Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for August 2020

Yellow and blue

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While at a construction site in southern Round Rock on August 1st I photographed central Texas’s answer to the pussy willow, the golden dalea (Dalea aurea). I also made a portrait of a sunflower (Helianthus annuus).

As I said, this was a construction site, and across the lower section of the sunflower picture you see part of a long ridge of earth that bulldozers had heaped up. In a few of my pictures I made that ridge a subject in its own right, overflown and enhanced by the day’s wispy clouds.

And here’s a tip for today: I recently stumbled across the Good News Network, which lives up to its name by providing good news from around the world. That’s a much-need balance to the endless tales of woe and outrage that so many other news outlets feature. Check it out and see what you think.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 31, 2020 at 4:43 AM

Mesquite pod and dry leaflets by pond

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While I was avoiding hikers near the boardwalk pond in River Place on August 10th, I made some portraits of honey mesquite pods (Prosopis glandulosa). The dark-looking water and otherwise black background in today’s photograph might make you think I used flash. I didn’t. The sunlit pod was bright enough to make the background dark by comparison, and in my processing of the image I played up that difference. (If clicking the photograph in your browser brings up a black page around the image, as Chrome does, so much the better; the picture, in particular the blue-indigo of the water, looks more vivid that way.)

While we’re on the subject of mesquite, you may remember I photographed what I called a zebra mesquite thorn back in June. I’m sorry to say that within weeks of my taking that picture the site was razed for construction. That’s at least the fourth loss in 2020 of a place where I’d taken nature photographs.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 30, 2020 at 4:40 AM

Clematis drummondii after the rain

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On August 3rd we finally had some rain, so on the morning of the 4th I went down to Great Hills Park with my macro lens and a ring flash to see if I could get some good pictures of raindrop-covered plants. In particular I had in mind Clematis drummondii, which I don’t recall ever before photographing with drops on it. This vine’s fibers often have a metallic-looking sheen to them, which the flash enhanced. Below, an enlargement from a different picture gives you a good look at raindrops on metalically shining Clematis strands.

And speaking of metals, here’s a relevant quotation for today: “I did not know that mankind were suffering for want of gold. I have seen a little of it. I know that it is very malleable, but not so malleable as wit. A grain of gold will gild a great surface, but not so much as a grain of wisdom.” — Henry David Thoreau, “Life Without Principle,” 1863.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 29, 2020 at 4:39 AM

I cotton to snake cotton

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I rarely come across snake cotton (Froelichia gracilis), so I got excited on August 2nd when I discovered a colony of it in a dry sump at the edge of Great Hills Park. On one of the snake cotton plants I noticed spiderwebs and soon saw the spider. Below is the picture I took of it using daytime flash and a small aperture; that combination gives the impression of dusk rather than broad daylight.

Then on August 14th out beyond Bastrop I found a few stalks of snake cotton
and was able to get a picture showing one of the plant’s small and inconspicuous flowers:

Here’s an unrelated quotation for today:
“Qui grate beneficium accipit primam eius pensionem solvit.”
“Anyone who receives a benefit with gratitude repays the first installment of it.”
Here’s an alternate translation (I wanted to make it sound more colloquial):
“If you accept a favor with gratitude you’ll repay the first installment on what you owe.”
Seneca the Younger in De Beneficiis (On Benefits).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 28, 2020 at 4:32 AM

Liatris elegans in two stages

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On August 14th we drove some 40 miles east of home and spent a while beyond Bastrop for the first time since last year. Based on a report I’d read, I hoped to find some flowering Liatris elegans, a species that doesn’t grow in Austin. Find some I did. A few of the plants had already even gone to seed, as you see below.

The only species I see in Austin, Liatris punctata var. mucronata, has purple flowers. In fact every other species of Liatris I’m aware of has purple flowers, so the yellow really is special.

And here’s a quotation for today: “Let us not underrate the value of a fact; it will one day flower in a truth.”
— Henry David Thoreau, “Natural History of Massachusetts.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 27, 2020 at 4:42 AM

A bitterweed bud and bloom and beyond and a bee

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It’s been a couple of years since I showed you the common wildflower known as yellow bitterweed, Helenium amarum var. amarum. The native-bee-bedecked portrait above is from August 18th in Round Rock. At the same time I took what I believe are my first pictures ever of a bud in this species, so here’s one of those:

Toward the opposite end of the development cycle, here’s what a seed head looks like when it’s decomposing:

Many parts of the United States are experiencing a summer drought now. People longing for cooler and wetter times may find the following cold-weather fact welcome, and probably also surprising: if a lake has a solid covering of ice 12 inches deep, an 8-ton truck can drive on it. If you want to know how much weight other thicknesses of ice can bear, check out this chart. Notice that the relationship isn’t linear: doubling the thickness allows the ice to bear a lot more than twice the weight.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 26, 2020 at 4:38 AM

Black vulture eating an armadillo

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“Wait a minute, not so fast,” you say, “your title can’t fool me. Neither of these pictures shows a black vulture eating an armadillo. The first is of a bull nettle flower (Cnidoscolus texanus), and the second shows yellowing Lindheimer’s senna leaflets (Senna lindheimeriana) backlit by the sun.” That’s what you say, and you’re right.

The fact remains that maybe once a year in my part of Austin I’ve come across and photographed vultures eating a dead animal. I’ve never posted any of those pictures because even if scenes like that are a part of life in the natural world, many viewers would find them gross. On August 5th, driving back home from the outing in my neighborhood that produced the two pictures above (along with those of the two green herons you recently saw), I had my latest encounter, this time with an armadillo providing the food for a black vulture (Coragyps atratus). If you’re up for such a picture, you can follow this link to see it. If you’d rather stick with the pretty white flower and backlit yellowing leaflets, no one will blame you.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 25, 2020 at 4:36 AM

Two abstract cattail leaf portraits

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Many long-time artists try new things. In the first of two recent experiments, I played off a yellowing cattail leaf (Typha domingensis) against differently colored cattail leaves behind it that were parallel to one another but not to it. I held the foreground leaf in focus to convey its texture, while making the background leaves as free of details as possible. In the image below of a shallow cattail leaf arc, I channeled my inner Michael Scandling: barely anything is in focus, and the overall effect is of pastel colors.

Here’s a vaguely related quotation for today:

“L’homme n’est qu’un roseau, le plus faible de la nature; mais c’est un roseau pensant. Il ne faut pas que l’univers entier s’arme pour l’écraser : une vapeur, une goutte d’eau suffit pour le tuer. Mais quand l’univers l’écraserait, l’homme serait encore plus noble que ce qui le tue, parce qu’il sait qu’il meurt, et l’avantage que l’univers a sur lui, l’univers n’en sait rien.” — Blaise Pascal, Pensées (Thoughts).

“Man is but a reed, the weakest in nature; but he’s a thinking reed. It doesn’t take the whole universe up in arms to crush him; a vapor, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe did crush him, man would still be nobler than the thing that kills him, because he’d know that he’s dying, whereas the advantage that the universe has over him, the universe would know nothing about.” — Blaise Pascal, Pensées (Thoughts).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 24, 2020 at 4:34 AM

Austin’s still snailiferous

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Now well past May’s peak of limaciferousness in central Texas, the land beneath our baking sun has continued to host many a snail. Whether the small creatures I’ve found were living or dead has been mostly beyond my ability to say. They haven’t, however, been beyond my ability to photograph. I found the one above on August 6th near the tip of a Mexican hat seed head (Ratibida columnifera), and the one below on a bed of dry fallen Ashe juniper leaves (Juniperus ashei). In that portrait, taken on July 10th, I’d gone for a shallow-depth-of-field approach, with little more than the apex of the spiral in focus.

The last image, from June 15th in Great Hills Park when things were still more colorful,
shows a snail on a living Ashe juniper with a firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) beyond it.

And here’s a quotation about photography:

“Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”
Ansel Adams in American Way, October 1974.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 23, 2020 at 4:33 AM

More from the July 29th outing on the Blackland Prairie

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Let me continue with the July 29th photo session near a pond on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin that produced the torchlike Clematis drummondii picture you saw here last time. On another of those vines I noticed that some of its silky strands had been pulled together; by getting close I made a soft portrait that included the spider that had done the pulling together. Click the excerpt below if you’d like a closer look at the spinner (which is what spider means).

I also made a pretty pastel picture of marsh fleabane buds (Pluchea odorata).
It’s been five years since that species last appeared in these pages.

And here’s an unrelated quotation for today: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” — U.S. Supreme Court, “West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).

UPDATE: In yesterday’s post I’ve added a link below Emma Lazarus’s sonnet so you can hear the famous part set to music by a famous immigrant to the United States.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 22, 2020 at 4:45 AM

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