Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for May 2013

Acres of sunflowers

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Huge Sunflower Colony 9091

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Yesterday, as I drove north on FM 685 in Pflugerville, I began to see a yellow glow in the distance. Within about half a mile I came upon and was dazzled by the largest colony of wild sunflowers, Helianthus annuus, I think I’ve ever seen. You’re looking at a piece of the colony here, but the sunflowers covered acres, and they so dominated the field that little else could get a foothold.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 31, 2013 at 6:22 AM

Leaffooted bugs on a decomposing Texas thistle head

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Leaffooted Bugs on Texas Thistle 8487

Click for greater clarity, especially in the texture on the bugs.

This head of a Texas thistle, Cirsium texanum, was beginning to decompose, but that sort of falling away from an ideal form that humans prefer was no deterrent to these leaffooted bugs, known scientifically as Leptoglossus phyllopus, which seemed to be having a grand time.

I took this photograph on April 12th across the street from the intermingled colonies of old plainsman and prairie verbana that you’ve already seen at the corner of Corral Ln. and Interstate 35 in south Austin.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 30, 2013 at 6:17 AM

A Texas thistle flower head

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Texas Thistle Flower Head Against Sky 5903

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And here’s the flower head of a Texas thistle, Cirsium texanum, that’s come a longer way toward being fully open than the bud you saw last time. I took this picture, like the previous one, close to an office building, but the building was on N. Capital of Texas Highway, the date was May 11, and I got away with sitting rather than lying on the ground. The ground that the Texas thistle covers is primarily in Texas and northern Mexico.

If you’re interested in photography as a craft, you’ll find that points 1, 3, and especially 8 in About My Techniques are relevant to this photograph.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 29, 2013 at 6:20 AM

What would a Texas spring be if I didn’t show you a Texas thistle?

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Texas Thistle Bud End-On 6227

Here’s the bud of a Texas thistle, Cirsium texanum, that was just beginning to open on the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville* on the morning of May 13. You see the clear blue of the sky, but you don’t see the adjacent building where I’d gone to renew my driver’s license. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person there who came away from the place with more photos taken than the one required for the license, and I’m pretty sure that not many of the people getting or renewing a license would have been willing to lie down with plants on the prairie for the sake of a picture.

This view reminds me of the cover of a science fiction book I read when I was a teenager, The Big Eye, by Max Ehrlich, originally published in 1949. In searching the Internet now, I see that various editions of the novel had different covers, each with a prominent eye in the sky, but the one I remember is the one shown in Goodreads.

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* Ironically, at least for a nature photography blog in a region where almost all of the native prairie was soon destroyed after Anglo settlers arrived in the 1800s, the German word Pfluger means ‘plowman.’

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 28, 2013 at 6:22 AM

The division created by a subdivision

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Wildflower Field by Subdivision 7882

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In these pages I rarely let human elements intrude on nature, but that’s the whole point of today’s picture. Here you see a sight that has become common in central Texas over the past few decades: a subdivision adjacent to a field that still looks the way the land under the subdivision* had looked until a short time before. I encountered this scene on May 17th in Leander, a rapidly growing suburb north of Austin. Notice how the fence prevents most of the residents from even seeing the field of wildflowers that is the natural heritage of this region. The field’s location along an increasingly busy road dooms it to get covered before long, most likely with stores or houses or apartments. The people who inhabit those buildings in decades to come will probably never know that the land used to look the way you see it here.

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* July 4th of 2011, one month into this blog, was the only other time I showed a subdivision.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 27, 2013 at 6:12 AM

A closer look at the dark bee in the prickly pear cactus flower

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Dark Bee in Prickly Pear Cactus Flower 8002A

Click for greater clarity, especially in the pollen grains.

Now that’s one potent pollinator.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 26, 2013 at 2:00 PM

Dark bee in a prickly pear cactus flower

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Dark Bee in Prickly Pear Cactus Flower 8006

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As May arrived, so did the flowers on the prickly pear cacti, Opuntia engelmannii, and with the advent of those flowers came many insects that were attracted to them. Before Europeans brought honeybees to the Americas, native bees like this one pollinated the wildflowers. They still do.

Date: May 21.  Place: Great Hills Park.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 26, 2013 at 6:21 AM

Mexican hat colony flowering

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Mexican Hat Colony Flowering 6886

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What led me to stop along Q-Ranch Rd. on May 16th (and allowed me to see a couple of white-tailed deer as an unexpected bonus) was the Mexican hats, Ratibida columnifera, that were flowering alongside the narrow street. This species got a mostly late start in Austin because of the cool spring we’d had, but by mid-May colonies of Mexican hats were flowering all over town—and happily they still are.

The variation in ray color that you see in this photograph is just that, normal variation within a single species. The rays can be solid yellow or have differing amounts of a rich reddish-brown in them.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 25, 2013 at 6:15 AM

Oh, deer

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White-Tailed Deer Staring 6890

It isn’t only squirrels that stare me down from time to time: white-tailed deer do too. That’s hardly surprising, because the Great Hills section of Austin where I live is home to lots of these animals. People often see them walking through the streets and unfenced yards in the neighborhood, and more than once I’ve opened my door in the morning to find one or several deer on the front lawn. Two autumns in a row you’ve seen abstract pictures of the fallen antler of a male white-tailed deer here, but this is the first photograph of a whole deer, and presumably a female. To learn more about the white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, you can visit the National Geographic or Wikipedia.

I took this picture on May 16th along a winding little lane in my neighborhood called Q-Ranch Rd., which is so narrow that it’s a one-way street. So’s life, and there’s no going back.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 24, 2013 at 6:17 AM

A fireless firewheel

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Yellow Gaillardia Flower Head 6845

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The last picture showed a firewheel, Gaillardia pulchella, that was unusual because it had ray flowers with white rather than yellow tips. Now here’s another uncommon specimen, this time with rays that are completely yellow and a central disk that has barely a blush of the usual red that people expect to see in this popular wildflower (and that shines through from a “regular” firewheel in the background). This is further confirmation of botanist Thomas J. Watson’s statement that “G. pulchella is a highly variable taxon, especially in floret colors, and I have seen a broad variety of ligule coloration in the taxon.”

I found this and a few other fireless firewheels on May 14th in the fringe of Great Hills Park that’s accessed from Taylor-Draper Lane.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 23, 2013 at 6:17 AM

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