Waterbug Watch is a citizen science initiative of the Australian Museum.

The first training day for the Spring season on Pulpit Hill Creek at Blackheath Glen camping ground, was a great success in many ways.

With some hesitation at nominating a site on the outer reaches of our region in a valley far, far away, we pressed on with the hope that a new and healthy site might encourage Streamwatchers to make the journey.

It was a good decision as the site provided excellent macroinvertebrate diversity, easy access, amenities, handy parking, and even the weather was just right. We had a great turnout from both experienced and inexperienced waterbuggers. Mountains and lowlander Streamwatchers attended and we even had one volunteer decide to camp overnight.

A show of hands revealed that Streamwatchers are probably keen for practical activity but perhaps a little reluctant to read documentation. It's good to see enthusiasm for training but the manuals produced do contain important information on how to monitor and sample correctly.

The site is interesting in a number of ways. It is possibly the first public camping location encountered as you enter the Megalong Valley from Blackheath and as such does exhibit some of the hallmarks of a well-used camp ground including areas of bare hard packed earth and cleared vegetation.

Waterbug Watch is an AM citizen science initiative
The first training day for the Spring season on Pulpit Hill Creek at Blackheath Glen camping ground. Image: Greg McDonald
© Australian Museum

The creek at this location is probably a second order stream, small and mostly shallow with a broken weir and a road ford delineating the extent of the reach sampled, so it was hardly an undisturbed, pristine creek. Despite this, the upslope catchment supports good vegetation and forest cover, a critical factor for healthy aquatic ecosystems. No weeds were observed.

On initial inspection of the sampling site we were overjoyed to see a Spiny crayfish (probably Euastacus spinifer ) and a school of native fish (Galaxids?).

Cecil explained and demonstrated sampling techniques for us, deploying kick netting and sweep netting through a range of habitats including riffle, run, pool and edge. A number of volunteers commented that they had not realized how energetic correct sampling methods were.

As well as a variety of habitats, the site also had trailing vegetation and undercuts which were also sampled. Bedrock and boulders were the only habitat types not represented in the sample. Good macro invertebrate diversity requires habitat diversity as found at this site.

Waterbug Watch has adopted an easier way of scoring sites based on freshwater macroinvertebrates. A modified EPT Index utilises three macroinvertebrate Orders known to have a significant number of sensitive members (many-not all). This is a simple metric which does not require identifying all taxa, but also incorporates a community richness component. Streamwatch staff calculate the score based on the information provided by volunteers. Streamwatchers are asked to separate animals into “type” based upon visual observations only. This is followed by identification of the EPT groups-Mayfly, Stonefly and Caddisfly to whatever level is possible by the volunteers. All other animals, though separated are not required to be identified.

To help volunteers identify freshwater macroinvertebrates more confidently and accurately, the Streamwatch team, Amy St Lawrence from BMCC and a number of our Microvols mentored the uninitiated. This proved to work very well and despite the large number and diversity of waterbugs, samples were sorted through very effectively within the allocated half hour. Having Microvols in amongst our Streamwatch groups and promoting the Waterbug app is proving to be a very effective way of improving confidence and quality assurance within Waterbug Watch.

The Pulpit Hill Creek site is a routine sampling site for the Blue Mountains City Council’s Aquatic Systems team and was sampled by them in April 2015. Data from that sampling was included in the Autumn 2015 Waterbug Watch survey. It achieved the highest score along with Bedford Creek also in the Blue Mountains. So how did the efforts from the Streamwatch Waterbuggers compare?

It would be expected that a citizen science based effort by Streamwatchers would not yield a similar result to a professional effort by BMCC. However the Spring results of this training day when compared to the Autumn BMCC results are very encouraging. Well done Streamwatchers.