Nature Photography Day Bioblitz Was Eye Opening

Photo of a song sparrow perched on a cattail. © Gouri Prakash
Song Sparrow © Gouri Prakash

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

On Nature Photography Day, June 15th, hundreds of photographers joined in a bioblitz, an eleven-day, citizen science event to find, identify, and document as many species as possible in a given area. During the NANPA Nature Photography Day Bioblitz, nearly 10,000 observations of over 3,000 species were made and uploaded to the iNaturalist project. And there were prizes. Did I mention prizes? Gouri Prakash, a hobbyist photographer in Pennsylvania was excited to participate in the bioblitz and thrilled to be recognized with a second-place Most Unique Species Observed award, consisting of a Visa gift card, Wimberly Plamp and Plamp stake.

About Gouri Prakash

“I discovered my passion for nature photography during the pandemic,” Prakash said. It was probably there before the coronavirus hit, but the lockdowns and travel restrictions gave Prakash, like many, a new appreciation for nature and for that found nearby. “For me, a nature photography excursion is most fulfilling when, apart from getting photographs, I am also able to glean insights about animal behavior. I enjoy drawing parallels between the way human beings function individually and within society and the way animals conduct themselves in their respective ecosystems. Pursuit of nature photography enables me to discover (and occasionally capture) these insightful moments that often take my breath away.”

iNaturalist, NANPA, and a Bioblitz

Prakash got involved in the bioblitz, in part, because she had never done one. It would be a new experience. “I saw the event as an opportunity to do nature photography with a purpose rather than pursue it randomly for recreational reasons. Having an app, like iNaturalist, that automates species identification, made it that much easier to sign-up.”

She went out with her camera and a goal, “to uncover as many unique species as possible, within that defined timeframe. I did not start out with the intent of winning prizes, but I did want to qualify for the random drawing by logging at least thirty observations. On the first day I logged only ten species. It was only during the latter half of the event that I realized that I had a serious shot at being amongst the top three or five participants on the leaderboard and as the event progressed, that became my goal.”

NANPA’s Nature Photography Day Bioblitz was all about citizen science and improving our knowledge of and appreciation for the species around us. NANPA also supports conservation projects through the Philip Hyde Conservation Grant program. Named after pioneering landscape photographer and conservationist Philip Hyde, the $2,500 grant is awarded each year by the NANPA Foundation to a NANPA member working on a peer-reviewed, environmental project to improve, protect, or preserve the condition of the environment. Applications for the 2021 grant are being accepted through 11 p.m. EDT October 29th.

Prakash more than met her goals, and came in second in “most unique species observed.” But what else did she get out of doing this? “Apart from the wonderful prizes,” she said, “the event turned out to be an eye-opener towards the diversity of species that call Pennsylvania home. Before the event, I had always associated the term ‘species’ with anything that blooms, runs, walks, or flies. It was during a hike at a state park while the event was still in progress that a park ranger opened my eyes to the fact that leafy plants and mushrooms also qualify as species. I don’t think I can ever see a plant again without noting its specific characteristics and giving some thought to its origins and its own unique DNA. Also, I no longer see state park rangers as people in uniforms. They are first and foremost naturalists, who make it their job to protect and preserve ecosystems, that a variety of species call home. It was a very enlightening experience.”

Fungi turned out to be some of the most surprising observations. “On the last day of the event, I set out to hike the Hawk Falls trail at Hickory Run State Park. I was running out of unique species to upload and was on the lookout for new possibilities. Soon I realized I was at the right place. The waterfall created humid conditions for a variety of fungi and lichen to thrive in the surrounding area, most of which I had not documented. The most interesting of these was the species dead man’s fingers (Xylaria polymorpha). I still remember the moment when I first set my eyes on it and blurted out ‘What in the world?’ I remember literally falling back on my feet. I was scared the first time I saw these and equally excited later to learn their oh, so fitting name, courtesy of the iNaturalist app.

Photo looking down at a ratsnake slithering across the ground. © Gouri Prakash
Ratsnake © Gouri Prakash

And the prizes?

“The Wimberly Plamp, I find, is particularly useful for photographing insects perched on flowers. It facilitates still photography especially for plants and/or insects perched on flowers, such as beetles.” It is a major help when trying to photograph species like these.

“I think I made the best use of the VISA gift card,” she continued. “I used it to renew my membership with NANPA! I feel very proud to be part of NANPA. It is a premier organization that takes SMART (Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Relevant, and Time-bound) steps to promote the art and craft of nature photography, with the primary purpose of building awareness about our duty to protect and care for the environment and planet Earth. I simply could not think of a better way to put my gift card to use than to renew my membership with this outstanding organization.”

Check NANPA’s Conservation page for other opportunities to participate in citizen science projects, learn about NANPA’s work in conservation, and other resources. See more of Gouri Prakash’s work on her website, https://gouriprakash.com/, or on Instagram @the.travel.lark.