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Andrew D. Hughes Blog

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Nature

Dallas Night Prowl

When you think of Dallas night life, you probably don’t picture snakes, coyotes, bobcats, and insects. But this metropolitan area is surprisingly alive at night, with nocturnal creatures coming out of their day-time hiding spots to hunt and mate. Here’s a small sampling of creatures we commonly encounter on the trails around Dallas.

IMG_1687You can’t throw a stick around here without hitting a copperhead. They’re everywhere, and a warm night’s walk will almost guarantee a few sightings. Although they are venomous, they are thankfully even-tempered and usually quite reluctant to strike. We’ve even kicked/stepped on them by mistake and they simply slither away or recoil without a bite. Still, you should always be careful walking in copperhead territory, especially with your pets.

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Another adorable resident of the metroplex is the American Green Treefrog. This species is common throughout the south, and central Texas is the westernmost edge of its range. They’re more often heard than seen, but we’ve had a few encounters with these little guys when they hop across our flashlight beams.

 

 

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        Crayfish at Joppa Preserve            

 

Crayfish, like this one we found at Joppa Preserve, are found throughout wet fields and meadows, as well as vernal pools and swampland in the Dallas area. Although they spend most of the time in their underground burrows, they occasionally emerge and walk around like alien invaders. We’ve seen hundreds of them slowly crawl out of the ground at once, which is a fascinating sight!

IMG_1391One of the most bizarre creatures we frequently encounter on night walks is the Two-striped Walkingstick. During mating season, the trails fill up with pairs of these insects. The large one on the bottom is the female, almost always seen carrying around her freeloading husband. He just sits there and cruises around smoking pot all day. Oh, and this is another species to watch out for. If you disturb them too much, they will shoot acid out of their thorax and aim for the eyes, which I’ve heard can be quite painful and even cause temporary blindness!

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It’s a wild world out there; grab a flashlight and share your findings!

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Joppa Preserve- October Walk

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The weather was cool (for Texas) yesterday, so Stephanie and I walked about six miles of the Trinity Forest Trail at the Joppa Preserve in southeastern Dallas. Out of all of Dallas’ pockets of natural space, we visit this one the most.

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The 710-mile Trinity River begins high up in Northern Texas before flowing down through Dallas and eventually to Galveston Bay, an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico.

 

 

 

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A Viceroy Butterfly blending in with the local Monarchs

It’s prime time for the Monarch Butterfly migrations. This phenomenon continues to stun me every year. Back in New Jersey, we would watch Monarchs grow from caterpillars on milkweed plants, cluster in the hundreds as they funneled through Cape May, and then dispatch on this journey to Mexico, where they’ll spend the winter. Here in Dallas, we see a southern leg of their journey; I wonder how many of these insects come from the far northern states?

But it wasn’t until examining our walk’s photos at home that I noticed the black horizontal streak on the hind wings of this individual butterfly, making it a Viceroy rather than a Monarch! The edible Viceroys escape predation by looking like their bitter-tasting cousins, the Monarchs.

 

 

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Of course, what nature walk is complete without a spider encounter? This beautiful Carolina wolf spider was very cooperative for photos. They grow ’em big around here. This is also the time of year that Wolf Spiders begin to crawl into warm homes to avoid winter temperatures, so check your covers before you fall asleep tonight. Sweet dreams! 🙂

 

 

 

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Another cool find was this Snowberry Clearwing (hummingbird moth!) caterpillar. This was a first for us. I’m used to hornworms being green, so this purple-y critter was an interesting find.

 

And the highlight of the walk….

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Since we’ve been in Texas, we’ve seen Scorpionflies only in the fall. I documented one specimen last October 18th (almost exactly a year apart). These intriguing creatures feed on decaying matter, and are used by forensic entomologists to ascertain time of death. (Scorpionflies are the first insects to arrive at a corpse and don’t stick around for very long). Along the trail, we encountered them feeding on dead grasshoppers, spiders, and other dead scorpionflies.

Look at that proboscis! They remind me of those masks that plague doctors sometimes wore during the seventeenth-nineteenth centuries. Creepy.

Oh, and they’re called scorpionflies because the male’s abdomen curls around its body like a scorpion tail. They don’t sting or bite though, so you’re safe… just so long as you’re alive! 😉

 

 

 

Spring is Here!

We made a quick run to Joppa Preserve over the weekend, which was refreshing. Not too much going on just yet, but we did find this beautiful Graham’s Crayfish snake.

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And a feisty one at that.

Then there was this cool jumping spider chowing down on his greens like a good little boy.

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Look at those fangs! I believe this species is Phidippus audax, in which case this is the first time I’ve seen blue fangs in this species (They’re usually bright green!)

What’s your favorite thing about spring? Hope you’re finding time to enjoy it.

Goat Island Preserve–Dallas, TX

We took advantage of an unexpectedly warm February weekend by camping out at Goat Island Preserve in southeast Dallas County. This is an area I’ve explored a couple of times before and always find it a rewarding spot for nature.

Nighttime brings the preserve to life. We heard the sounds of coyotes, feral hogs, a raccoon, a duo of courting Great Horned Owls, and a handful of obnoxious roosters calling from nearby farms.

During the night, a warm front blew in, stirring up heavy winds that rattled the tent. In the moments before dawn, we were startled awake by an illegal hunter shooting off several rounds just yards away from our tent. He quietly disappeared as the sky lightened up.

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There are two main trails at the preserve– a higher levee road (where we camped), and a low road that floods seasonally but that runs south along the Trinity River for several miles and ends up at Belt Line Road.

We followed the low road at dawn–taking in the towering silhouettes of pecan trees, and appreciating the fact that this lower option was much more dry than it often becomes.

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Animal-wise, the woods were quiet after dawn. I did spot what appeared to be a black morph of a fox as it shot across the path, but it predictably vanished. The usual dawn chorus of birds sang from the forest– good numbers of kinglets, wrens, and sparrows working the trail edges, with occasional outbursts from feisty woodpeckers or the trilling of a gray treefrog.

The trail affords pleasant views of the Trinity.

Three miles down river, we reached the old lock and dam that was long abandoned here.

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Construction began around 1910. Apparently someone’s  pipe dream was to make Dallas a major port city, which necessitated damming the Trinity to make it accessible to barges. The US Corps of Engineers established several similar structures on the river but World War I interrupted the project. Eventually technology surpasses the best laid plans of mice and men, and improvements in rail capacity eliminated the need for this project to continue. The concrete foundation now stands forever abandoned.

I’ve heard that the water roars here when the levels are higher. I’m looking forward to coming back soon.

Rivers hold some of the most interesting stories. Have you explored long stretches of waterway? Let me know what you’re seeing out there!

Lemmon Lake- Dallas, TX

Lemmon Lake, tucked deep within the Joppa Preserve in southwest Dallas,  is a constantly fluctuating landscape. It fills and dries frequently based on cycles of rain and drought. When we visited last August, the lake was quickly drying but still maintained some large, shallow pools:

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Lemmon Lake, August 2016

Today provided a different scene, as most of the water had dried completely, providing for opportunities to locate some cool finds.

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Lemmon Lake, February 2017

My main target today was the bones of alligator gar, some fierce-looking fish that are common in this area but not always easy to find.

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On our way in, I spotted some type of mistletoe clumped high in the tree canopy. Thankfully my wife was there to sneak in a moment! 😉

Mistletoe is spread by perching birds that deposit its seeds either through their droppings or by wiping their bills on these host trees while they feed.

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Croix,the Italian greyhound, was not so enamored, and hurried us off to the lake bed, where he eagerly sniffed for treasure…

…And sure enough, he was the first to find our target species!

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This alligator gar did not survive the drought season, but made for a cool find.

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Look at those rows of teeth!

Another interesting discovery was the several large crayfish sprinkled around in the dirt. The metroplex also hosts many  terrestrial crayfish, which construct fascinating homes. I’ll have to show them to you soon.

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On the way out, we stumbled across a large and beautiful ribbon snake sunning in the path. A beautiful day for Dallas wildlife!

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 Also seen:

 Clouded Sulphur Butterfly

Jadera Beetle

Full Bird List:

Wood Duck, Mallard, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Ring-billed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Anerican Pipit, Cedar Waxwing, Common Yellowthroat, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Harris’s Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle, Great-tailed Grackle, House Finch

Ever explored a dried lake bed? Let me know what you’re seeing out there!

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