Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

More than I bargained for

with 28 comments

On October 27th I was driving east on Louis Henna Blvd. in Round Rock when I caught a glimpse of some Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) way up at the top of a tall mound of earth at a construction site. After parking on Roundville Ln. I walked around to photograph the sunflowers, as shown here:

I’d barely taken any pictures, though, when I noticed a raptor perched on a highway sign not far away. I put on my longest lens and managed to get two pictures before the bird glided down to the ground in a place where I couldn’t easily photograph it; then it flew away altogether.

Knowing practically nothing about birds, I checked with Shannon in Houston, who said she thought it was most likely either a “Red-tailed hawk (all season) or Swainson’s Hawk (immature, migratory),” and that she was leaning toward the former.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 26, 2018 at 4:46 AM

28 Responses

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  1. Both are great shots. I am always amazed at plants’ ability to grow anywhere…although I just read an article about problems of growing plants in outer space. You were lucky to get the time to change lenses.

    automatic gardener

    November 26, 2018 at 6:00 AM

    • Plants (and animals) evolved with gravity, so I understand how a lack of it in outer space might interfere with the way they function. As for the hawk, it initially seemed content to just sit there on the road sign. As soon as I changed lenses, I took my first picture from where I was. Then I slowly walked maybe a third of the way to the hawk and took the other picture. I’ll never know if that increased closeness was what caused the bird to move to the ground or if it would have done so anyhow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 26, 2018 at 7:23 AM

      • It looks as though the bird had its eye on something so perhaps it moved to the ground to investigate. It’s a beautiful photo of a beautiful bird.


        November 27, 2018 at 4:09 AM

        • I hadn’t thought about the hawk having its eye on something on the ground. If it did, then apparently it was disappointed because it flew off not long after gliding to the ground.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 27, 2018 at 5:04 AM

  2. Despite everything, construction sites can elevate a photographic subject from time to time. It occurred to me that either the construction was going slowly or those sunflowers grew really quickly; that’s quite a substantial stand.

    I have a hard time distinguishing hawks. The sharp-shinned is easier because of its relatively smaller size, but otherwise I usually just stick with ‘hawk’. This is a fine specimen; you were lucky that it stayed put for you.


    November 26, 2018 at 6:48 AM

    • That’s a good play on words about construction sites elevating a subject from time to time. From my experience growing up in developing suburbs with construction in the area a fact of life, I seem to remember that mounds of earth could stay in place for weeks or months. I don’t know when the mound of earth in Round Rock got pushed up, but I’m guessing it would have been at least several months before I saw it, because the Maximilian sunflower plants I’ve observed seem to sit around for that long before flowering.

      I have a hard time not just with hawks but with distinguishing birds in general. While I can sometimes identify a species from a book or online page, it’s safer to turn to someone like Shannon who knows a lot about the subject.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 26, 2018 at 7:32 AM

  3. Did you explain earlier that this sunflower is the state flower of Kansas?


    November 26, 2018 at 8:52 AM

    • In checking just now, I’m not sure which species of sunflower the Kansas legislature had in mind. I suspect it was the common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) rather than the Maximilian but the legislation mentions only the genus. The flowery language is fun to read:

      “WHEREAS, Kansas has a native wild flower common throughout her borders, hardy and conspicuous, of definite, unvarying and striking shape, easily sketched, moulded, and carved, having armorial capacities, ideally adapted for artistic reproduction, with its strong, distinct disk and its golden circle of clear glowing rays — a flower that a child can draw on a slate, a woman can work in silk, or a man can carve on stone or fashion in clay; and

      “WHEREAS, This flower has to all Kansans a historic symbolism which speaks of frontier days, winding trails, pathless prairies, and is full of the life and glory of the past, the pride of the present, and richly emblematic of the majesty of a golden future, and is a flower which has given Kansas the world-wide name, “the sunflower state”…

      “Be it enacted … that the helianthus or wild native sunflower is … designated … the state flower and floral emblem of the state of Kansas.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 26, 2018 at 9:11 AM

      • Goodness! With all the superfluous babble, would it have been too much to ask that the species of sunflower be designated? Many of the state flowers and trees are like that. In California, the redwood is the state tree. Some say that we are the only state that has two state trees. However, the redwood was proposed to be the state tree (although not formally designated as such) before the giant redwood was identified, while only the coastal redwood was known. The coastal redwood is therefore our state tree by default. The state flower of New Mexico is designated as yucca, without mention of an exact species, but no one brings that up.


        November 26, 2018 at 9:21 AM

        • The legislature here headed off that problem with the bluebonnet by designating as the state flower all five of the Lupinus species that grow in Texas.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 26, 2018 at 9:25 AM

          • Lame!


            November 26, 2018 at 9:33 AM

            • Not all of the five bluebonnet species grow in all parts of the state, so the legislature made a move toward what would now be called inclusivity.

              Steve Schwartzman

              November 26, 2018 at 9:45 AM

              • I suppose that makes is a bit more tolerable. When we were trying to select a town tree and flower, my only requirements were that each must be either native or of cultural significance. No one seemed to understand either of those requirements, and suggested the most obscure species that they saw on vacation in some tropical paradise just because it was so rare and obscure. It would be like suggesting coconut palm as the state tree of Alaska.


                November 26, 2018 at 12:43 PM

                • Yes, I remember you mentioning that and how absurd it is. Some people just don’t get it.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  November 26, 2018 at 1:19 PM

  4. The hawk’s colors are muted, but it’s still a very handsome effect.

    Robert Parker

    November 26, 2018 at 1:57 PM

  5. Luck was with you that this hawk allowed a couple of images before moving elsewhere. There is almost always more than we bargained for…we just have to see it.

    Steve Gingold

    November 26, 2018 at 1:57 PM

    • You’ve heard me say that we just have to keep putting ourselves out there and nature will keep providing things. You’ve also heard me wonder how many good things I must have walked right past without noticing them. In the case of this hawk, I was fortunate that it stayed put long enough to get off a couple of shots; this may be the closest picture of a hawk I’ve ever taken.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 26, 2018 at 4:32 PM

  6. Wow – what a great bonus shot! 🙂 Both are amazing

    M.B. Henry

    November 26, 2018 at 5:03 PM

    • I’m glad you found both of them to your liking. I’ve taken many pictures of Maximilian sunflowers over the years but the hawk was something new for me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 26, 2018 at 6:32 PM

  7. Pretty sure it’s a Swainson’s hawk. We had a pair raise babies at our office building this summer. The striped tail is a good sign. There are lots of them in the area right now.

    Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

    November 28, 2018 at 7:54 AM

  8. He’s beautiful! Great shot of those flowers too 🙂


    December 2, 2018 at 11:57 AM

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