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Citizens invited to help experts at Dixon Waterfowl Refuge

The Wetlands Initiative (TWI) is organizing expert-led volunteer teams to comb its internationally-recognized nature preserve in Putnam County on June 13-14 in order to identify as many species of plants, birds, mammals, insects and other creatures as can be spotted in 24 hours.

A BioBlitz is a methodical 24-hour survey of a site with scientists leading groups of volunteers, said TWI’s senior ecologist, Gary Sullivan. The goal is to increase the scientific knowledge of the site.

“It’s a way of getting a rich picture of the site’s biodiversity as volunteer ‘citizen scientists’ become an extension of the experts’ eyes and ears,” Sullivan said. “This is a first for TWI, and we’re excited. The event will run from noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday, so that we get the chance to spot both daytime and nighttime species.”

Founded in 2001 and open to the public year-round, TWI’s Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin and Hopper Lakes has been designated both an Audubon Important Bird Area and a Wetland of International Importance. Now totaling more than 3,000 acres, the refuge is renowned for its diversity of habitats ranging from marshes, rare seeps and other wetlands to oak savanna, the lakes and several types of prairie. The BioBlitz will
include baseline surveying of the newest addition to the refuge, nearly 300 upland acres where ecological restoration work will begin this fall.

The Refuge has been the subject of prior surveys by experts in a few taxa (major organism groups), resulting in the identification so far of nearly 600 native plant species and more than 270 bird species. But scientific surveying of the site to date has been uneven.

“We don’t yet know much about mammals, certain groups of insects, fungi and some other things,” Sullivan said. “In recent years a dragonfly species never before recorded in Illinois
was found at the Dixon Refuge, as was another dragonfly not seen in the state since 1938. It’s a big, complex site. Who knows what we might find out there next?”

Nearly three dozen experts have agreed to participate, representing the Illinois Natural History Survey, Chicago’s Field Museum, Peoria Audubon Society, National Park Service, Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby, McHenry County Conservation District, Peoria Academy of Science, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Chicago Botanic Garden, Eastern Illinois University, Illinois Audubon Society, Illinois Ornithological
Society, Triton College in River Grove and Trine University in Indiana.

“No specific scientific knowledge is needed in order to volunteer for an expert-led group,” Sullivan said. “We just need folks to be stealthy and observant and follow the group leader’s instructions on what to look for.”

The BioBlitz is open to volunteers age 14 and older who are able to hike for up to three hours across variable terrain (participants under 18 must be accompanied by a parent). Pre-registration is required, and volunteers need not participate for the entire 24 hours to be part of the event. Refreshments will be provided.

Registration is now open at, or call TWI directly at 312-922-0777, ext. 113.

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