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COLUMN: Cold weather didn't freeze attendance at Niagara College Bioblitz

The popular event drew the best crowd yet on a cold, blustery day in Niagara

Cold weather didn't freeze the attendance at Niagara College's ninth annual Bioblitz.

As I rolled off the bedside and peered out the window, a blustery grey day had already been going about its business. The 6 C temperature paled in comparison to the record-setting 26 degrees we'd experienced just days before, but such is life in a southern Ontario spring.

I was getting ready to head over to Niagara College's 9th annual Bioblitz, an invaluable initiative that is open to citizens and local experts alike. The goal during a Bioblitz is to explore an ecological area while learning, recording species, and enjoying quality nature time. When you unpack the word Bioblitz, it is essentially a quick yet impactful pulse check on the local biodiversity with the help of you, me, and anyone.

My favourite takeaway from the public's perspective is that everyone is welcome. My first morning hike was themed as a general biodiversity and Niagara Escarpment talk, and there were about 30 attendees. The group had an age range from toddler to elderly, and outdoor experience ranged from first timer to local professional.

Owen enlists the help of five-year-old Cree from Fort Erie to search for salamanders. Mike Balsom

This attendance was a massively pleasant surprise considering the unwelcoming, chiselling winds. As the crowd grew bigger moments before my hike, it made me smile, as it showcased that so many community members were keen on connecting with their backyard flora and fauna. Those who feel close to something are more likely to protect it, and pass that enthusiasm down to other generations.

It may sound like whimsical and cheesy talk, but let's not forget that the youth will one day vote, govern our society, and dictate the quality of life that humans, snakes, owls and foxes all share together. Despite the less than ideal conditions, we still spotted various species of duck, salamander eggs, unique trees, and learned about the ineffable importance of wetlands and woodlots. Personally, my favourite moment occurred during my second hiking time slot, where perhaps 10 people showed up. Although this one young boy was super quiet, I could tell he was observant like a bird and absorbent like a sponge. Sometimes, you can just see it in their face.

I thought I would make his day, just as adults once did for me during my outdoorsy youth. From the previous hike an hour earlier, I remembered under exactly which rock I had found eastern red-backed salamanders. I wanted him to feel like he found them by himself, so I invited him over to gently pull the dinner-plate sized rock back and see what lay beneath. His eyes widened, and you could see the curiosity and wonderment as he saw his first salamander.
That right there is my biggest personal takeaway from the Bioblitz. Further to that, it also makes me appreciate what a beacon of community engagement Niagara College is.

There are so many great initiatives happening on the NOTL campus that it is hard to keep track of them all. The college creates turtle nesting sites and basking platforms while removing invasive species from the property. They restore the land by planting native tree species, including the nationally-rare paw paw tree. The Bioblitz allows free access to the property, where attendees can hang out with Indigenous teachers of Niagara, as well as local bird, insect, and benthic invertebrate experts. Fun fact of the day — benthic means the bottom of a water body, and invertebrates are animals, usually insects, who thrive in that zone.

According to a friend of mine at the college who organizes the Bioblitz, it was the best attended yet. This only inspires Niagara College and me to promote next year's 10th anniversary of this awesome project, and I truly hope to see you there!