For 24 hours last weekend a group of intrepid scientists tromped through brush, looked under rocks, peered into ponds and waterways, followed animal tracks and generally kept their eyes and ears peeled for signs of life.
The reason was BioBlitz, the fourth annual biodiversity treasure hunt in the Resort Municipality of Whistler. From noon Saturday until noon on Sunday a group of 75 scientists - 60 from out of town - combed Whistler in search of species, collecting samples when they could, snapping photos when they couldn't and at other times relying on their biological credentials as proof of other finds.
This year the group identified more than 700 different species of plants, animals, insects, amphibians, reptiles and fish within Whistler. That's roughly 200 more than the 2009 BioBlitz total.
What's more, it's believed that the group added 100 species that are new to the inventory kept by the Whistler's Biodiversity Project - itself a database of 2,500 different forms of life that can be found in the Whistler area.
According to organizer Bob Brett, the number of species reflects the number of scientists taking part as well as the weather - the first nice weather they've seen in the history of the event.
He says it will take a while to put all of the finds into perspective.
"Honestly it will take a while to know what is what," he said. "It's great to expand the list, but right now a bunch of scientists have taken samples home with them - mainly spiders and fungus and that sort of thing - and we could find something that is really rare or unusual. As for something like spiders you never really know what you have until you have a specialist look at it. It will be interesting to see if anything is out of its range or rare or non-native."
This year BioBlitz found two non-native species of plants that had not previously been identified in the valley, which is part of the reason for the biodiversity inventory.
"A lot of insects and spiders are actually bellwether species as to how disturbed a habitat is," said Brett. "If you have a lot of non-native insects or spiders it's an indication of a disturbance, so let's hope we find a lot of native species."
As well as searching for species, there was an educational component to BioBlitz at Alpha Lake Park, where searchers shared their findings with the eager public and held educational seminars on the lives of different species.
Some of the highlights for this year include:
• The first ever blitz of the Whistler Golf Course turned up almost 100 species for the count, including a river otter and beaver.
• The first ever canopy blitz held at TreeTrek resulted in the discovery of a new species of truffle - apparently left there by a flying squirrel.
• The first mammal tracking team participated, travelling from Washington state to take part.
• A spider specialist expects to add dozens of new species to the inventory, once the specimens can be properly examined under a microscope.
• Birders, mostly local, managed to find 79 species on their search.
• A visiting group from the Native Plant Society of B.C. helped to identify at least three new species of plants in the valley.
• The "Night Critters" event managed to catch eight bats and various night insects, thanks in part to warm weather and clear skies.
Complete results will be posted in the next week at www.whistlerbioblitz.ca.
The Resort Municipality of Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb EFund provided primary sponsorship for the 2010 Whistler BioBlitz, with additional support and sponsorship from the Whistler Golf Course and Tourism Whistler, ZipTrek, the Community Foundation of Whistler, the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, the Whistler Biodiversity Project, Subway, Creekbreak, Creekside Market, Dusty's, Blackcomb Sign Shop and the Legends Whistler hotel.