Goat’s Foot Morning Glory

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Goat’s foot morning glory photographed 06/16/2017 at Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi, Texas.

Goat’s foot morning glory (Ipomoea pes-caprae, Convolvulaceae) can be found on tropical ocean shores around the globe. Also known as goat’s foot vine, railroad vine, bayhops, and beach morning glory, this evergreen perennial is one of the most widely-distributed salt-tolerant plants in the world.

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Goat’s foot morning glory photographed 06/16/2017 at Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi, Texas.

This plant is tolerant not only of salt but also poor soil conditions, heat, sun, and drought. Seeds can survive long periods of time in the salty ocean, and those that make it to tropical shores often thrive. This morning glory is a pioneer species, typically one of the first plants to establish itself on sandy beaches and dunes. Plants vigorously send out runners in all directions, stabilizing the soil and making it more hospitable to other plants.

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Goat’s foot morning glory photographed 06/16/2017 at Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi, Texas.

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Coastal Tiger Beetle

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Coastal tiger beetle photographed 06/15/2017 at Padre Island National Seashore, Texas.

Coastal tiger beetles (Coleoptera: CarabidaeEllipsoptera hamata) inhabit the shores of the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to southern Texas. Adults can be found from April through December but are most common in June. Their striking coloration and patterning, narrow thoraxes, and wide heads with big eyes and large jaws make them easily recognizable when beachcombing or tidepooling.

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Coastal tiger beetle photographed 06/15/2017 at Padre Island National Seashore, Texas.

Like other tiger beetles these insects are predators of other arthropods. Adults are active hunters, and larvae dig holes where they sit in ambush with their jaws agape waiting for prey.

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Coastal tiger beetle photographed 06/15/2017 at Padre Island National Seashore, Texas.

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Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

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Baby Kemp’s ridley sea turtle just before release at Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi, Texas.  Photographed 06/15/2017.

Of the seven species of living sea turtles found around the world, the most critically-endangered is the Kemp’s ridley (Testudines: Cheloniidae: Lepidochelys kempii). Although these turtles can be found all the way from Nova Scotia down through the Gulf of Mexico, they only nest on a relatively short stretch of beach from northeast Mexico into southeast Texas. Decades ago it was estimated there were perhaps 100,000 nesting females in this region, but today estimates are only between 1,000 and 10,000. In the last fifty years their numbers have been decimated by hunting, habitat loss, pollution, incidental capture by commercial fishermen, and climate change.

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Baby Kemp’s ridley sea turtle released at Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi, Texas.  Photographed 06/15/2017.

In southeast Texas an intense 30-year struggle to boost the population has been slowly gaining ground. Padre Island National Seashore has a dedicated group of scientists, rangers, and volunteers who work tirelessly to help Kemp’s ridleys recover. Female turtles come ashore from April through August to lay their eggs. Conservation scouts often discover these nests, recover the eggs, and bring them to a location safe from predators for incubation. When the eggs begin to hatch they are brought back to the beach and released under controlled conditions.

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Baby Kemp’s ridley sea turtles released at Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi, Texas.  Photographed 06/15/2017.

At these releases volunteers hold netting and wave flags to deter hungry birds who would otherwise snatch up the baby turtles. Slowly but surely the little reptiles make their way to the Gulf of Mexico.

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Baby Kemp’s ridley sea turtles released at Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi, Texas.  Photographed 06/15/2017.

Although their numbers are slowly increasing, these sea turtles are still in serious trouble. Their populations are dangerously low and they still face threats to their survival. With continuing work fueled by public interest and funding, however, they may continue to claw their way back from the brink of extinction.

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Black Skimmer

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Black Skimmer photographed 06/16/2017 at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Austwell, Texas.

Black Skimmers (Charadriiformes: Laridae: Rynchops niger) are relatively large and interesting birds that can be found from South America up through the Gulf of Mexico. These skimmers feed primarily on fish and are almost always found near bodies of water. In addition to the striking coloration perhaps the most noticeable feature is the unique bill.  Although the upper and lower bills are equal length when a skimmer hatches, before long the lower bill starts to grow out much longer than the upper bill.

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Black Skimmer photographed 06/16/2017 at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Austwell, Texas.

Black Skimmers use their long lower bills to catch fish.  An individual will fly just above the waves with its lower bill slicing through the water.  If the lower bill hits a fish, the upper bill immediately snaps shut and captures the prey.

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Black Skimmer photographed 06/16/2017 at Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi, Texas.

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Stretching for dinner

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Arizona white-tailed deer by an alligator juniper.  Photographed 02/17/2017 at Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona.

Last week I was out at Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona.  One thing that caught my eye was this Arizona white-tailed deer (Artiodactyla: Cervidae: Odocoileus virginianus couesi).  After spotting me at some distance it seemed bashful and hid for a minute. Once it realized I wasn’t a threat it went about its business of the day:  Standing up to reach the sweet green foliage of an alligator juniper (Pinales: Cupressaceae: Juniperus deppeana).

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Arizona white-tailed deer by an alligator juniper.  Photographed 02/17/2017 at Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona.

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Things I always want to know before taking a trip:

1) Sunrise/sunset times
I like to get up before dawn to hike because some of my best wildlife encounters have been just before or just after the sun comes up.  Sunset provides similar opportunities.

2) Moonrise/moonset times
When I’m in the mood to stare at the stars it helps to know if the light from a full moon is going to spoil the view.  On the other hand a little moonlight can really help visibility on a pre-dawn hike.

3) Average high/low temperatures
4) Average precipitation
When planning a trip two or more weeks ahead of time, it helps to know what the *expected* temperature and precipitation will be, especially if camping.

5) Forecast high/low temperatures
6) Forecast precipitation
As a trip date approaches it helps to know the forecast so you can adapt to last-minute conditions.

7) Local flora and fauna
I like to know what plants and animals I can find, where I can find them, when I can find them, etc.

And when I’m near a coast, 8) Tidal phases
Along the shore this is crucial when I want to tidepool for marine critters.

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Happy 100th Birthday, National Park Service!

Today the United States National Park Service (NPS) turned 100 years old.  Although our oldest parks have their roots in the 1870s, it was in 1916 that the Organic Act created a centralized, coherent agency within the Department of the Interior to oversee all aspects of America’s growing number of national parks. Since then the NPS has carefully balanced the protection of our most spectacular natural and historic places with the needs of the people who want to experience them.

Today the NPS manages 59 official “national parks” as well as over 300 other sites of superlative natural, historical, and cultural importance. August 25, 2016 marks the centennial of the National Park Service, and public interest in experiencing these amazing locations is at an all-time high.  Visitation has been steadily increasing over the last few years, and this year is setting all-time records.

If you’re unfamiliar with the history of the National Park Service, I strongly encourage you to watch “The National Parks:  America’s Best Idea.” This Ken Burns miniseries provides a great wealth of historical information as well as breathtaking photos, anecdotes, and personal stories about our national parks.

Beyond that, all I can offer is a link to all my posts related to national park visits.  I feel fortunate that I’ve managed to see 47 of our 59 national parks at this point.  I hope to not only see the remaining 12 but revisit all of them whenever I can. All of them represent some of the best features the United States has to offer the world and posterity.

The author at the South Entrance. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

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