A group of 60 scientists, some 50 of them from out of town, searched high and low for living things from noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday, taking advantage of the warm weather to make new discoveries that will be added to the Whistler Biodiversity Project's inventory for Whistler. By the time the fifth annual Whistler BioBlitz wrapped up, roughly 700 species - including roughly 100 new discoveries - were tallied.
"It's amazing when the weather cooperates how much easier it is," said organizer and ecologist Bob Brett. "It was warm and perfectly clear on Saturday night, and the insects were out, and the bats were out, and there was just more to see and to do.
"It was also a pretty late summer for us, which also meant we saw species we might not have ordinarily seen. There were caterpillars on the mountains that should have turned into butterflies a long time ago and flown away."
The public education component of BioBlitz was bigger than ever with huge crowds at Alpha Lake Park to check out the species that had been collected and to take in talks by experts on various subjects and a large crowd out to take in the historical walk with Don MacLaurin. The evening bat search was also successful and participants got to see a number of the animals up close that were caught and later released.
It will take weeks, if not months, to properly catalogue every find, but Brett believes this will be a significant year in a lot of ways.
"In our first four years our total of newly documented species was something like 600 species and that's just a 24-hour event - for 96 hours that's a pretty good return on our investment," said Brett.
"This year we'll end up with 700 species in total, of which close to 100 will be new records. Most won't be exciting to the average person, like 30 new moths, 10 new spiders, and 10 new mosses, and probably another 10 new mushrooms including a new truffle."
The biggest find was not from Whistler at all, but was a sharp-tailed snake - the first verified record of the species on Mainland, B.C. - that was discovered by Leslie Anthony in Pemberton. Anthony was collecting species of snakes and lizards that are native to Whistler but much easier to find in Pemberton when he made the discovery. "It will be a very big deal in provincial biology circles and it was just an awesome find," said Brett. "That's kind of why we host events like this, because you never know what you're going to find."
Some of the other highlights include a short-tailed weasel, which actually ran through a BioBlitz display tent, and a blitz on the River of Golden Dreams that included a mammal tracking team from the Seattle area and turned up mink, beavers, muskrats and a even a few birds that you had to be on a river to see.
"One of the cool things about talking to mammal trackers is that A) they can do it and B) they're not just looking for tracks but for other signs like scat. There were a few colourful discussions about what kind of scat they were looking at, and they were very excited about it," said Brett.
They also found a water scorpion in the water, a large insect that lives in the water and resembles an aquatic preying mantis.
New findings are incorporated into the Whistler Biodiversity Project, which is cataloging every form of life found within the resort's boundaries. To date the list at www.whistlerbiodiversity.ca is over 2,500 species.