Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for November 2016

When is a sea not a sea?

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An old riddle asks: When is a door not a door? The punning answer is: When it’s ajar. I hope it won’t jar you to learn that California’s Salton Sea isn’t a branch of the Pacific Ocean but rather a shallow and briny lake in the far south of the state. On November 6th (you see these trip posts will trip around chronologically) we drove southeast on California Highway 111, which runs for miles along the shore of the non-sea sea, so I could finally get to see a geographical feature I first heard about as a teenager poring over road maps acquired for free back then from oil companies.


The Salton Sea looks nice but smells bad, at least in part due to dead fish that we found rotting along the shore in some places. That goes a long way toward explaining why attempts to attract tourists have run afoul. If you’d like a look at one of those decaying fish you can mentally hold your nose and click the icon below.


A would-have-been yacht club that we stopped at had clearly gone through hard times. A little later we drove through a small settlement called Bombay Beach, where our spirits sank upon seeing so many mobile homes and other structures abandoned and falling apart. According to the relevant Wikipedia article, this village “is the lowest community in America, located 223 feet below sea level.” Maybe it should change its name to Desolation Row.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 21, 2016 at 5:11 AM

Paloverde after sunset

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Late in the afternoon on October 17th we checked into our hotel in southern Phoenix and then went out to see what we could in the brief time left before sundown. With a goal of this trip being to go where we hadn’t gone on previous visits to certain areas, I drove to South Mountain Park, a place I’d wanted to visit during our 2014 trip but hadn’t managed to get to. This turned out to be a popular park for evening hiking, even during the week. By the time we found a parking space and walked along a trail for a few minutes, little natural light was left for pictures, so I added flash to the mix. The resulting photograph isn’t how anyone present saw the scene, but I like the effect and hope you do too.

The tree, by the way, is a paloverde. I later learned that there are two similar local species, Parkinsonia microphylla and Parkinsonia florida; I’m not sure which one this was.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 20, 2016 at 4:53 AM

Twenty-six days and a dozen miles less than six thousand

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On October 16th we drove west out of Austin on what became a 26-day trip through the southwestern quadrant of the United States. The car’s odometer reported that the tour through parts of west Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California covered 5,988 miles. The drive took us to some places we’d been before (for example El Paso, Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, the San Francisco Bay area), but the goal was to see things in those areas that we hadn’t previously gotten to see. We succeeded. The weeks ahead will bring you photographs from some of those places.

One great difference from my usual fare in Austin was the continuing presence of Landscapes with a capital L. From the time we got a few hundred miles west of Austin on the first day of the trip until the beginning of the last several hundred miles on the final day, we were never out of sight of significant mountains. With that in mind, I’ve begun with a couple of pictures from the afternoon of October 18th as we approached Sedona from the south. After our trip to Arizona in 2014, almost everyone who heard that we’d gone there asked if we’d visited Sedona. We hadn’t, so that was a goal on this visit. Our first stop in the Sedona area was the Red Rock Country Visitor Center on Arizona Highway 179, a bit south of the village of Oak Creek. The photograph above shows the vista from there.

As the sun continued to get lower and the shadows longer, we hurried to see more of the rocks further north toward Sedona itself. In the second photograph, taken 52 minutes after the first one, look how much extra warmth the last light of the setting sun had added to the colors of the reddish rocks for which the region is so well known.


© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 19, 2016 at 5:09 AM

A flash of gold

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As we began our great Southwest trip on October 16th we noticed the many goldeneye bushes (Viguiera dentata) flowering along US 290 on the western side of Austin. No time to stop then, as we’d barely started on the 550 miles to El Paso, but nine days earlier I’d photographed some goldeneye flowers in my neighborhood. To get the picture shown here, I’d lain down and aimed up toward a flower head isolated against a patch of sky. There wasn’t a lot of light on the underside of the goldeneye bush so I added flash; the result was a bright flower head with a rich dark blue background around it. If you’d like a reminder of how yellowfully expansive a goldeneye colony can be, have a look back at a post from 2013.

As for the trip: I’ve spent a good part of the last few days sorting through thousands of pictures and haven’t finished organizing them yet, but the first of those photographs will put in an appearance next time. Woo hoo West!

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 18, 2016 at 5:06 AM

More from Austin’s old airport

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When I explored parts of Austin’s old airport on October 10th I found a good colony of camphorweed in various stages, including fresh flowers and fluffy little seed globes. In case you’re not familiar with Heterotheca subaxillaris, here’s a closeup of a flower head that I made during that session.


© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 17, 2016 at 5:03 AM

High flying

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On October 10th I turned in at 4800 Manor Rd., a place where I’d never taken pictures. It used to be a part of Austin’s Mueller Airport, which shut down in 1999, and I discovered that I could drive out onto sections of the old airport’s parking lot. The paving was mostly still there but plants had reclaimed portions of ground in various places. One recolonizer was poverty weed, Baccharis neglecta, which you see at the lower right. My primary subject here was a luscious stand of goldenrod (Solidago spp.) that I got down beneath to play it off against the day’s wonderfully wispy clouds. I attribute those great clouds to dissipating airplane contrails, a fitting background for a portrait made at a former airport.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 16, 2016 at 4:24 AM

Mexican hat seed head remains

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Two posts back you saw an early stage in the disintegration of a sensitive briar inflorescence. Now, from the greenbelt off Taylor Draper Lane on October 7th, here’s a much later stage of a different species, Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera). If you’d like a reminder of what a fresh Mexican hat flower head looks like, you can revisit a post from 2014.

To get greater depth of field and keep more details in focus than would have been possible with natural light alone, I added flash. That mixture of light sources accounts for the sky looking darker than normal.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 15, 2016 at 5:00 AM

Green on green in the greenbelt

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In the greenbelt off Taylor Draper Ln. on October 7th I found what I think is the larva of a moth on a leaf of what I know is a buffalo gourd vine, Cucurbita foetidissima.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 14, 2016 at 4:45 AM

Beginning to be bedraggled

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Over the years I’ve photographed pristine flower globes of Mimosa roemeriana, the sensitive briar. On October 7th in my neighborhood I photographed a little pink globe of that kind but also the more bedraggled one you see here. The chaos is visually appealing, don’t you think?

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 13, 2016 at 4:44 AM

Those silky strands again

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The last time you saw Clematis drummondii was as a constellation of flowers in far north Austin on September 7th. Some of the plants there that day were more advanced and their flowers had begun producing the silky strands that when still further along and dingier give the species the common name old man’s beard. None of that dinginess here yet, only a fresh silvery green sheen.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 12, 2016 at 4:53 AM

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