An Eagle (Scout) Eye on Nature

October 4, 2017

Hosting a bioblitz is one great way to contribute to your community and also to scientific research, as Bret Potter discovered when he organized his own bioblitz at O'Melveny Park in San Fernando with a little support from NHMLA. The 17-year-old prospective Eagle Scout describes his process here, as this week's guest blogger on Nature in L.A.:

Diabolical Ironclad Beetle.  photo: Devin Larson

Who knew the Diabolical Ironclad Beetle was a real thing? I didn’t before my Eagle Scout Project, which was a wildlife survey of O’Melveny Park in the San Fernando Valley. On September 9th, 2017, more than 40 people met at the second largest city park in Los Angeles (after Griffith Park!) to conduct a bioblitz. Many of them hadn’t done something like this before but were soon intrigued and engaged by their task. How did it come about?

Bret and Bryn Potter greet the Bioblitzers as they arrive at O'Melveny Park.  photo: Lisa Gonzalez

In the Boy Scouts, the highest rank is Eagle Scout. To earn it, a scout has to organize and lead a service project. In the spring I went to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and learned about a Citizen Science program called the SuperProject and how to use iNaturalist. On April 15th, my brother Reed and I attended a SuperProject bioblitz at Hansen Dam. The event caused me to realize that I could do something similar for my Eagle Project. After talking with the Citizen Science program staff, I realized that the event would be possible. I was put in contact with Miguel Ordeñana as my Museum mentor. So after my project received necessary approvals, I set to planning. I decided on O’Melveny Park as a location because of its variety of terrain from chaparral covered hillsides to orchards to lawn-covered play areas. Before I knew it, it was the morning of the project.

Father and son team John and Devin Larson photograph a lizard to submit to iNaturalist.  photo: Lisa Gonzalez
Sheldon Rosenthal and Ayush Saha use a vial to photograph a bumblebee. photo: Bryn Potter

On the day of the project, 43 people from all walks of life, including Museum scientists Lisa Gonzalez and Jan Kempf, gave their time to help with the bioblitz. I had previously trained my Scout Troop on how to use iNaturalist and photograph wildlife, so they were ready to go. Other volunteers were taught as they arrived, and soon the park was filled with new naturalists taking photos. In addition to the volunteers, many hikers and park visitors were interested in the commotion and asked about our project. Many were intrigued and some even volunteered on the spot.

By the end of the project, over 300 wildlife observations were made and uploaded to iNaturalist, plus an experienced birder provided a list of 36 birds seen that day. Fifty-eight species of animals have been identified so far, including the Diabolical Ironclad Beetle. All in all, the project was a total success!

A few of the 343 observations from Bret's Eagle Scout Project: Southern California Shoulderband snail by andy71, Fox squirrel by janice47, Borage and California Sagebrush by andy71

A big thank you to Bret Potter, and the participants in his bioblitz! Observations like theirs contribute to NHMLA scientists' research and help to fill a data gap in our L.A. Nature Map. Observations from Bret's Eagle Scout Project were added to some of our ongoing research projects, including: SLIME, RASCals, and the Southern California Squirrel Survey, and help our scientists to better understand the biodiversity of the Los Angeles area.

(Posted by: Bret Potter)

2 Comments

Awesome! Just totally Awesome! Congratulations to you, Bret. You did a great job.

Congratulations, Brett! What a great project.

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