we recorded things such as their wingspan, their weight, and what type of bat they were.

There were also two bug scientists staying with us at the campground whom we assisted by spending hours catching bugs, such as toe biters, so they could collect information on them.

There was only one bird and plant scientist with us. We took multiple small hikes with him and talked about the native and exotic plants and recorded where they were on a GPS. He also taught us many plant names such as Carnegiea gigantia, which is a saguaro’s scientific name. We also learned native bird calls and got to hear a great horned owl.

At night we looked at the stars and were amazed at how many there are. This was especially fun because in the city you only see a small portion of the stars even if you may not realize it.

During our stay at Grass Shack, we also talked about sound and light pollution and why it is important to stop or minimize it. Sound and light pollution are artificial sound and light that affect the natural world in ways that mess up the food chain. For example: Many animals rely on hearing their predators sneaking up on them, but if there is extra noise going on, they cannot hear them coming.

To demonstrate sound and light pollution, we played a game. This game involved two people: the prey and the predator. The prey put earplugs in and the predator tried to sneak up on the prey. After we tried it with the earplugs we tried it a second time without the earplugs. The earplugs demonstrated sound pollution, and we found that an animal is more likely to be caught by a predator if there is sound pollution because it stops the animal from hearing the predator. Light pollution is part of why we see fewer stars in the city, because excess light blocks out some of the stars.

After going on BioBlitz, I have new perspectives about the environment and the Sky Islands of southern Arizona. I learned lots and I saw things that I might have never gotten the opportunity to see if I hadn’t gone. It was a fantastic trip and I would highly recommend that Tucson residents and visitors take the opportunity to enjoy Saguaro National Park.

This BioBlitz was organized by the National Geographic Society and Friends of Saguaro National Park. More than 5,000 students and volunteers combed the park, resulting in the park listing 400 new species. This account first appeared in “Restoring Connections,” the newsletter of Sky Island Alliance, a nonprofit group dedicated to the protection and restoration of the rich natural heritage of native species and habitats in the Sky Island region of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.