Unusual Butterfly Nets Photographer Bioblitz Prize

Photo of a colorful butterfly on a bush. The Dury's Metalmark that won the award. © Cathryn Hoyt
The Dury’s Metalmark (Apodemia Duryi) that won the award. © Cathryn Hoyt

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

Nearly 10,000 observations were made and more than 3,000 species observed during NANPA’s Nature Photography Day Bioblitz. Nearly 100 of those species observed were classified as endangered. A bioblitz is an event created to find and identify as many species as possible in a given area over a limited period of time. All observations are uploaded to an iNaturalist project. Cathryn Hoyt won the Judges’ Choice Award for her photo observation of a Dury’s Metalmark, a species of butterfly found in the US Southwest.  

About Cathryn Hoyt

Headshot photo of Cathryn Hoyt jp;domg her camera. In the background is a desert landscape and tall cliffs.A marine archeologist and paleoecologist by training, Hoyt “discovered the world of the living when I became the Executive Director of the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute in Fort Davis, Texas. Suddenly, I was responsible for a botanical garden and 500-acre nature center. A photograph I took of a gray hairstreak butterfly in the botanical gardens led to an obsession with photographing and learning about pollinators and plants.

“I didn’t get serious about photography until about 5 years ago when I began freelance writing. I wanted images that told my stories. I took my camera off automatic, signed up for online classes ranging from conservation photography to travel photography, and practiced. I’m still learning and practicing. Today, I’m an Interpretive Ranger in Big Bend National Park and photography is part of my job and daily life. My images are used in programs, the park website, publications, the NPS app, and our social media feeds.”

iNaturalist, NANPA, and a Bioblitz

Why did Hoyt participate in a Bioblitz, when she’s already out photographing for the park? “I’m a BioBlitz enthusiast! I’ve organized several and participate in as many as I can. When I saw the announcement for the NANPA BioBlitz (with prizes!!!), I knew it was something I wanted to do. I renewed my membership, scheduled some time off, and charged all my batteries.

“The main goal was to get out and have fun with my photography. I think BioBlitz events are incredibly important scientifically and wanted to support that aspect of NANPA. My goal for this BioBlitz was to document as many species, from as many different habitats, as I could find. I live in the Chihuahuan Desert and even by desert standards, 2020 was incredibly dry. I wanted to see what was surviving out there.

“I have to admit that I’d gotten a little lazy with my photography. Participating in the BioBlitz made me get out with my camera every day and look, really look, at what was around me. I’m fascinated by pollinators, so taking the time to look at a flower AND what was on the flower was extremely gratifying. A BioBlitz also encourages you to look at the common, not just the unusual, flora and fauna. I was constantly discovering something “new” when I stuck my nose into a plant I’d normally walk right past. I also learned a lot. The beauty of doing a BioBlitz through iNaturalist is that you have the support of a huge group of people that will help you identify your ‘unknowns.’ Finally, I made some friends through the BioBlitz. It’s always fun to meet people that share your interests in photography and nature.”

Photo of several star-shaped magenta flowers with white centers with many flies. Soft Twinevine (Sarcostemma torreyi), a milkweed vine, covered in pollinating flies. © Cathryn Hoyt
Soft Twinevine (Sarcostemma torreyi), a milkweed vine, covered in pollinating flies. © Cathryn Hoyt

Surprises and prizes

Were there any surprises, species she didn’t expect to find? “I think my most unexpected observation was Wilkinson’s whitlowwort, a low-growing, insignificant little plant with tiny yellow flowers. It is confined to a rather rare rock type in west Texas and is considered a Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Years ago, I spent many hours perched on a hillside with the tiny population of Wilkinson’s whitlowwort trying to determine what type of insect was its most effective pollinator. I got to know this little plant well. Years passed and I drove by one day to find the area scraped bare for a new fence line. I was devastated, as was the population of Wilkinson’s whitlowwort. During the BioBlitz, I made myself stop because there used to be other interesting plants on the hill. To my great surprise, I found several little Wilkinson’s whitlowwort growing where I’d never seen them before! They may be rare, but they’re survivors.

“Of course, the other interesting observation I made was the photo of the Dury’s Metalmark butterfly that won the award (a VISA Gift Card & Wimberly Ground Plamp). I remember being extremely hot, tired, and hungry as I trudged through the desert scrub back to my vehicle. I walked past the little butterfly because I thought it was a common species and “I’d see another one.” But the BioBlitz is about photographing everything, and the butterfly was so patiently perched on its twig. I took a quick snapshot or two and was shocked when the butterfly turned out to be fairly rare and not the common species I thought it was. This is the gift of photography: being able to get a really good look at the tiny things.”