ELIZABETH, NJ -- How many different plant and animal species populate Union County’s Watchung Reservation? The answer will be forthcoming next month, when 150 volunteer scientists and naturalists comb through forests, fields, and waterways for Bio-Blitz, an annual survey of wildlife in County parks. Nature fans of all ages are invited to observe the work and enjoy free hands-on activities during the 24-hour, ‘round-the-clock celebration of local flora and fauna, including games, prizes and giveaways.

Bio-Blitz 2015 begins at the Watchung Reservation at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, June 12, and wraps up at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 13.

“Watchung Reservation is home to hundreds of plant and animal species, and many of them are hidden away from view, said Union County Freeholder Chairman Mohamed S. Jalloh. “This is a rare chance to explore the secret life of our Union County parks with the experts, so I encourage everyone to stop by and join us at ‘Bio-Blitz Central’ in June.”

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Bio-Blitz Central is the staging area for the survey teams, public activities and exhibits. It will be located behind the old museum on the grounds of the Trailside Nature & Science Center in the Watchung Reservation, 452 New Providence Road in Mountainside, where free parking is available.

“This year we are offering new ‘trending topics’ activities like geocaching and meditation walks, along with traditional Bio-Blitz favorites such as exhibits of live fish, snakes and turtles, the hands-on tree table, the hawk and owl demonstration, and our Junior Scientist tent for youngsters,” said Freeholder Sergio Granados, the Freeholder Board’s liaison to the Department of Parks and Recreation. “Come and explore our rich natural heritage with your family and friends.”

Exhibits at Bio-Blitz Central are open for public view throughout the event. Scheduled activities for the public kick off at 5:00 p.m. on Friday with a wild edible walk, followed by a visit to a baiting station to identify animal tracks, a “Photo-Blitz” nature photography workshop, and a “sitting circle” listening to nature’s twilight concert. After dark, the fun continues with the “owl prowl,” a late-night star watch, and a midnight insect-trapping session.

On Saturday, visitors can join naturalists on a stream-sampling expedition, an electro-fishing demonstration, a hunt for spore-bearing plants and a nearby “Mini-Blitz” among other activities. The day starts with an early morning bird walk at 7:00 a.m. and activities continue throughout the morning and afternoon, until 5:00 p.m.

New this year, Bio-Blitz 2015 features a geocaching demonstration from the organization Northern New Jersey Cachers and a guided “Yoga labyrinth walk” by SKY Yoga of Fanwood. Friday’s nature photography workshop is also new.

The all-volunteer Rutgers Master Gardeners of Union County will be on hand Saturday starting at 11:00 a.m., to provide expert gardening advice along with tours of the Demonstration Garden. They will also offer a free bird feeder craft activity for youngsters.

Along with the immersive nature experience, Bio-Blitz 2015 will provide visitors with a chance to win prizes including an exclusive guided tour of the Pine Barrens by noted ecologist Dr. Emil Devito of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. The tour is donated by the Rahway River Watershed Association, and it will take place on a date to be arranged with the prizewinner.

Other free giveaways are also available from exhibitors, and visitors to the Junior Scientist tent can get a free poster and play “Bio-Blitz Bingo.”

All Bio-Blitz activities are free and open on a walk-in basis. Visitors are asked to sign up for scheduled activities at the Info Tent when they arrive at Bio-Blitz Central, and to be aware of recommended age groups for some of the activities. 

Bio-Blitz is made possible by the Freeholder Board with many generous contributions from volunteer scientists and support staff, and local businesses and organizations including Shoprite of Clark, Starbucks of Westfield, Whole Foods of Union, Jenkinson’s Aquarium of Point Pleasant, the Staten Island Zoo, the Rahway River Watershed Association, Wild Birds Unlimited of Scotch Plains, BR Environmental, XAdmins graphic arts, SKY Yoga of Fanwood, Tony and Natalie Gregorio of Elizabeth, and Toadshade Nursery.

For more information about free public activities at Bio-Blitz 2015, visit ucnj.org/bio-blitz.

Information to register as an exhibitor or an expert survey team member is also available at ucnj.org/bio-blitz (the registration deadline is June 4).

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