Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

From fiery bract to fiery body

with 50 comments

Speaking of the most primary of all colors, our September 11th visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center produced pictures not only of a bright red fire-on-the-mountain bract but also of what I take to be a male neon skimmer dragonfly, Libellula crocipennis. This one was up high and pretty far away, so I used a telephoto zoom lens at its maximum focal length of 400mm, and even then I had to crop the image down to about a fifth of its area.

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Back on August 12th I reported that I’ve occasionally been turning to unknown people on the street and asking them out of the blue what they think about the current state of our country. My latest encounter took place yesterday, after a woman who noticed Eve taking a picture of me in front of an octopus sculpture asked if we’d like her to photograph the two of us together. I took her up on her offer, and in the process we chatted briefly. When she was about to rejoin the other woman she’d been walking with, I asked her my question. She was maybe the sixth person I’d approached that way, and like all the others, she said she thinks things in America are terrible. I asked if she could give me an example of what troubles her.

First she gave me a local answer. It involved TXDoT, the Texas Department of Transportation, which has started implementing its huge project to rebuild Interstate 35 through central Austin, one of the most congested stretches of Interstate highway in the United States. The woman felt TXDoT hadn’t conferred enough with people in neighborhoods bordering that part of Interstate 35, who might be adversely affected. (There’s a history of Interstate 35 separating white and black neighborhoods when it was built through central Austin in the 1960s.)

Then the woman said she’s happy that Biden got elected president. (You’d more often than not expect that in as liberal a place as Austin.) Turning to the pandemic, she said she believes in the COVID-19 vaccines and has been vaccinated herself but is troubled by the vaccine mandates and passports currently being pushed (so notably, of course, by President Biden). Her concern was about the federal government getting too involved with and making decisions based on people’s private medical records.

Of the half-dozen strangers I’ve asked my out-of-the-blue question to, so far every one has given answers that made me think I was dealing with a reasonable person. Maybe there’s hope for the country after all.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 20, 2021 at 4:44 AM

50 Responses

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  1. A steady hand and bright sunlight…a winning combination.


    September 20, 2021 at 6:26 AM

    • The New York State vaccine passport works great!!!


      September 20, 2021 at 6:27 AM

      • How do you mean “works great”?

        Steve Schwartzman

        September 20, 2021 at 6:47 AM

        • easy to use and I can leave the paper documentation at home. Do need photo ID and I carry a driver’s license anyway


          September 21, 2021 at 7:35 AM

          • Ah, so the same administration that considers requiring photo IDs racist for voting is just fine with not only mandating vaccine passports but also requiring photo IDs for proof of their legitimacy. I may be going out on a limb, but I seem to detect a double standard.

            Steve Schwartzman

            September 21, 2021 at 8:22 AM

    • Thank goodness for lots of light. The image stabilizer in the lens makes hand-holding easier, though at 400mm I can always wish for even stronger stabilization

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2021 at 6:47 AM

  2. I love the intensity of that red. It reminds me of the sports car I drove before the kids were born.

    I really must remove the super zoom from my wish list this year. Yesterday afternoon my wife and I walked along the Kingston and Princeton sections of the D&R Canal State Park. On the opposite bank of the canal, we came upon a blue heron, wings spread out with inner feathers on full displays, enjoying the warmth of the sun. The XF27mm F2.8 lens fitted to my Fuji X-T3 could not bridge the gap.

    Khürt Williams

    September 20, 2021 at 6:54 AM

    • Speaking of cars, our Subaru Outback is red, but not as saturated a red as this dragonfly.

      Given that your 27mm lens couldn’t bridge the gap to that heron, wouldn’t you still want a super zoom to be on your wish list?

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2021 at 7:56 AM

      • Hi Steve, that was poor phrasing on my part. I meant that it needs to be purchased and removed from the wish list. It’s been on the list for nearly two years. 😄

        Khürt Williams

        September 20, 2021 at 8:05 AM

  3. I saw my very first red dragonfly a few weeks back and it stopped me in my tracks – oh so beautiful and striking in red. Love the dragonflies and there are plenty right now. Just love sitting back in the lawn chair and watch them do the lawn dragonfly ballet. Happy Exploring – Enjoy 🙂


    September 20, 2021 at 8:26 AM

    • These bright red dragonflies really are something to see. Maybe they’re less common in your area than here, as you said you saw your first one only a few weeks ago. In Austin I see one from time to time, along with dragonflies of many other colors.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2021 at 9:00 AM

  4. Great shot, looks fast. The Little Red Sports Car of the Bug World. Ferrari Flyer in Rosso Corsa.

    Robert Parker

    September 20, 2021 at 8:30 AM

    • Speaking of fast, at least this dragonfly stood fast and made my picture-taking relatively easy. On the other hand, it could have obliged by moving a lot closer but didn’t.

      You’re the second commenter to mention a sports car, a likeness that hadn’t occurred to me. Nor had I heard of rosso corsa, which I looked up:

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2021 at 9:05 AM

    • I wish Subaru would switch to rosso corsa.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2021 at 9:10 AM

      • Yes, it’s a great shade of red. Bleu de France is nice too, British Racing Green is a bit too dark.

        Robert Parker

        September 20, 2021 at 10:24 AM

        • Now I had to look up those two colors as well.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 20, 2021 at 10:30 AM

          • I first heard of that color in the book, (but not the Disney movie) Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, it was in B.R.Green. Ian Fleming copied the name from a series of real race cars in the 1920’s. The owner, Count Zborowski, put airplane engines in them. Kind of a classic story of the Roaring ’20s, the cars were fast but didn’t have the maneuverability of a dragonfly, and one day, Zborowski flew himself into a tree trunk, and he never survived his own 20’s.

            Robert Parker

            September 20, 2021 at 10:59 AM

  5. That’s a beautiful dragonfly! Great image of it, Steve!


    September 20, 2021 at 9:03 AM

    • We’re fortunate in Austin to have this species among many other dragonflies, just as we have cardinals among our birds. As for the image, my long zoom saved the day.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2021 at 9:07 AM

      • I’m glad it did! I love my telephoto lens and use it the most these days.


        September 20, 2021 at 9:25 AM

        • Of the three lenses I normally carry around, the 100–400mm is the one I use by far the least, but once in a while it saves the day.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 20, 2021 at 9:59 AM

  6. Perfect!


    September 20, 2021 at 9:27 AM

    • Thanks. Physical obstacles kept me from standing in the place that would have given me the optimal angle, but I moved around among the places that I could get to and did the best I could.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2021 at 10:06 AM

  7. This dragonfly looks like it has been adapting its colour to our forest fires that luckily have been finally extinguished.

    Peter Klopp

    September 20, 2021 at 9:47 AM

    • I’m glad to hear your fires are finally out. They’d been going for a long time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 20, 2021 at 10:07 AM

      • We had plenty of rain lately. It seems Mother Nature always has the last word to our problems.

        Peter Klopp

        September 21, 2021 at 9:56 PM

        • Sometimes that last word for one problem is the first word for another—like heavy rain putting out fires but leading to floods. I gather that didn’t happen in your area, fortunately.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 21, 2021 at 10:00 PM

  8. The dragonfly photo is beautiful. Tell me what’s your take on the COVID-19 vaccine mandate?

    Alessandra Chaves

    September 20, 2021 at 8:04 PM

    • The large Israeli study this year showed that people who’d acquired immunity by getting COVID-19 and recovering from it were at least as well protected as people who’d had two shots of the Pfizer vaccine. The study showed that in some circumstances natural immunity was a lot better.

      The problem with American vaccine mandates is that they ignore the results of the large Israeli study and insist that people with naturally-acquired immunity have to get vaccinated anyhow. In addition, American vaccine mandates don’t allow exemptions for individual medical conditions, like being allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine.

      After a year and a half of reciting the mantra “Follow the science,” the people pushing mandates that ignore the large Israeli study are not following the science. They’re following the unscientific politicized mob.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 21, 2021 at 6:55 AM

      • I get that and I agree, but your answer is not clear as to whether you support the vaccine mandates for those who did not get contaminated with covid-19. As for people who have known allergies, I believe that a solid and documented medical reason will be sufficient to avoid the “mandate”. Personally I have divided feelings about this. On the one hand, I feel that we should not need a mandate and that if the CDC, politicians and the news had not made an ass of these vaccines, enough people would volunteer to take them. On the other hand, this is a public health crisis and a situation in which individual freedoms and liberties severely interfere with the freedoms and liberties of others. It’s not like the government is mandating prostate exams or that people with high cholesterol take statins. THAT would be an invasion of privacy and choice. Infectious diseases affect everyone and impact the functioning of the health care system. We most certainly need to move on from this sanitary problem and it would be extremely helpful if people put the politics aside and got inoculated…

        Alessandra Chaves

        September 21, 2021 at 8:05 AM

        • I have mixed opinions about COVID vaccine mandates, too. On the one hand, as you said, we’ve been living through a public health crisis for a year and a half. The other day I watched an episode of Megyn Kelly’s podcast. She used to work as a lawyer, so she did a little research into the legal history of the subject and said she found precedents that might justify a current mandate. There are bound to be lawsuits.

          Just this morning I heard on the radio that the Black Lives Matter organization (which I have no use for but which the current administration practically worships) is complaining about New York City’s edict that prevents non-vaccinated people from eating in restaurants. Black Lives Matter says the edict is racist. Why? Because blacks have the lowest rate of vaccine compliance among ethnic groups there.

          What really worries me is setting a precedent of draconian mandates that stretch words way beyond their generally understood meanings. For example, the United States is undergoing an “epidemic” of obesity. Plenty of obese people have heart attacks and strokes, and they end up in the hospital, where they use beds that might be needed for other patients. Could the federal government therefore say that for the sake of health it’s going to deal with that “epidemic” by ordering restaurants to stop serving greasy foods and desserts to fat people? Could the government order grocery stores to stop selling potato chips and sugar-sweetened sodas? Or let’s stretch the word further. Could the government declare that certain political positions are “unhealthy” as a justification for banning people from advocating those positions? Some Americans have already used that kind of “reasoning” in declaring, for example, that anyone who speaks against institutional governmental racial preferences is committing an act of “violence.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 21, 2021 at 1:27 PM

          • Yes, I do agree with your reluctance to set a precedent for government intervention on people’s choices and how this could be stretched thin to justify other, more contentious health mandates. I was happy to see that, in Brazil, where vaccination is going slower and not everyone has had access to the vaccines, people are generally eager to get inoculated. They wait with anxiety for their turn and, as good Brazilians, celebrate the hell out of their shots drinking beer 😉 . My sister had her second Astra-Zeneca shot today and she has a smile from one ear to another. Vaccine receptiveness, allied with the fact that a lot more people have actually had Covid-19, has contributed to slow down the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths, which I hope will continue. Here, I am dismayed at how the CDC has contributed to confuse, frustrate and misinform the citizens of the USA, including information about the effectiveness of the vaccine in protecting self and others. By issuing conflicting information and apparently random guidelines, they have done little but cause frustration, suspicion and resistance. I hope we can get over this, and the pandemics, soon.

            Alessandra Chaves

            September 21, 2021 at 1:55 PM

            • At the beginning of the pandemic researchers hadn’t yet learned much, so we can forgive government agencies for giving confusing advice. At this point, though, with so much evidence and experience, there’s no excuse for the often contradictory, unexplained, frequently changing, and poorly worded advice we keep getting. As you say, that only contributes to some people’s reluctance to get vaccinated. In any case, it’s good to hear your sister managed to get her second shot.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 21, 2021 at 2:45 PM

            • And speaking of intrusive interventions, a few minutes ago I learned about this:


              Steve Schwartzman

              September 21, 2021 at 8:05 PM

              • Yes it makes no sense. We ought to learn to live with this pathogen. Young vaccinated adults are at more risk of severe consequences from other pathogens or car accidents. The current state of affairs is unbearable for young people and completely unnecessary.

                Alessandra Chaves

                September 21, 2021 at 8:20 PM

                • Strangely, though, it’s been alleged that increasingly many college students want more intrusive control from administrators—contrary to the rebelliousness that college students have traditionally shown in my lifetime. I first read about this phenomenon in the 2018 book The Coddling of the American Mind, which I’ve been rereading these past few days because one of the two authors will be speaking in Austin a week from now and I’m planning to go.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  September 21, 2021 at 9:54 PM

  9. My goodness! Isn’t this one vibrant? I’ve never seen one; the closest I’ve come is the roseate skimmer. It’s pretty, but not nearly so striking as this one. I don’t remember seeing such thick ‘veins’ on dragonflies before — the bright red chevron-like ‘thingies’ close to the body. I’m not quite sure if they’re part of the wings, or part of whatever attaches them to the body, but they add a dramatic touch.

    The gold and red combination reminds me of the dragons that appear during the Chinese New Year.


    September 20, 2021 at 8:32 PM

    • To answer your second sentence’s [rhetorical] question: yes! Your comparison to the roseate skimmer sent me back to https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2018/11/16/roseate-skimmer/ to remind myself what that species looks like. I’m with you in being impressed by how much the ‘veins’ close to the body stand out. They’re on the wings, as you surmised, and they certainly add to the red drama.

      Your last sentence has me wondering whether the Chinese words for dragon and dragonfly share a linguistic root.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 21, 2021 at 7:15 AM

  10. Wow, that really is a bright one, and stands out nicely against the green background.

    Todd Henson

    September 22, 2021 at 8:26 AM

    • One advantage of a 400mm lens is the way it blurs the background, which in this case, as you pointed out, was of a pleasantly complementary color.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 22, 2021 at 8:57 AM

  11. Good blog.


    September 25, 2021 at 6:01 AM

  12. […] Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 11th I lifted my telephoto zoom lens to photograph a neon skimmer dragonfly. Earlier in our visit I’d lain on a mat on the ground to aim up with my macro lens at […]

  13. Handsome dragonfly Steve .. another great shot


    September 27, 2021 at 2:08 PM

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