Earth Week BioBlitz part of conservation effort

Conservation survey tallies plants, animals

Most try their best to avoid areas in the woods with plenty of fallen trees that make perfect homes for snakes and other reptilian creatures, but on Saturday at the Frenchtown Road Conservation Area in Central, there was no better setting.

Amanda Nichols, a BREC naturalist, left no fallen tree unturned nor any board of wood left unexamined. She, along with Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center supervisor Will McManus, surveyed under and around the rotten wood for any plant or animal species that may call them home.

Saturday’s examination was part of BREC’s Earth Week BioBlitz, when participants survey living species within one specific area over a certain time span.

“That’s a native,” Nichols said while crouching and pointing to a small fern. “We like the natives.”

She then snapped a picture of the plant with her smartphone, which documented the finding in an app titled iNaturalist. The program uses online databases, filled with definitions and pictures of flora and fauna, to help app users identify what they capture in pictures.

Nichols is using the app from iNaturalist.org to compile a list of as many plants and animals on the property as possible. The findings, Nichols hopes, will help to get an idea of what is living on the property to determine what management needs are necessary or if current conservation programs are working.

“If we don’t know what’s in the area, we can’t protect it,” she said.

“There are a few endangered species that use the habitat, and this is a good way to document others.”

The inflated heelsplitter is a freshwater mollusk, which calls the Frenchtown Road Conservation Area home, Nichols said. It’s just one of the endangered species living in the park.

There are also plenty of common creatures scurrying through the dense vegetation and muddy sloughs on the property. Documenting and spotting them is just as important to Nichols’ project.

“Oh, hey, a ribbon snake,” said McManus, pointing out the thin creature slithering through a pile of leaves and twigs. “The ribbon snake looks a lot like a garter snake, but the ribbon is slender and has a dot on the back of its head.”

The ribbon snake is one of the most common species of reptile in the area, according to McManus, a snake aficionado with a passion for studying them in the wild.

Neither he nor Nichols used gloves when tipping back the large, mostly rotten trees scattered along the forest floor. Each new log spotted presented the eager pair the opportunity to reveal a new creature they hadn’t yet documented.

While Nichols and McManus used a hands-on approach, the Aucoin family decided just walking the hiking trail and spotting from a distance better suited them.

“I’m looking for snakes and she’s looking for turtles,” said Madelyn, 8, who eagerly scanned the forest floor with her sister Avery, 11. Their father, Jeff, brought them from Gonzales to introduce them to the outdoors and explore nature.

The trio had lunches packed, water stockpiled and were prepared for a fun-filled day under the leafy canopy.

“I saw the (Comite and Amite) rivers on a map and thought it was a perfect place to bring them,” Jeff said.

And though the group wasn’t there to participate in the BioBlitz, the public was welcome to participate. The iNaturalist app is available for anyone to download, making it easy to contribute to the project, which ends Sunday.

“We are always trying to get people out at the park,” Nichols said. “One of my favorite terms to use in a citizen scientist. People always think scientists are these kinds of unreachable people with all this knowledge… but you don’t need to have that in order to contribute; you need feet on the ground.”