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Saguaro BioBlitz:
Youth Ambassadors Blog

Saguaro BioBlitz Youth Ambassadors
Saguaro National Park BioBlitz youth ambassadors with Teacher-Ranger-Teacher Moses Thompson.

As the 2011 BioBlitz kicked off on a hot, sunny day at Saguaro National Park, two students began their roles as biodiversity ambassadors. Thirteen-year-old Dara and 11-year-old Valyssa are introducing biodiversity to fellow students across the country.

Follow along as Valyssa and Dara share some of their experiences.




Saguaro BioBlitz—Day 1

Valyssa
Valyssa excited to start the day

Friday, October 21, 9 a.m.
While Valyssa is new to BioBlitzes, she knows a lot about Saguaro National Park. As a resident of Tucson, she has participated in several Junior Ranger Camps, where she hiked and searched for animals. On Friday morning, Valyssa headed out with Taylor Edwards, a scientist from the University of Arizona, to look for reptiles and amphibians. Here's what she had to say about the walk: "The first activity I did was a herpetology walk and it was amazing! Herpetology is the study of reptiles. The most memorable part of my walk was when a lizard was blending in with the ground, then when I took a step, it just ran across my path! Now I'm counting on seeing a certain reptile...the Gila monster!"

Youth ambassador preparing for electronic field trip.
Dara on the set of the electronic field trip

Friday, October 21, 10 a.m.
Dara traveled all the way from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to serve as a biodiversity ambassador. She attended last year's BioBlitz at Biscayne National Park in Florida, so she's no stranger to BioBlitzes. This year, Dara helped introduce the National Park Foundation electronic field trip, Desert Discovery. She was a little nervous at first but said that "after practicing I had a really good time being on TV." Dara sure fooled everyone watching—she's a natural!


Lizard
Zebra-tailed lizard

Friday, October 21, 3 p.m.
On Friday afternoon, Valyssa and Dara headed out to search for reptiles along Kings Canyon. Sure enough, within the first five minutes of walking, they spotted one running to hide in a bush. Fortunately the inventory leader, Craig Ivanyi from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, skillfully caught it, giving the girls an up-close look at the striped tail and pretty pastel colors of a zebra-tailed lizard.


Valyssa examines a lizard.
Valyssa taking a close look at a lizard

In Valyssa's Words...
This afternoon was exhausting and adventurous! My two most memorable things from this afternoon were holding a night snake and finding a zebra tailed lizard in Kings Canyon. The night snake is venomous to lizards and has fangs in the back of its mouth. The zebra tailed lizard had a beautifully colored belly.



Dancing with Billy B
Dancing on stage with Billy B

In Dara's Words...
Yesterday at BioBlitz I had a terrific time. At the opening ceremony Billy, a great singer and dancer, had a song about the dragonfly and picked Valyssa and I and some other kids to dance on stage with other kids. I also did a herpetology inventory. We did lots of hiking at Kings Canyon. After all of that walking, I might have caught sun poisoning though because I was staring at a saguaro cactus for a while and it started moving. Reminder: Wear sunscreen.


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Saguaro BioBlitz—Day 2

Dara near a water pool.
Dara and fellow BioBlitz participant look for life in a tinaja

Dara's Day 2 Summary
Dara spent the morning of day two on an aquatic inventory in the Rincon District with Evan Gwilliam, an ecologist with the Sonoran Desert Inventory & Monitoring Network. The group hiked in about a mile to a series of ponds in the granite bedrock (tinajas), where they searched for aquatic invertebrates. Dara was pretty impressed with the hike, saying "Aquatic inventory was awesome! I saw a diamondback rattlesnake and 2 other unidentified snakes. I also saw the skeleton of a coyote or fox, exoskeleton of a dragonfly larva, water scorpion, horse hair (the kind of worm), and learned about a bacteria layer called schmutzdecke. I also saw dragonflies mating. Aquatic inventory was my favorite inventory. Thank you, Ranger Evan!!"



Valyssa with her certificate.
Valyssa shows off her PhD

Valyssa's Day 2 Summary
Valyssa earned her PhD at Biodiversity University during day two of the BioBlitz. She visited more than nine booths at the Tucson Mountain District base camp to talk with scientists and learn about the plants and animals of Saguaro National Park and surrounding areas. During her PhD studies, Valyssa's desire to see a Gila monster came true. She saw one up close and was even able to touch it...with the help of a scientist, of course, because Gila monsters are poisonous.



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Saguaro BioBlitz—Ambassador Summary

Valyssa and Dara
2011 BioBlitz youth ambassadors

Valyssa and Dara concluded their on-site duties as the 2011 biodiversity ambassadors with an interview on the main stage. As a local TV host questioned the girls, they shared their experiences searching for life in the park.



Valyssa reading script
Valyssa studying the electronic field trip script

Both ambassadors were impressed with the park. As a new visitor to Saguaro, Dara said, "It's really extremely beautiful. I think every place has its own kind of beauty...the mountains and the cacti..." Though Valyssa had been there many times before, she too enjoyed being out in the park: "It's amazing, and I just love it here. The view is so good..."

When asked what they would take home from the BioBlitz and what they'd tell their friends, the girls' enthusiastic responses demonstrated the positive experiences they had during their two days in the field with scientists. Valyssa was proud of earning her PhD and said, "I really want to be a park ranger because I love animals, hiking, and just seeing the landscapes." Dara expressed her gratitude for being able to attend the BioBlitz: "I'm just going to be grateful for what I have and what I have been given because I know that there are other kids who aren't given the same opportunity I have. It's not an everyday thing."



Dara looking at owl pellet
Dara with an owl pellet

Thanks to Dara and Valyssa for their excellent service as biodiversity ambassadors and to their families, teachers, and schools for their support. We hope to see many more children out at next year's BioBlitz and other National Park Service biodiversity discovery events, where they can take part in fun, engaging activities while learning about parks and becoming our next generation of scientists and park stewards. As Dara said, "Seeing a snake in the wilderness is a whole different experience than seeing one in a zoo or a cage!" Who can argue with that?


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What's Next?

Passing of the BioBlitz flag
L to R: Rocky Mountain NP's Ben Bobowski; National Geographic's John Francis; and Saguaro NP's Darla Sidles

The interviews were followed by the closing ceremonies, which culminated in the passing of the official BioBlitz flag to Rocky Mountain National Park, the host of the 2012 National Park Service–National Geographic Society BioBlitz. Join us next year at Rocky for another discovery-filled BioBlitz!



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Last Updated: August 23, 2012