Foxcroft's First BioBlitz — Be Well, Be Green, Belong @ Foxcroft

By Elizabeth P. ’23, Leyla A. ’23, and Farah A-M. ’23  

Part of the theme at Foxcroft this year is “Be Green,” and that’s exactly what happened this past Sunday afternoon. The Foxcroft community gathered at the Sally B. Courtyard to hold our first annual BioBlitz, led by student leaders from Statistics, Biology, and AP Human Geography classes. The results of the BioBlitz were remarkable. The entire school was able to come together and collect enough data to make 186 new observations and identify 102 species on campus in a single day.

Over the course of the project, which spanned 17 days, students contributed 825 observations and identified 288 species. Our 44 student leaders introduced the rest of the community to an educational and delightful way to identify organisms.
Scientists around the world are constantly gathering and analyzing data. This year, students at Foxcroft contributed to the effort. During the week before the BioBlitz, students learned to use the iNaturalist app, a nature database accessible to everyone. In the weeks leading up to the BioBlitz, the group captains went around campus taking photographs of flora and fauna (some of the most popular included different species of spiders, butterflies, and many types of weeds) and logged them in the app. iNaturalist can correctly identify millions of species of plants and animals and app users can see what has been posted in a specific location and confirm the sighting. The information becomes research grade and can be used by scientists after a species is confirmed by another identifier. 

“iNaturalist has a mechanism where if two people confirm an identification, then it becomes research grade,” offered Statistics, Chemistry, and AP Chemistry teacher Dr. Lindsay Anderson. “Scientists from all over the world can actually pull that research-grade data out and use it again to map species distribution or look for trends in species, look for disappearances, and even look for invasive species. We are going to look at [the data] as an example of some statistics, and hopefully, we’re going to do it every year so that we can, over time, use it in classes to look for changes in species composition… Maybe we’ll be able to detect new species on campus.”

Another scientific app used by classes such as Statistics and Biology was the Merlin Bird ID application created by The Cornell Lab at Cornell University. This app allowed students who participated in the BioBlitz to record the sound of their surroundings and identify the names, places of origin, and overall descriptions of various birds. The Merlin Bird ID app also has features that help identify bird species by capturing pictures of the birds for those who wish to identify through a photo instead of a sound; however, birds can be hard to photograph. In addition to identification, the app has a feature that allows users to explore birds nearby, showing the latest sightings of birds in your location and other regions the birds have traveled from. For instance, one of the groups found that common birds in Middleburg came from Canada, the Southeast, and the Midwest.
On the day of the BioBlitz, students were put into groups of three or four, each with one leader, and were assigned one of three trails to hike on: Pink House Trail, Mountville Trail, or Goose Creek Trail. The Pink House and Mountville trails pass by cornfields while the Goose Creek trail takes you down to the creek, where many animals can be seen hydrating or resting. Each trail takes just under an hour to complete, but students had two hours to finish their hikes, taking photographs along the way. Students in Statistics and Biology were looking for interesting plants and creatures to add to the species list at Foxcroft in iNaturalist, while students in AP Human Geography looked for additional items, including man-made structures, trash, and mud. The remaining students joined to help and enjoy the beautiful views on such a nice afternoon. A total of 133 students participated in the BioBlitz.

“I got to bond with the people in my group,” shared senior Alexa C., “people I normally wouldn’t talk to. It was just nice to get a break and be in nature … really healing and rejuvenating for me. I think everyone had a good experience!” Dr. Anderson agreed. “[The students] got fresh air, exercise, and could better connect with the data they were collecting.”  

Overall, it was a unifying and unique experience and a great start to the school year!
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An all-girls boarding and day school in Northern Virginia, Foxcroft prepares young women in grades 9-12 for success in college and in life. Our outstanding academic program offers challenging courses, including Advanced Placement classes and an innovative STEM program. Our premiere equestrian program is nationally recognized, and our athletic teams have won conference and state championships. Experience the best in girls' boarding schools: visit Foxcroft.