Category Archives: Flooding

Two Stories: Extirpation vs. Restoration

 

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Fossil fish, possibly of the extinct genus Knightia, which is only about seven inches long. This is typical of the fossil fish that are found in shale and limestone strata. Complete fish tend to be rare, and it is far more common to find just parts of fish, like the backbone with ribs and spines attached shown above, which came from sedimentary layers of the Eocene period about 55 million years ago.

 

The National Geographic Channel is currently airing a television series called One Strange Rock. The program talks about the history of life on earth and five mass extinctions on the planet [Earth]. In the series, host Will Smith narrated, “Ninety-nine-point nine percent of all species that ever lived are gone.”

That statement refers to all the dinosaurs and all the animals and plants of the fossil record. That’s in the past, for sure. But you must be certain, this process of loss continues even today. Let’s look:

Extirpation:
Sandbur prickly pear cactus, Opuntia Pusilla

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Long, prostrate chains of elongated pads are typical of Opuntia pusilla. These pads are easily detached, making the plant typically quite short.

 

During the field work and production of our 2009 book, Texas Cacti, I was elated to be able to find a little-known cactus, Sandbur prickly pear. This species is recorded to be found only in a small area on sand dunes and rocky outcrops, behind the beaches along the Gulf Coast only on Bolivar Peninsula in Galveston County, Texas.

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Detail of Opuntia pusilla pads, or stems. These stems are usually low and are seldom more than 4 in.  (10 cm.) tall.

 

Making landfall over Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas at 2:10 a.m. on September 13, 2008, a category 2 hurricane named Ike caused extensive damage, with sustained winds of 110 mph, a 22 ft storm surge, and widespread coastal flooding.

The effects of Hurricane Ike in Texas were crippling and long-lasting. Ike’s effects included deaths, widespread damage, smashing and flooding an estimated 100,000 homes. Galveston was declared uninhabitable, and the Bolivar Peninsula wiped clean of boats, buildings and most vegetation.

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Aerial photograph of the Bolivar Peninsula at Galveston Texas the day after Ike. The 2008 hurricane Ike wiped most all vegetation and structures from this area.

 

After several visits to the Bolivar Peninsula after Ike, we are very disappointed to to be unable to find any remaining indications of this little plant of the species.

Restoration:
Tobusch Fishhook Cactus; Sclerocactus brevihamatus var. tobuschii

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Endangered Sclerocactus brevihamatus var. tobuschii is quite cryptic in its growth among the grasses of its habitat. Often pollinating bees may lead us to the flowers in season.

 

The endangered Tobusch fishhook cactus, named for its unique hooked central spines, is found in only eight counties on the Edwards Plateau in central Texas. This uncommon cactus spends the first five years of its life smaller than the size of a quarter before even producing its first flowers. This cactus is a low, deep-seated and very inconspicuous plant because of its diminutive size, and the fact it is camouflaged within the grass and limestone of its habitat. Therefore, it very difficult to find.

During the production of our same publication, I was thrilled to be shown a small population in Kerr County, Texas by Jackie Pool, a biologist from Texas Parks and Wildlife who monitors this critically endangered species.

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Inconspicuous funnel-form, greenish flowers are about one half of an inch in size and bloom in February and March. The hooked central spines give rise to this plants common name.

 

 

Tobusch fishhook cactus was classified as an endangered species in 1979, when scientists knew of less than 200 plants in the wild. At the time of my photos there were just over 2,000 plants identified. Today, numbers have since improved through the discovery of additional populations, research on threats, conservation efforts at documented sites, and teamwork between a host of partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, private landowners and many more.

Now, approximately 4,500 cacti are known to exist across the species’ range. In big news for a little plant, the Tobusch fishhook cactus’ federal conservation status was this week reclassified from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act as of June 14, 2018.

I have been honored to get to know this little cactus in the wild, to photograph the little plants, and to watch its recovery.

Change continues. Today there are reported to be over 1.7 million species of plants and animals described by science. And new ones are discovered every day. And, of course, we know nothing of the species yet to be discovered. Only time will tell.

Copyright © Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

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Life after central Texas flooding

Early this year parts of the Texas Hill Country were in the most severe category of soil moisture drought – “exceptional” – for the first time since February 2012.

We can remember however as recently as 2010 when lake levels around Texas were near all time high levels, more than 50 feet higher than they were in the first part of this year. It was more than five years ago when Lake Travis was completely full. Contrast that with April when Lake Travis was less than a few feet from its all-time low.

Wimberley bridgeBlanco River bridge at Wimberley, TX, Memorial Day, 2015. Photo by Jay Janner, Austin American Statesman.

Change came quickly and with devastation this Spring as weather conditions brought record conditions. May 2015 became the wettest May and the wettest month on record for the lower 48 states dating to 1895, according to the State of the Climate report released by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Record rainfall ripped through parts of South Central Texas over the Memorial Day weekend causing flooding and displacing thousands of people.

In Austin extremely heavy rainfall on May 25 dumped 5.20 inches of rain at Camp Mabry, lifting Austin to its wettest May. The month’s rain tally was 17.59 inches, making it by far the wettest May on record since 1895.

The welcome and much-needed rain came with a serious price — severe flooding and catastrophic devastation. The Memorial Day weekend storms, combined with more rain from Tropical Depression Bill, brought widespread flooding to Texas, killing more than 30 people and resulting in flooding that damaged thousands of homes and other structures.

After the floodwater subsided, I had the chance to conduct a macro photography session with a friend and student, Nancy Norman. We went to a wooded  roadside parcel on the banks for the Blanco River near the town of Blanco, Texas. This is the same Central Texas stream that rose more than 43 feet above normal, wiping out several bridges, destroying more than 800 homes and resulting in the deaths of ten people in the Wimberley area.

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Our purpose was far from photographing flood damage, but to photograph the life thereafter. And we were quite successful. We found many birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, lichens and fungi in the wake of destruction. As we were focusing on macro, we concentrated on insects, and fungi.

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Hundreds of cave swallow nests line the concrete structure of one of the bridges destroyed over the Blanco. Photo © Nancy Norman.

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A small, yet perfect mushroom arises from the stem of a Possum grape vine on the river bank.

_MG_9756-cicada.blanco A small, recently emerged Rush cicada found near the water’s edge.

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Nancy concentrates on several small groups of mushrooms. Her equipment includes Canon 70D, 100mm macro and 430 EX Speedlite flash, all on a tripod with ball head and Mike Kirk flash bracket.

All together we had a good morning. Lots of good images were made successfully. We also learned that Mother Nature rebounds quickly. Life goes on.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.