Friday, July 20, 2007

BBNP Photo Report ~ The Pinyon-Juniper-Oak Woodlands

Above about 4000 feet in Big Bend are woodlands, all of which are contained within the Chisos Mountains. There is a gradual ecotonal change from the Sotol Grasslands below that may vary greatly with slope and aspect. We spent our last full day hiking through these woodlands, the majority of which are a Pinyon-Juniper-Oak Association.

A predominant Gymnosperm in the PJO is the Mexican Pinyon Pine (Pinus cembroides). It is somewhat different than the Pinyon Pines in Idaho, but a cool tree nonetheless. Here are thier leaves and male cones.

A common site in these woodlands are the Carmen Whitetail Deer (Odocoileus virginianus carminis). These deer are somewhat smaller than any deer I've seen; barely larger than a medium sized dog.

During my hike, I a few times heard that familiar noise; deer moving through lower wooded thickets. This deer was somewhat larger than others. I always enjoy seeing deer, and this is the first time I've really had around Whitetails.

The deer in these woods support a fairly large and visible population of Mountain Lions (Puma concolor). Alas, this track was the only evidence of a lion that I saw dispite having my senses as concentrated as I could. I've yet to see a lion in the wild.

Ubiquitous in these woodlands is Trompetilla or Scarlet Bouvardia (Bouvardia ternifolia). No wonder Big Bend is known for it's hummingbirds. I saw several, but the birds were zooming along and not allowing for good identification.

This beautiful 'thistle' is a quandry to me. The plant looks very much like a thistle, which are all composites, yet the flowers do not. It is a great looking plant, but I don't know what it is.

Common to most every place I've spent time are members of the genus Castilleja, or paintbrush. Big Bend was no exception.

I don't know what this plant is. It was common in the PJO.

One of the new birds I was able to see was the Ladder-Backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris).

There are three junipers that give these woodlands the second part of it's name (Juniperus flaccida, J. deppeana, and J. coahuilensis). Here is J. flaccida or Drooping Juniper. I really like this tree.

Another Juniper is Alligator Bark Juniper (J. deppeana), named for obvious reason. I don't have a good photo of J. coahuilensis, or Rose Fruited Juniper.

I'm facinated by lichens, the symbiosis of fungi and either cyanobacteria or algae. The trees in the thicker woods in the high Chisos were covered with them.

Cacti are also common on dryer substrates in these woods. Here is Blind Prickley Pear (Opuntia rufida).

Another bird in the PJO is the Brown Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus). Within my lifetime, ornithologists have changed the name from Rufous-sided Towhee. I've always liked that name better, thus I chose to use it, although it isn't technically correct. I'm starting to see signs that some of my 'education' is dated.

The final part of the PJO's name are the Oaks. There are several, and they often produce hybrids with each other. Such is the case within the genus Quercus, and it begs an answer to the question 'what is a species?' Here is Quercus grissea or Gray Oak.

Here is Emory Oak (Quercus emoryi).

My friend Cody caught this Canyon Tree Frog (Hyla arenicolor). He was about one inch long and VERY cute.

Here is a beautiful lily I saw fairly often on our hike through the High Chisos. I don't know what it is.

These flowers look so much to me like a Spring Beauty in Caryophylaceae. Yet the leaves look very much like a Clover, which is a Legume. Next time, I'll have to 'key it out'.

I was excited knowing that I would see Mountain Mohogany on our hike, a common shrub from the Mountain West. Yet, when I saw Cerocarpus montanus in the Chisos, I was somewhat purplexed. I did a little research and realized only later that this cool Mahogany is different than Curl-Leaf Mountain Mahogany in Idaho. One learns something every day.

This shot typifies the feeling I have of the PJO. Here is a Texas Claret Cup Cacti (Echinocereus coccineus) growing among mosses, a seeming contradiction.

The PJO woodlands often seemed medival. As I hiked through these woods, I had the distinct feeling that 'this is one of the places where I am most at peace.' I was reminded of other forests that I've spent time. The ecologist Jim Brown has studied high mountain woods in the desert southwest and has coined the term 'Sky-Islands'. The woodlands of the Chisos certainly qualify. They are an ecosystem that is much cooler and wetter than the lower desert that surrounds it. Here is a self-portrait in the Pinyon-Juniper-Oak Woodlands. I was really happy to visit.