A Whole Lot of Fun
See what the crew found living on the Brett Gray Ranch!
-Chris Pague, The Nature Conservancy's Lead Scientist in Colorado
On the ranchlands of eastern Colorado, you have to get up pretty early to beat the meadowlarks.
But this summer, a gang of scientists—and scientists in the making—ventured out on The Nature Conservancy’s Brett Gray Ranch at the crack of dawn to take stock of the plants and animals living here.
The Brett Gray Ranch wears many hats. It is vital grassland habit, a working ranch and an outdoor laboratory.
This Bio Blitz is an important part of the Conservancy’s conservation stewardship efforts in the area.
It’s also a whole lot of fun.
It may be 6 a.m., but the group consisting of seasoned PhD’s, college and high school students, nearby ranchers, and a few young kids seem undaunted by the lack of sleep. They are eager to check the small animal-friendly traps they set the night before to see what’s living on the ranch.
The scientists are well aware of the exciting possibilities that could be in store, for this prairie ecosystem is teeming with life—from the pocket mouse to massasauga rattlesnakes.
A box turtle crossing the road is the first sighting of the day.
The team’s next find is a frisky kangaroo rat. It’s an exciting discovery, and an encouraging sign considering how dry the ranch has been this summer. They carefully study, record and release the rodent, which hops at least two feet in the air to celebrate its return to freedom.
After a quick breakfast, the group heads to one of the many riparian areas sprinkled around the ranch. Life in these areas is bustling, and frogs, minnows, bugs and birds are plentiful. These marshes are one of the reasons the Conservancy purchased the ranch in 2007.
Throughout much of eastern Colorado, wet areas on the grasslands are becoming more and more rare. Dropping water tables have a direct effect on water flowing on the surface, and scientists use opportunities like the Bio Blitz to monitor the many living creatures that depend on the vitality of our wetlands.
In his days studying ecology at Virginia Tech, the Conservancy’s lead scientist in Colorado, Chris Pague, spent countless hours traipsing through swamps tracking, trapping and cataloging everything from snakes to rodents. He’s an expert in this craft, and the Bio Blitz is a great opportunity for him to pass along knowledge he’s collected throughout his career.
“This is a lot of fun,” say Chris. “But it’s also a great way the provide the hands-on learning opportunities you can’t get in a classroom. Today is about learning, research, getting our hands dirty, and hopefully making lifelong connections with this amazing place.”
September 06, 2011