Looking Back: 2017 Highlights in Biodiversity

I managed to photograph 39 of 80 species on my 2017 biodiversity list.  Just to break down some stats on the list, I was able to check off:

20 of 37 species I had never seen

9 of 23 species I had seen but not photographed

3 of 5 species I wanted better photographs of

7 of 15 species I wanted additional photographs of

1 of 10 amphibians

2 of 9 reptiles

1 of 4 mammals

3 of 11 invertebrates

32 of 46 plants

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Most importantly, I was able to photograph over 150 species that I had not previously captured through the lens, and hundreds of new images of some of my favorite organisms.  Below are some of the highlights:

In January Carolina spotted this Regal Jumping Spider (Phidippus regius) in the parking lot of a local park.  Fortunately I had my camera with me and took the opportunity to photograph this crazy looking creature.

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Regal Jumping Spider

Wolly Sunbonnets (Chaptalia tomentosa) was the first species I checked off my 2017 biodiversity list.  It is a specialist of the coastal plain that occurs in herbaceous seeps and wetland pine savannahs.

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Woolly Sunbonnets

In February I photographed the blooms of the Texas Trailing Phlox (Phlox nivalis ssp. texensis), one of 6 or so Federally Endangered plants occurring in the Pineywoods.

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Texas Trailing Phlox

Despite having probably seen hundreds of Smallmouth Salamanders (Ambystoma texanum), I can never resist the opportunity to photograph these charismatic amphibians.

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Smallmouth Salamander

For my money, there is no finer place to be in Spring than the rich mesic forests along river bluffs and steep ravines.  Here many species of spring ephemeral plants bloom before the hardwood canopy has a chance to leave out.  Pictured below are the Louisiana Wakerobin (Trillium ludovicianum) and Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata), two species which are rare in East Texas.

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Mesic Forest in Spring

In March I spotted a spectacular scene while driving across the Attoyac River Floodplain: thousands of Butterweeds (Packera glabella) blooming in the late evening light.  I had to stop to capture a few images.

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Butterweed in the Attoyac River Floodplain

In March I took a team of botanists to survey the rich forests on the property of some friends.  It was here that I discovered the 2nd known Texas population of False Rue Anemone (Enemion biternatum) a couple of years ago.  We found a wealth of botanical treasures, including several species that are rare in the state.

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False Rue Anemone

During Spring Break Carolina and I traveled with my brother and my parents to South Texas.  Here we observed many typically Latin American species that are on the periphery of their range, barely entering the U.S. in southern Texas.  One of the most cryptic and difficult to see is the Common Pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis).

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Common Pauraque

One of my favorite aspects of South Texas is the cactus community.  We observed many species found nowhere else in the country.  Perhaps the most spectacular of these was the Lady Finger Cactus (Echinocereus pentalophus)

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Lady Finger Cactus

For our anniversary Carolina and I did some camping in the Texas Hill Country.  We visited many beautiful places and saw several interesting species, my favorite of which was the Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus).

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Juniper Hairstreak

Back in East Texas I found this beautiful male Luna Moth (Actias luna) after a spring rain shower.

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Luna Moth

In April Carolina and I traveled a couple of hours west to find the charming little Missouri Foxtail Cactus (Escobaria missouriensis) in bloom in some unique sandstone outcrops in the post oak savannah.

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Missouri Foxtail Cactus

Keeping with the state mantra of “everything is bigger in Texas,” Texas actually has several state flowers.  All members of the genus Lupinus occurring in the state have received the designation.  The rarest lupine in Texas is the Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis).  It has been extirpated from much of the state, and now occurs in only a few sites in the Big Thicket region.

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Wild Lupine

Right up there with my favorite finds of 2017 was this Promethea Moth (Callosamia promethea).  One of the largest moths in the country, the Promethea Moth reaches the southwestern extent of its range in East Texas where it’s rare.

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Promethea Moth

I was thrilled to capture this Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) nectaring on butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

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Spicebush Swallowtail

This year Carolina and I spent a lot of time at our close friend James and Erin’s property in the heart of the Pineywoods.  The “farm” as we like to call it has hundreds of acres of habitat for a variety of plants and animals.  I photographed this handsome Yellow-bellied Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster flavigaster) at a scenic creek that winds its way through the property.

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Yellow-bellied Water Snake

One of the most exciting, and certainly the most unexpected find of the year was a large Chicken Turtle (Deirochelys reticularia) near a series of pothole wetlands in a coastal prairie.  The Chicken Turtle is rare and declining throughout most of its range, and Texas is no exception.

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Chicken Turtle

I loved the look of this patch of Featherbells (Stenanthium gramineum) blooming in the faint light of dusk.

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The Enchanted Forest

In June Carolina and I explored some high quality carnivorous plant “bogs”.  Not bogs in the true sense, they are more appropriately characterized as hillside seeps.  These seeps are unique habitats that exhibit a variety of rare species.

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Hillside Seep

In the sweltering heat of July Carolina and I visited the limbestone hills of the White Rock Escarpment, where we observed the spectacular Texas Coralroot (Hexalectris warnockii).

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Texas Coralroot

The highlight of 2017 were a couple of trips to the Davis Mountains during the summer monsoon.  The biodiversity of these “sky islands” is staggering, and mixes Rocky Mountain species with rare Mexican specialties.

Our first trip was in July, and I was finally able to photograph a species that I had admired in field guides since I was a child, the Glorious Scarab (Chrysina gloriosa)

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Glorious Scarab

Also in July we observed the spectacular Desert Savior (Echeveria strictiflora) in bloom along a series of steep, rocky canyons.

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Desert Savior

In August we returned with our friends James and Erin.  We were lucky enough to find some perfect specimens of the Mountain Adder’s Mouth (Malaxis macrostachya).  In Texas this species is only known from the high elevation woodlands of the Davis Mountains.

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Mountain Adder’s Mouth

We also observed what is, in my opinion, one of the most spectacular orchids in the country, the Giant Coralroot (Hexalectris grandiflora). It is primarily Mexican in its distribution, occurring int he U.S. only in Texas.

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Giant Coralroot

We were also lucky enough to find and photograph the spectacular Wood’s Jewel Scarab (Chrysina woodii).

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Wood’s Jewel Beetle

After seeing several hatchling Greater Horned Lizards (Phrynosoma hernandesi), Erin finally spotted a large adult.  One of three species of horned lizard in Texas, Phrynosoma hernandesi occurs throughout much of the western U.S., but occurs in Texas only in a few isolated populations in the mountains of the Trans Pecos.

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Greater Horned Lizard

As summer transitioned into fall I finally caught the Barbed Rattlesnake Root (Prenanthes barbata) in bloom.  This plant of mesic forested slopes is rare in Texas.

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Barbed Rattlesnake Root

James spotted this Giant Ichneumon (Megarhyssa macrurus) on the trunk of a Sweetbay Magnolia.  These large wasps parasitize the larvae of the wood boring horntail wasps.  The female probes the horntails’ burrows with her long ovipositors and lays her eggs on the juicy larvae.  Her eggs than hatch and her own larvae feed on those of the horntails.

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Giant Ichneumon

In October Carolina and I returned to West Texas in hopes of finding the Living Rock Cactus (Ariocarpus fissuratus) in bloom.  After some trials and tribulations we finally found a few.

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Living Rock Cactus

The Soapwort Gentian (Gentiana saponaria) would be the last species I checked off my 2017 list.  This rare beauty is known from only a few sites in the Pineywoods.

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Soapwort Gentian

In December Carolina and I spent some time in one of our favorite places, the Longleaf Pine Savannah.  I found this freshly fallen cone on a bed of ash and charred remains of needles following a prescribed burn.

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Borne of Ashes

I haven’t quite decided how I want to continue with my list in 2018, however one thing is certain, I plan to spend as much time as I can in pursuit of biodiversity and wild places.

2 thoughts on “Looking Back: 2017 Highlights in Biodiversity

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