- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - People who drive by Eagle Marsh sometimes catch a glimpse of one of its namesake raptors gliding through the sky or trace the outline of a far-off wading heron through the early-morning mist.

But those who would like a really close-up view of the 716-acre nature preserve’s wildlife will get an opportunity May 31 and June 1.

That’s when the preserve hosts its first-ever BioBlitz, a 24-hour event originated by the Indiana Academy of Science and intended to catalog all of the marsh’s diverse animal and plant life.

During BioBlitz, about 100 scientists, including some from Indiana, will converge on the marsh and identify everything they see during the 24-hour period beginning about 9 a.m. May 31.

The scientists are enlisting the public’s help, says Betsy Yankowiak, director of preserves and programs for the Little River Wetlands Project, which owns Eagle Marsh.

“This is going to be an amazing opportunity to go out and learn from real scientists,” she tells The Journal Gazette (https://bit.ly/1lsAP3A ), adding that middle-school, high-school and college students as well as adults are invited to volunteer.

“We’ll take as many as can help,” she says. “There’s no special training beforehand.

“Even if you are not able to identify what that frog is, you might be the person who has eyes that see it or hands that catch it for another person to identify.”

The experts and volunteers will divide into groups tasked with looking for a specific type of animal - such as mammals, birds, insects and fish - and also by habitat types, such as aquatic, marsh, restored prairie, sedge meadow and forested wetland, Yankowiak says. About 20 experts will work just on plants.

Eagle Marsh’s barn will become a lab outfitted with identification tools, including microscopes. Results will be published in the fall, but the public will have a chance to listen to scientists’ informal presentations of their findings during open houses from 2 to 5 p.m. May 31 and 1 to 3 p.m. June 1. A formal talk will take place at 2 p.m. June 1.

Yankowiak says the preserve’s managers are looking forward to having the information to know where restoration efforts since 2006 have been successful. If endangered or threatened species are found, their habitats can be enhanced.

“It’s like a snapshot of what is using our property now,” she says.

The work will also show what species might need to be eradicated. At least one group of scientists and volunteers will specifically look for non-native invasive plants and animals, Yankowiak says.

Yankowiak adds that preserve officials hope no examples of non-native Asian carp turn up, but scientists will have their eye out for them.

Eagle Marsh, which contains the meeting spot of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds, will soon see a multigovernment-agency project to widen an existing berm that serves as a physical separation of the two basins.

The berm, along the Graham McCulloch Ditch, is designed to keep the ecologically troubling invasive carp out of the Great Lakes and other invading species out of the Mississippi.

“The silver and the big-headed carp that everybody has been worried about have never been recorded in Eagle Marsh or the Little River,” Yankowiak says. “But in Huntington, in the Wabash River where it meets the Little River, they have them documented down there.”

It’s a bit close for comfort, inasmuch as carp can swim that far, she says, and a large flooding event might persuade the carp to swim upstream and spawn.

Such an event took place a few weeks ago, but sensors placed on carp by the state Department of Environmental Resources “turned up no hits that we know of,” Yankowiak says.

Still, the berm project will cause some habitat change, and the data gathered during the BioBlitz should help guide land management in the future, she says.

Participating scientists include members of the faculties of IPFW and the University of Saint Francis and John Whitaker, an Indiana University specialist on bats and author of the National Audubon Society’s field guide to American mammals. The program’s co-coordinator is Don Ruch, a biology professor at Ball State University.

This is the sixth time the academy has conducted a BioBlitz, but the first in northeastern Indiana. Other sites were Conner Prairie in Hamilton County, Goose Pond in Greene County, Loblolly Marsh in Jay County, Wesselman Woods in Vanderburgh County and Otter Creek in Vigo County.

Yankowiak says Eagle Marsh is home to many kinds of wildlife, from minks to frogs to salamanders.

At least 220 bird species have been spotted there, she says.

“When you talk about biodiversity, most people think it’s out in the rain forest or out in the Great Barrier Reef,” Yankowiak says. “But there are so many incredible species right here in Allen County.”

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