Accidental Happiness: unexpected observations

I’m sure pollinators will rule in this discussion, but I’d like to hear your stories about your favorite/weirdest/happiest observation — that you never saw coming.



What is accidental? I usually intentionally go looking for observations, but I never know what I’m going to find. This one was a total surprise though (yes, it’s a pollinator):

I was on a guided tour at Monte Alban archaeological site in Oaxaca and a few plants were flowering in the plaza. Snap a couple pictures, spot a bee, couple more pictures, then catch back up with the group. When it turned out to be an uncommon native bee in a genus I hadn’t heard of and first 21st century record in Oaxaca, even better!


I find the most unexpected observations are the ones where a species which is new to me – a lifer – just happens to show up actually in my apartment, or almost as nice, right on my block. No searching required.


I’ve had that happen several times! You never know what’s hiding right under your nose…

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One night I found a Diaperis rufipes colony in my yard.

I had checked that exact spot several times before in search of fungus beetles but hadn’t found any until then.


I’m partial to pea/lotus-type flowers since they show up where I least expect them. Most recently, I thought I was seeing a field Oxalis flowers, instead it was a Lotus.

Some other places they show up, unexpectedly and how they compare to regular peas:

Accidental as in “I did neither look for it nor expect it where it happended”

…was for sure this unexpected snorkel experience with a penguin

Another snorkel experience comes to mind as well. I had spent some time in Dahab/Egypt. It´s an amzing place. You can just grab your snorkel gear, walk into the waves and you find yourself on the rim of an amazingly steep reef and are basically all alone as soon as you leave the areas people enter the sea. I spent so many hours there alone with my camera. On my last ever snorkle experience there (and so far ever) I at some point realized that I had swam a bit too far out there by myself and it started to get dark. I realized how foolish I had been to forget everything around me in following this one little fishy here and this other little fishy there. I actually started to slightly panic and started a powerswim back to the shore ignoring everything left and right… until this beauty appeared right underneith me. I had have many encounters with turtles in Galapagos, but never ever did I see one in Egypt, so I didn´t really expect it. For this short moment I forgot my panic and got my camera out one last time for an underwater shot. I felt extactic in that moment. (oh, and spoiler: I made it out savely with the last daylight… but I was really really stupid!)


One incident that really sprung to mind was this stunner of a moth. I kid you not, I was taking a small break when it literally crash landed on the leaves right in front of me.


For me “unexpected” accidental happiness usually entails looking back through old photos/records and realizing that something I observed was a lot cooler than I thought it was.

I had a lot of those experiences over the past year or so while uploading old photos, but the one that stands out the most to me was this Panamanian snake that is endemic to a single private nature reserve run by a conservation group I’ve been volunteering with for years. To date only 5 specimens of this species have ever been observed (that I’m aware of), so this almost certainly also qualifies as my rarest find. I can’t believe I wasn’t even aware of what I was looking at while on the trail - I took the photos in 2017 but didn’t realize until nearly 4 years later what it actually was!


There was a recent time where I was hiking a trail looking for Isotria verticillata and I wasn’t able to find it after 1.5 hours of searching. I needed to use the bathroom, and I went off the trail. In front of my eyes were 12 individuals of the Isotria.


How come?

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Actually, most my observations are “accidental”. I am even a bit superstitious, that if I decide to find something special, it will never happen. So I’m trying not to think about any target species and just wander around with open eyes.
My best and definitely unexpected find was in Torremolinos, when a friend, who worked there, could give me a lift every Friday and I had 8 hours to explore. It was end of July and really hot. The weeks before I had wandered around the very touristy Costa-de-Sol town and parks. This time I found a signed round-tracks in the mountains behind the town. The description said it should be done between October and March and calculated 5 hours for the 15 km. I calculated more but thought 8 hours would be enough. So I wandered up and down the hills and along a crest, had some great views to the Mediterranean and to the next village behind the first mountain range. It took a lot longer than expected with all the walking uphill in the heat, but finally I was on the downhill stretch. Only another 6 km or so and I just walked mechanically. Suddenly I saw this bright red beetle in front of my feet. Dead, so I took it with me. Buprestidae was clear, but past that I had no idea. It gave my feet another push, because I wanted to get home and to a computer to search and ask some knowledgeable friends. Though first I had to phone my friend and tell her, I won’t be able to make it in time and had to take the tram and bus home. I finally arrived home with the last bus at 9 pm (instead of 6pm) and found out that the species hadn’t been recorded for Andalusia and my observation was the first on iNat and even now there is only one other sighting.


Plant macro shooting often reveals tiny pollinators.


During halftime at a soccer match I noticed a butterfly resting on the ground near the official’s office. When I hunched over to get a photo it flew up and perched on my finger, presenting a great photo opportunity. I later learned that it’s Cigaritis takanonis, a species on the Korean Red List of Endangered Species.

I live in a city of 450,000 and couldn’t believe my luck when, while crossing some stepping stones on my way to work, I spotted a large turtle sunning itself on a rock. Approaching closer, I saw that it wasn’t one turtle, but two – a pair of Pelodiscus maackii (Amur Softshell Turtles) that were hanging out not far from downtown.


In that case, I’ll add this. For the past three years, I have been conducting a flower color study with wild radishes. In California, the Raphanus sativus population has had introgressive gene flow from Raphanus raphanistrum, which means that in addition to the pink or white flowers of sativus, there are occasional plants with the yellow flowers of raphanistrum, and even a few with what I call terra cotta, combining pink and yellow.

Anyway, in the course of tallying up the flowers in my samples, I found these tiny green bugs. Since I had the digital microscope out anyway to create my figure of the radish flower colors, I decided to photograph the green bugs, too. I uploaded them to BugGuide, and it turns out they are the Potato Capsid, Closterotomus norvegicus. The thing is, radish is not on BugGuide’s list of their host plants:

alfalfa, white clover, and lotus seed crops in New Zealand; a key pest of pistachios in CA; also reported on nettle, poppy, thistle and other Asteraceae

Likewise Wikipedia:

It can be found feeding on nettle, clover, and cannabis, as well as Compositae, potatoes, carrots and chrysanthemums.

None of these known hosts are Brassicaceae. I will have to do some more research to be sure whether this really is a new host plant; but since they appear to be rather generalist, it isn’t that much of a surprise.


These aren’t rare, but they were surprises:
I came home from work one day, and this giant beauty was sitting on the 2nd floor landing of my building:
A few years back I was hiking, and as it was well past sunset & starting to get dark, I decided it was really time for a flashlight because I didn’t want another Crotalus surprise. I flicked on my light, decided to look behind me and saw what appeared to be an ant trail crossing the trail on boulders that I had walked right over without noticing. It didn’t look “right” to me so I took a closer look. Aphonopelma spiderlings!!! 63 that I could see!
This is my favorite observation of mine - I don’t know why.


Oh yeah… This made me positively giddy!
My friend and I just finished a quick hike and before getting in the car I just wanted to check for scorpions on the desert side of a So Cal ridge. I had hundreds of scorpion observations already, but never one like this.


I took a photo of a Skimming Bluet not realizing it was feasting on a spider until I uploaded the photo to iNat!


Is that a beetle that always wears diapers?

Yow, that is a really lucky find! Welcome to the forum.

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