Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for December 2018

The effects of a good rain

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Steve Gingold recently showed some Massachusetts waterfall photographs, so I thought I’d follow suit. What made that possible down here in Austin was the cooperation of nature on the night of December 26th, which gave us several hours of lightning and thunder plus the 3 2/3 inches of rain that fell onto my part of town. The next morning, eager to see what effect the rain had had, I went straight to one of the two good waterfalls I know in this area, the one on a tributary of Bull Creek along Spicewood Springs Rd. near the Capital of Texas Highway. The resulting photographs differed from a couple of others I’ve shown of this place over the years because the sky had completely cleared and the sun was high enough to cast tree shadows on the waterfall.

Isolated froth at the base of the falls off to the right undulated somewhat with the flowing water, but not so much that I didn’t try taking half a dozen pictures of it with the camera set at the same 1/1250 of a second shutter speed I’d used to stop the action in the first photograph.

Even with a high ISO of 2000, such a quick shutter speed required a broad aperture of f/4, so to maximize what I could get in focus I leaned over and aimed straight down. What I didn’t realize while still at the waterfall is that aiming vertically created in the bubbles a lot of little images of me with my upraised camera. If you’d care for a much closer look at the bubbles and my inadvertent self-portraits, you’re welcome to click below.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 30, 2018 at 4:55 PM

What is that?

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That’s what we wondered at the Doeskin Ranch on November 24th after Eve spotted this strange thing and waited for me to catch up from my picture-taking so she could point it out. I’d read about insects that cover themselves with objects to act as camouflage, and that’s what appeared to have happened here. To learn the specifics, I turned to local expert Val Bugh, who identified this as “a bagworm moth case (Psychidae). Our big species here is Oiketicus abbotii (if I’m correct in estimating your example is about 2 inches long [she was correct] — the small species are less than half as big). This bag is empty and the exuviae is sticking out the bottom, indicating a male eclosed and flew off. The females never leave their sac.”

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 29, 2018 at 4:39 AM

Prairie flameleaf sumac flamed out with respect to fall foliage this year.

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2018 wasn’t a good year for colorful fall foliage from prairie flameleaf sumac (Rhus lanceolata), of which I’ve shown you many good examples in other years (for example in 2012 and in 2015). However, I did find a few small instances of bright leaves from that species this year. The one that you see in the first photograph came my way on November 26th as I drove down (literally) Ladera Norte and quickly pulled over to record the bright color I’d glimpsed in the leaflets of a sapling. Even at so young an age it knew how to turn colors.

I’d found the other example of flaming flameleaf sumac much earlier, before you’d normally expect it, along a path on the southwestern edge of my Great Hills neighborhood. The date was October 4th, and a small portion of a full-grown tree had unexplainedly turned colors while all the other leaves were still green. Scrunching myself in behind the bright leaflets, I aimed outward to take advantage of the backlighting sun, grateful for how early these warm colors had begun.

Sometimes the minimalism of a single leaflet is the way to go, and so I went:

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 27, 2018 at 4:56 AM

An appropriate view from my computer room window

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Behold a red and green yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) casting shadows onto the otherwise sunny trunk of an Ashe juniper tree (Juniperus ashei) on the morning of December 4th. You may remember from the beginning of this year a close-up of a squirrel biting off one of these little fruits from the same yaupon tree.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 25, 2018 at 4:43 AM

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A differently shaped and colored wildflower in December

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In case you thought yesterday’s picture of bright yellow camphorweed barely counted for wildflowers in December because the flowering came only three days into the month, here’s a picture of a droplet-covered prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida) on the misty morning of December 18th at the Riata Trace Pond.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 24, 2018 at 6:59 AM

Yeah, we still have some wildflowers in December.

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A bright flower head of camphorweed (Heterotheca subaxillaris) at the Arbor Walk Pond on December 3.
No “weed,” this.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 23, 2018 at 4:44 AM

Rusty blackhaw: same fall color, new family

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A smallish native tree that provides welcome autumnal colors here is rusty blackhaw, Viburnum rufidulum. In looking at that linked site, I noticed this species assigned to a botanical family I’d never heard of, the moschatel family, Adoxaceae, rather than to the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, into which botanists had traditionally placed Viburnum. That change sent me searching, and I found the reasons for the reclassification.


I photographed these rusty blackhaws along the Brushy Creek Trail East in Round Rock on December 2nd.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 22, 2018 at 4:39 AM

A different view along Bull Creek

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The morning of December 19th followed that of the 18th by also coming up misty and with barely any breeze, so out I went for the second morning in a row to take pictures. This time I wandered along trails a few miles from home in the part of the Lower Bull Creek Greenbelt accessed from Winding Ridge Boulevard (a short, straight, narrow road that doesn’t wind along a ridge and isn’t a boulevard). While Austin is hardly known as a scenic nature destination, some places here surprise visitors with their attractiveness, and this is one of them.

The creek itself looked greener that morning than I remembered it, perhaps a consequence of the overcast skies that also kept the bright white band of rock from blowing out the photograph’s highlights. The rock layers are limestone, as I presume is the boulder, a much closer view of which you’ll find below. The Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei) tree to the left of the boulder in the top photo appears brownish due to myriad tiny cones that are about to release the airborne pollen that afflicts on many people something called cedar fever—cedar being the colloquial misnomer for this juniper, and fever being the colloquial misnomer for the strong allergic reaction that nevertheless doesn’t cause any fever.

Oh, did I mention that Bull Creek looked green?

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 21, 2018 at 4:37 AM

A different kind of arc

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Unlike the low arcs of the little bluestem seed heads that appeared here last time, the arc in today’s photograph is tall and wooden and frames the bright red leaves of a young Texas red oak (Quercus buckleyi). Contrasting with the red leaves are those of a greenbrier vine (Smilax spp.) that had climbed up not only onto the young oak but also into the taller bare trees on both sides of it. I photographed this pleasant landscape along the Brushy Creek Trail East in Round Rock on December 2nd. Below is another oak I looked up to about 20 minutes earlier, when we’d just begun to follow that section of the trail.

Click to enlarge.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 20, 2018 at 4:44 AM

Arc, the here-old grasses swing

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In addition to the bushy bluestem grass that’s a delight here in the fall, little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) also has its autumn appeal. On the afternoon of December 1st I stopped at an undeveloped lot on the corner of Heatherwilde Blvd. and Yellow Sage St. in Pflugerville to photograph the backlit clump of little bluestem you see above. The wind kept blowing the normally upright stalks into arcs that I was able to record unblurred before they sprang back up by setting my camera’s shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second.

Five days earlier I’d gotten down in a ditch along Spicewood Springs Rd. so I could aim up into a clear blue sky while also portraying some little bluestem seed heads forming arcs in the breeze. That time 1/500 of a second sufficed. If you’re reminded of Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa, so am I.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 19, 2018 at 4:45 AM

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