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  • Kate McKeown

iNaturalist Challenge in Ecological Reserves

Updated: Jan 25

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Ecological Reserves Act in British Columbia, the BC Parks iNaturalist Project and Friends of Ecological Reserves challenged themselves and the community to reach 50,000 iNaturalist observations in Ecological Reserves by the end of 2021. Although COVID-19 protocols and wildfires prevented us from meeting this goal, we tripled the number of observations in Ecological Reserves in a single year, bringing the total over 30,000 as of mid-November! Together we added 800 species to the Ecological Reserves iNaturalist Project and found new locations of several rare species, notably bifid crestwort, and rubber boa.


The BC Parks iNaturalist team bioblitzed 17 Ecological Reserves this season with the help of ER wardens and local ecologists. Our experiences in four of these EcoReserves are detailed below.


May 1: Comox Lake Bluffs Ecological Reserve

On a gorgeous spring day, we met ER warden Mandy Vaughan and local ecologists Jason Straka, Randal Mindell, and Jack Bindernagel at the entrance to Comox Lake Bluffs. As we ascended out of the dense forest to the rocky, Arbutus-lined bluffs, our cameras clicked constantly while we captured hundreds of photos of plants including checker lilies, Oregon stonecrop, and serpentine fern. On this one Saturday, our group gathered 1,700 iNaturalist observations of 340 species spanning the entire EcoReserve. Thank you all for volunteering your time and knowledge.

Checker lily by Lena Dietz Chiasson


May 7: Bowser Ecological Reserve

We joined ER warden Gerry Van Der Wolf at Bowser and set off just as the rain began to fall. Pushing through waist-deep salal, we struggled our way to a pond where many expectant rough-skinned newts glided just below the surface and northern red-legged frogs’ eyes bulged above the water line. Dodging devil’s club, we hiked along the riverside to a low-lying area populated by western maidenhair fern, skunk cabbage, and liverworts. Finally, we scrambled under decades-old fallen Douglas fir, recording sightings of western red backed salamanders as we returned to our vehicles. Gerry, thank you so much for guiding us through the bush all day and iNatting alongside our team.


Rough-skinned newt by Kate McKeown


May 8-9: Woodley Range Ecological Reserve

Our major bioblitz of the season brought together ecologists Jason Straka, Randal Mindell, Andrew Simon, Scott Gilmore, Kristen and James Miskelly, Finn McGhee, Daniel Tucker, Shane Johnson, Leah Ramsay, Dave Fraser, Ryan Batten, and Erica McClaren from across Vancouver Island. Over the course of a single weekend, our group recorded 6,900 observations of 700 species, including 24 species at risk such as sharp-tailed snake, purple martin, bog bird's foot trefoil, and Steindachner’s shieldback katydid. This major achievement would not have been possible without the generosity of the ecologists who volunteered their time and expertise, and the kindness and support of ER wardens Gary Backlund, Katherine Banman and her daughter, Annika who organized our large group and opened their home to us so that we could access this private Ecological Reserve. Thank you all!

Sharp-tailed snake by Finn McGhee

May 23: Field’s Lease Ecological Reserve

ER warden Robert Calder met us on site, and we climbed the short distance to the highest point in the protected area. From there, we had a 360o view of the antelope bitterbrush, rubber rabbitbrush, and sagebrush that stretch to all corners of the modest 4.2-hectare EcoReserve. Although we only spent a few hours in this area, we were able to appreciate and capture the unique arid grassland ecosystem found nowhere else in Canada. Robert, thank you for teaching us about the history of this EcoReserve and the beautiful plants found within.


Antelope bitterbrush by Erin Springinotic


We would also like to thank ER wardens Diane Moran and Ron Laidman (San Juan River Estuary) who provided us with directions to their EcoReserve, BC Parks Community Outreach Specialist Rike Moon who connected us with ER wardens to make these meet ups possible, and all the other community scientists who have contributed their observations to iNaturalist this year and in years past. We are looking forward to another great year in 2022!


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