Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for March 2016


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When I went to Great Hills Park on the morning of March 17th I found many little patches of ground blanketed with drizzle-bejeweled spiderwebs like the ones you saw last time surrounding a straggler daisy. Some of the webs had a noticeably dark funnel, and in one of those I glimpsed a spider waiting deep inside. After I knelt and got close with my camera to take pictures, the vibration from one of my movements prompted the spider to rush out toward what it incorrectly took to be prey, startling me in the process (things are magnified when you look through a macro lens). Fortunately the spider stayed outside the funnel long enough for me to make several portraits of it. I later learned from the BugGuide.net folks that this funnel weaver spider is in the genus Agelenopsis, whose members are called grass spiders.

Two days before my outing in Great Hills Park, Dale and Pat Bulla had alerted me to the National Wildlife Week Photo Contest being held by Austin Parks and Wildlife. I entered this photograph and it ended up winning first place. The picture will appear in the April issue of the Austin Treebune.

Funnel Web Spider in Spiderweb with Drizzle Drops 8222

If you’d like a closer view of this Agelenopsis spider, click the excerpt below.

Funnel Web Spider in Spiderweb with Drizzle Drops 8222 Detail

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 31, 2016 at 4:54 AM

A drizzle-drazzled droplet-dazzled view of a straggler daisy

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Straggler Daisy Flower Head with Drizzle-Dropped Funnel Web 8179

Click for larger size and therefore more detail.

The diminutive plant known as the straggler daisy, Calyptocarpus vialis, forms a natural ground cover in some parts of Austin. Here from the morning of March 17th in Great Hills Park is the little flower head of a straggler daisy with drizzle on it, along with much more sparkling drizzle on the spiderweb around it. To give you a sense of scale, I’ll add that a flower head in this species typically runs about a quarter of an inch (6mm) in diameter.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 30, 2016 at 5:01 AM

Agarita flowers and buds

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Agarita Flowers and Buds 6734

I’m a bit late in showing you these flowers and buds of an agarita bush, Mahonia trifoliolata, that I photographed off Yaupon Dr. on February 26. Taking too many pictures to show in these pages isn’t a bad “problem” to have.

For a closer look at some of the agarita flowers, click the following excerpt.

Agarita Flowers and Buds 6720A

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 29, 2016 at 4:57 AM

That combination of wildflowers

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Indian Paintbrushes and Bluebonnets by Pond 9203

Here’s a popular combination of Texas wildflowers: bluebonnets, Lupinus texensis, and Indian paintbrushes, Castilleja indivisa. That’s what I saw by a pond along TX 29 between Llano and Burnet on March 21.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 28, 2016 at 5:05 AM

Backlit purple-fringed white anemone seen from below

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Anemone Flower from Below 7085

Anemone decapetala north of Old Lampasas trail on March 3.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 27, 2016 at 5:08 AM

Corn salad

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Corn Salad Colony with Prickly Pear Cactus 8530

Why anyone would call this plant corn salad, I don’t know. I do know that a colony of Valerianella amarella can cover a good expanse of ground in meadows and on prairies, yet individual flowers are tiny, only 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch across (1.5–3 mm). They often grow in a loosely rectangular array comprising two pairs of clusters: call it white geometry and you’ll get no argument from me. The second picture looks straight down at one pair of clusters. I noticed that the ant burrowed into the center of several of the flowers, and I conjectured, rightly or wrongly, that it was going after nectar. There’s no need to conjecture about what I was going after—photographs—nor about their provenance—an area along Yaupon Dr. on March 20.

Ant on Corn Salad Flowers 8478

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 26, 2016 at 5:09 AM

The tales that rocks can tell

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rudistid/caprinid fossil. This is an extinct fossil group that was a prolific reef-builder in the Cretaceous, when our local formations were deposited.

Speaking of rocks (as I did yesterday), on February 2nd a couple of miles from home I found a rock with a fossil in it. I assumed the piece of fluted column, which was 2 inches (5cm) in diameter, had come from the stalk of a tree or plant, but as I know nothing about such things I turned to geologist Eric Potter at the University of Texas. He referred my question to paleontologists and the answer came back that this was a “rudistid/caprinid fossil.” That “extinct fossil group… was a prolific reef-builder in the Cretaceous, when our local formations were deposited.” The Cretaceous ended some 65.5 million years ago, so this might be the oldest thing I’ve ever found. For more on this kind of creature, you can read about rudists and caprinids.

On February 26th I came across a different sort of fossil on the opposite side of my neighborhood. This time I could tell that I was looking at shells. Eric Potter confirmed that these were “oysters stacked together in an ‘oyster bank’, very similar to what we have today in our coastal bays. This is a cross-sectional view.”

oysters stacked together in an “oyster bank”, very similar to what we have today in our coastal bays. This is a cross-sectional view.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 25, 2016 at 5:00 AM

Rocks and phlox

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Luling has long had its Watermelon Thump and Flatonia its Czhilispiel, but last week for only the second time Llano held its Rock Stacking World Championship on the rock-rich shore of the Llano River. I missed hearing about that last event till it had already happened, but on March 21st I drove northwest 75 miles or so from where I live in Austin to see the event’s legacy. The first photograph gives you an idea.

Llano Rock Stacking 8909

For the second photograph I walked out on the prominent bridge and looked back down with a telephoto lens at another part of the scene.

Llano Rock Stacking 8892

But this is a blog about nature in general and wildflowers in particular, so let me hit my stride with a picture of some flowering phlox plants (Phlox spp.) asserting themselves amid concentric circles of rocks.

Phlox and Rocks 8977

Oh, and did the stackers of the rocks in this last photograph know that the prominent plant in front of the stack and others behind it are poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)?

Poison Ivy by Stacked Rocks 9160

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 24, 2016 at 5:03 AM

What I found on a spiderwort leaf

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As you heard last time, I photographed a few spiderwort (Tradescantia spp.) flowers alongside my house on March 6th. These plants have long but narrow leaves, on one of which I noticed something less than an inch in length:

Click for greater size and clarity.

Click for greater size and clarity.

Not knowing what it was, I turned to local aficionada Val Bugh, who identified it as “a batch of leafhopper eggs. From their size and look, I would guess they are one of the larger species… You can see the brochosomes (that white waxy stuff) that many leafhoppers use to cover their eggs, which is another clue.” Thanks, Val.

Back in the realm of botany, notice (especially if you click to enlarge) how much the spiderwort leaf looks like a textile. Thanks, macro lens.

I thought I’d close by linking to a post in which I showed a leafhopper, but when I searched I discovered I’ve never shown one. To remedy that, here’s a leafhopper* on a mesquite pod in northeast Austin on June 3, 2011. (It just dawned on me that that was one day before my first post on this blog.)

* Update: Steve Gingold has pointed out that the second picture shows a planthopper rather than a leafhopper. Oh, terminology.

Leafhopper on Mesquite Pod 5066

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 23, 2016 at 5:01 AM

Economical spiderwort

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Spiderwort Flowers and Buds at an Angle 7238

The nouns ecology and economy have as their first element the Greek noun oikos, meaning ‘household,’ so I’m playing with words in this post’s title because the spiderwort (Tradescantia* spp.) shown in today’s picture was one of a group that bloomed alongside our house at the beginning of the month. I also played with the perspective—neither horizontal nor vertical, neither upright nor sideways—when I photographed these flowers and buds on March 6. (That exemplifies point 10 in About My Techniques.)


*You came across the name Tradescant near the beginning of a post last week.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 22, 2016 at 5:08 AM

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