Looking Back: 2018 Highlights in Biodiversity

This year I did not focus on my biodiversity list with the same gusto that I did in 2017.  That is not to say, however that I gave up on my quest for biodiversity!  Lists aside, 2018 was one of my best years yet as a biologist, naturalist, and photographer.

I did, however manage to check a few species off my list including:

Tapertip Trillium (Trillium viridescens)

Downy Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens)

Clasping Jewelflower (Streptanthus maculatus)

Eastern Beach Tiger Beetle (Habroscelimorpha dorsalis)

Ringed Salamander (Ambystoma annulatum)

Rich Mountain Salamander (Plethodon ouachitae)

These addition of these species puts me at over half of my list complete (45 of 80 species).

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Beyond the list, this year I was able to photograph nearly 100 species that I had not previously photographed before, at least not to my current photographic standards.  In doing so I made many incredible observations, had good times in the field with family and friends, and found innovative new ways to photograph many familiar species.  It was hard to whittle down such a productive year, but I did my best to select a few highlights:

Perhaps the most exciting venture of 2018 was getting back into bird photography, thanks in part to my friend James Childress.  In January, James, his wife Erin and I found ourselves pursuing birds along the Upper Texas Coast.

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Blue-winged Teal

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American Bittern

We also spent some time chasing after local birds.

In early February, as winter began to slowly turn to spring, my friend Scott and I found this beautiful Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum).

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Spotted Salamander

Many of my favorite spring ephemeral wildflowers begin to appear by mid February.  Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) may be my favorite of these fleeting beauties, and each year I try to find different ways to photograph them.

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Bloodroot

In March, Caro and I traveled to the Lower Rio Grande Valley with James and Erin.  During our trip James and I were able to photograph many South Texas specialties, as well as other more widespread species.

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Altramira Oriole

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Cactus Wren

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Reddish Egret

During this trip I was also able to finally see the Federally Endangered Star Cactus (Astrophytum asterias) in bloom.

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Star Cactus

We also had the opportunity to photograph a beautiful old Texas Tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri).

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Texas Tortoise

Back in East Texas, Carolina and I spent many a spring day exploring the Pineywoods.

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Mirkwood

We were rewarded for our efforts on many occasions, such as this group of Kentucky Lady Slippers (Cypripedium kentuckiense).

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Kentucky Lady Slippers

In 2018 I made a concentrated effort to visit several of our great state’s ecoregions.  For the first time we explored the Cross Timbers and Prairies.  We found many beautiful landscapes in the Grand Prairie and Lampasas Cut Plain.

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Light Paints the Prairie

This region is home to some of the most spectacular displays of wildflowers in the country.  A highlight was finding several populations of Eastern Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia).

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We also found several large colonies of Nuttall’s Death Camas (Toxicoscordion nuttallii) on limestone ridges.

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Death Comes to the Prairie

And on a later visit we found fields of Narrow-leaved Purple Coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia), a species characteristic of the Great Plains.

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Narrow-leaved Purple Coneflower

As the weather warmed, we found ourselves taking several trips to the Upper Texas Coast, where I spent time on my belly photographing the local bird life.

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American Avocets

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Purple Gallinule

I have been fascinated with beetles since childhood, and few are more impressive than the Ox Beetle.  The animal below is Strategus aloeus, one of two local species of Ox Beetle.

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Ox Beetle

In July we met long time Flickr friends Jim Fowler and Walter to help them check a couple orchid species of their bucket list.  The species were the Texas Crested Coralroot (Hexalectris warnockii), also known as the Texas Purple Spike…

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Texas Crested Coralroot

…and the Giant Coralroot (Hexalectris grandiflora), which we found deep in the Davis Mountains of West Texas.

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Giant Coralroot

In the semiarid grasslands at the base of the Davis Mountains I was able to photograph several Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana).

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Vigilant

Back in East Texas we sought out orchids, like the Crested Fringed Orchid (Platanthera cristata) pictured below.

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Crested Fringed Orchid

In early September I had a chance encounter on a river sandbar with a Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) in basic plumage.

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At the end of September, after many failed attempts over several years, I was finally able to find and photograph an adult Ringed Salamander (Ambystoma annulatum).

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Ringed Salamander

When I forgot my camera on a visit to James and Erin’s farm, James was kind enough to lend me his when we found this Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) hunting Common Eastern Bumblebees (Bombus impatiens)

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Seconds from Disaster

In December I was lucky enough to photograph a Northern Raccoon (Procyon lotor) on a trip to the Upper Texas Coast with Caro, James, and Erin.

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During that trip we also encountered several cooperative Seaside Sparrows (Ammodramus maritimus).

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My year reached its pinnacle on Christmas Day, when I shared a pond with some American Wigeons (Anas americana).

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American Wigeon

2018 will be a hard year to top, but I intend to give it my all in 2019.  I wish all of you the best in this new year.

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