Biological Treasure Hunt and Festival at Salt Lick Point Land & Water Reserve

June 1, 2011 clifftop CliffNotes

BioBlitz field trip, T. Rollins

"Was that a bat or an owl?!" Participants at the evening BioBlitz field trip delighted in the discovery of bats, owls, frogs, insects and more. Tom Rollins, Thomas Rollins Photography.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld occasionally rhapsodized to the press about varieties of “known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.” The mystery and challenges of discovery – the ability to transfer the unknown into the column marked known – is a continual stimulus.

Samples at BioBlitz, T. Rollins

Already starting the sorting and classification process, entomologist Chris Dietrich, Illinois Natural History Survey, shows off just a few specimens collected during the BioBlitz at Salt Lick Point Land and Water Reserve. Tom Rollins, Thomas Rollins Photography.

That urge to know brought 52 scientists and naturalists to Valmeyer’s Salt Lick Point Land and Water Reserve for a 24-hour period of discovery on Friday and Saturday May 13 and 14th. The very early and preliminary total stands at nearly 1,000 life forms.

One thousand. That’s a lot of life.

Two species of moths that had never before been found in Southwestern Illinois moved into the known column.  A Great Plains Rat Snake, with no living specimens seen in the past 30 years, was found, thus confirming one of the scientists’ hoped for known knowns. A type of feather moss, only recently described from a population in Maine, was found; its discovery, in the time-honored traditions of science, creating a series of new questions best summed as “how here?”

sampling at BioBlitz, T. Rollins

More than morels were on their minds as mycologists Andy Miller, Illinois Natural History Survey, and Andy Methven, Eastern Illinois University, scouted for the 78 species of fungi found during the BioBlitz. Tom Rollins, Thomas Rollins Photography.






Besides discovery and the luxury of a full day of field work for scientists kept (like their specimens) inside the confines of labs and classrooms, the BioBlitz took on aspects of a reunion as former students worked alongside now-retired professors and, in turn, introduced their own students and interns. Conversations during the combination barbeque and pot-luck provided by the Valmeyer Boy Scout Troop and volunteers with Clifftop, the Salt Lick Point Stewardship Committee, and the Kaskaskia Valley Audubon Society, centered on the wonders of the natural resources so easily at hand. The only complaint was best expressed by botanist Henry Eilers of Shoal Creek Barrens who lamented the brevity of the time in comparison to the lushness of potential, noting, “My sector was 60 acres and I only was able to cover about five!”

S. Ballard with snake, T. Rollins

Illinois Department of Natural Resources Heritage Biologist Scott Ballard cradles a Great Plains Rat Snake, the first live specimen of this species found in the area in about 30 years. Tom Rollins, Thomas Rollins Photography.

Making discoveries combined with the pleasure of sharing new stuff for participants in a special night hike. Watching the scientists collect insects, looking for tiny mussels and snails while listening for frogs and toads, learning about Big Brown Bats as Ed Heske showed off the male captured in a mist net, and wondering first at the soft calls and then the appearance of an Eastern Screech Owl, made the walk memorable.

Clifftop volunteers, T. Rollins

Clifftop volunteers Paul and Karlene Feldker helped Mark Brown, IDNR's District Forester, and Robert Bellm, University of Illinois Extension Service Educator, show specimens of invasive plants and discuss control measures. Tom Rollins, Thomas Rollins Photography.

The BioBlitz continued through Saturday morning, despite rain and chilly weather, as Valmeyer’s Borsch Park was transformed into the setting for the second Festival of the Bluffs. Festival attendees joined in the spirit of discovery, too, watching raptor flights, meeting Barn, Screech, Long-eared, and Barred Owls, a Peregrine Falcon, Harris’s Hawk, American Kestrel and a Bald Eagle brought by the World Bird Sanctuary and TreeHouse Wildlife Center. Demonstrations and presentations offered attendees information on invasive plants, groundwater, conserving wildlife habitat and natural history. Area residents were able to learn the importance of taking steps as simple as “keep cats indoors” for wildlife’s sake from the Humane Society of Monroe County, and were able to explore more of Illinois’ wildlife habitat in the Traveling Science Center.

Exploring more, moving those unknown unknowns into the column marked known and, then, finding new questions to lead to even more discovery even turns a rain day into illumination.

Turkey vulture release, Festival 2011, T. Rollins

Spectators thrilled to the return to the wild of a rehabilitated Turkey Vulture as Jeff Meshach of the World Bird Sanctuary, lofted the bird to freedom. The vulture will join the 103 species of birds tallied during the BioBlitz on May 13th and 14th at Valmeyer's Salt Lick Point Land and Water Reserve. Tom Rollins, Thomas Rollins Photography.

Festival of the Bluffs 2011 and the BioBlitz were co-hosted by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, the Salt Lick Point Stewardship Committee and Clifftop. Generous grants to Clifftop from the Illinois Wildlife Preservation Fund and The Volunteer Stewardship Network, a program of the Nature Conservancy and the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, funded both the Festival and BioBlitz.


Clifftop, a local nonprofit organization, is focused on preserving and protecting area bluff lands.

Versions of this article appeared in the June 1 2011 edition of the Waterloo Republic-Times and the 2 June 2011 edition of the Red Bud North County News.

To view additional photographs from the 2011 BioBlitz and Festival of the Bluffs, please see the photo album of that title on this website.

To review a listing of the BioBlitz life forms inventory, please visit that section of the Research Projects on this website.

© 2011 all content rights reserved, Clifftop NFP.


BioBlitz at Salt Lick Point ValmeyerFestival of the Bluffs 2011Natural History in Monroe St. Clair and Randolph Counties IllinoisSalt Lick Point LWR

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