Birders have something they call a “Big Year.” As I understand the concept, a birder sets a challenge to him or herself, to identify as many birds as they can within a particular geographical area within a year. Sometimes they get competitive and a number of birders do the same geographical area (maybe the continental United States or a particular state) during the same year and compare notes. Sometimes it is just an individual challenge.
Robert Michael Pyle extended to concept to butterflies in his book Mariposa Road.
Lately I have been thinking about doing something similar, but doing it around the theme of biological diversity. Realistically, I know I won’t have the time to do it for at least two or three years. Also, in order to keep the task fun and worth doing, I would have to put limits on it. I would not set out to identify all organisms, but would have to select certain groups. I would also combine photography with it–I would only count those I had an identify with a photograph.
Lichens are photogenic, and I love taking pictures of them. However, I have never been particularly good at identifying them. I have keys I can do it with, but some of the keys involve cutting a piece of the lichen and dripping a chemical on the tissues. I could do that, but the process sort of takes the fun out of it.
Mosses, liverworts, and hornworts are also very photogenic. This is a hornwort, Phaeoceros lavis. I think I have adequate keys, and can usually identify the plants from photographs. The keys often require microscopic examination of structures, something which is difficult to do in the field and would require collecting a specimen. I might be willing to go there, but once again, it takes away from the experience of doing it.
I love butterflies, and of course I would include butterflies like this mourning cloak , Nymphalis antiopa, in the group of creatures I would try to identify. The problem with butterflies might be that are so much fun that they might steal time away from the other groups.
Terrestrial snails are a group I have a lot of fun with, but they also present some problems. This is a plains snaggletooth, Gastrocopta abbreviata. One problem with snails is that they are difficult to identify from just one angle. To identify this snail, you need photographs from several different angles. Also, there is not a good field guide–there are a number of old field guides that one would need to refer to in order to key them out. Still, this group might be worth the effort
Flies can be fun, also, but since there are so many, I might have to limit them to particular groups–bee flies or robber flies, for example. This is a bee fly, Sparnopolius confusus. This was identified on bugguide–one can find keys for certain groups, but there is a steep learning curve. Would the exercise be valid if I relied on bugguide to identify the organisms?
This may end up being one of my pipe dreams that never happens. But it is fun to consider.