Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for January 2012

Bright red fruits attract more than photographers

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So there I was on a cul-de-sac in my Great Hills neighborhood in Austin near noon on January 17. I’d been on my way home from taking pictures along Bull Creek when I spotted a well-caparisoned possumhaw standing out against the clear blue sky, so I slowed down, made a U-turn, and pulled back around into the cul-de-sac to take pictures of the tree as my last subject in that morning’s photo outing. Using my wide-angle lens, I was in the middle of photographing the possumhaw when I sensed something whooshing by. I took my eye away from the viewfinder and looked around but I didn’t see anything. When I put my eye back to the viewfinder and began photographing the tree again, I suddenly saw that a bird had landed in it.

I took a few quick pictures, but a wide-angle lens is hardly the thing you want for bird photography. Walking slowly back to my car so as not to frighten the visitor away, I quietly opened the car door, got my longest lens out of the camera bag, put it on the camera, and moved slowly back into position to do a better job than before. You see one of the results here.

Having almost no knowledge of the birds in central Texas—there’s only so much one person can delve into, right?—I e-mailed a copy of the picture to my birder friend Susan, who e-mailed me back and said it’s “a mockingbird guarding its stash.” At a time of year when not much is blooming and there isn’t a lot to eat, various animals rely on the small possumhaw fruits, and in fact I did see the mockingbird swallow one of them while I was photographing it.

For more information about Mimus polyglottos, the northern mockingbird, which happens to be the official bird of the southern state of Texas, you can read an article in All About Birds. For more information about the possumhaw, Ilex decidua, and to see a state-clickable map of the places in the southeastern United States where this tree grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 24, 2012 at 5:06 AM

In the beginning

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As you saw last time, the lower surfaces of the leaves of Vitis mustangensis, the mustang grape vine, are covered with so many downy hairs that those undersides look as if they’re made of felt. When the vine’s small and soft new leaves form, their fuzziness predicts the later lower surfaces, but they also have conspicuous traces of magenta that don’t make it into the mature leaves. Slightly down and to the right of center in today’s picture you can see parts of a few emerging buds, whose tips have magenta “stars” or “crosses” on them.

Despite the title of this post, it’s the sixth and last entry in the current series about the mustang grape vine. For more information about Vitis mustangensis and to see a state-clickable map of the places where it grows, you’re welcome to visit the USDA website.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 23, 2012 at 2:09 PM

Upstairs, downstairs

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The last four posts have dealt with the mustang grape vine, Vitis mustangensis. Here you see that its leaves have an upper surface that’s a shiny bright green interspersed with traces of white-haired wispiness. Based on this view of the upper surface, can you imagine what the underside is like?

To find out how reality matches up with what you’ve imagined, click the tiny icon at the beginning of the next line and you’ll see the lower surface of a mustang grape leaf.

For more information about Vitis mustangensis and to see a state-clickable map of the places where it grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 23, 2012 at 5:11 AM

Mustang grape inflorescence

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The past three posts have emphasized the twining nature of the mustang grape vine, Vitis mustangensis. The photograph above and two that are coming tomorrow highlight different aspects of the species, and then it’ll be on to variations of red and reddish colors elsewhere.

Inflorescence is a fancy word for the flowering portion of a plant, and here you see the inflorescence of a mustang grape. The flowers aren’t at all showy by human standards, but they ignore our aesthetics and manage to get themselves pollinated just the same. (I’ll admit to taking after myself, because I remember that I made a similar comment about peppervine back in September.)

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 22, 2012 at 2:20 PM

Like a fist

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Yesterday morning’s post featured the tightly twisted young tendrils of a mustang grape vine, Vitis mustangensis; a follow-up post in the afternoon showed tendrils that in their dried-out and faded state served as camouflage for a similar-looking spider. Now comes a picture in which young and old combine. This time a fresh tendril—you know it’s young from its color—has grabbed a dead stalk and in so doing has ended up looking like a narrow fist. Curiously, the dried-out stalk was part of the same plant as the tendril: talk about pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.

For those of you interested in photography as a craft, points 1, 2, 5, 9, 11, 14, 16, and 19 in About My Techniques are relevant to this photograph. For more information about Vitis mustangensis, and to see a state-clickable map of the places where it grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 22, 2012 at 5:05 AM

The not-dried-out on the dried-out

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The last two posts showed the predilection of the mustang grape vine to twist, whether it’s young or old. Even when the vine’s tightly curled tendrils dry out, they often last for a long time; with only faint vestiges of red* from the time when this tendril was young, its later and longer-lasting color scheme made for harmonious camouflage.

For more information about Vitis mustangensis, and to see a state-clickable map of the places where it grows, you can visit the USDA website. To find spiders in nature, look almost anywhere.

UPDATE: In a comment on February 27, 2012, Spider Joe Lapp added this information: “That’s a Pirate Spider (Mimetidae), genus Mimetus. They eat whatever they find in other spiders’ webs, including caught bugs, egg sacs, and the host spider.”

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* I’m reminded of the stele (upright monuments) at the great Maya city of Copán. The ancient Maya carved them from stone, but then they painted them, and to this day traces of the original painted colors remain on some of the stele after more than a thousand years.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 21, 2012 at 3:10 PM

Born to curl

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The last post showed the long and winding path of a venerable mustang grape vine. But the child is father of the man, and the promise of old age is already present in the young tendrils of the species, which twist and turn—and don’t yet have a woody reason not to be red—much more tightly than the tree-like trunk-to-be ever could. I photographed these mustang grape tendrils on the prairie in northeast Austin on June 3, 2011.

For those of you interested in photography as a craft, points 1, 2, 5, 9, 14, 16, 18 and 19 (whew!) in About My Techniques are relevant to this photograph. For more information about Vitis mustangensis, and to see a state-clickable map of the places where it grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 21, 2012 at 5:09 AM

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