Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 47 comments

Unhinged is the word that anhinga always reminds me of. If you’re not an avian aficionado, as I’m not, you may never have heard of this bird, whose scientific name is the echoic Anhinga anhinga.* And what could suit that doubled name more than today’s first portrait, in which you see the anhinga’s image reflected in the surface of Brushy Creek Lake on the morning of December 14th? Fog visually muffled most details on the surface of the lake; processing brightened the rest out of existence.

The second portrait reveals the same anhinga apparently now more wary of my presence after I’d slowly worked my way closer to it. Not long afterwards the bird flew off in the direction it was facing here and landed in a tree far enough away to foreclose more pictures.

Shannon Westveer, who identified the anhinga for me, added a couple of observations: “When they soar above, they are also pretty distinctive against vultures or cormorants. When swimming, their head sits just above the water as their bodies are submerged, coining ‘snakebird’ as its nickname… It’s fun to watch them work a fish off their bill (which they use to impale underwater) then toss it up in the air and swallow head first.”

* The term for a scientific name like Anhinga anhinga in which the genus and species are identical is a tautonym, or tautonymous name. According to an article about that, tautonymous names are rejected in botany but allowed in zoology, including people. Zoology even allows triplets like Gorilla gorilla gorilla and Bison bison bison, where the third epithet designates a subspecies.

Speaking of unhinged, as I did at the beginning of this post, 2021 has seen its share of crazy things. I’ve reported plenty of them in my commentaries this year. An article from U.N. Watch adds 10 unhinged things that the United Nations has done this year, like electing the totalitarian regime of Belarus to the U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. What’s more, “Starting on January 1, 2022, a staggering 68.1% of the UN Human Rights Council will be dictators and other serial human rights abusers. Despite UN Watch’s detailed report on their gross abuses, Qatar, Cameroon, Eritrea, Kazakhstan and Somalia were all elected in October to the UN’s top human rights body, joining China, Cuba, Russia, Libya, Pakistan and Venezuela.” And “in an April 2021 secret ballot, the UN’s Economic and Social Council elected Iran’s gender apartheid regime to a 4-year term on its Commission on the Status of Women, the ‘principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.’” You can read the article to find out what the other 7 abuses were.

But to end 2021 on a positive note, have a look at the victories for freedom that FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has won in 2021.

You’d also do well to check out the latest stories on the Good News Network. Let’s hope 2022 brings us many more of those.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 31, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

47 Responses

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  1. ah, the good mixed with the extraordinarily bad – hopefully this year brings better things


    December 31, 2021 at 5:27 AM

  2. Found the story of the Crow. Loved it but disappointed they didn’t go into detail about it’s foul(fowl?) Vocabulary 😁


    December 31, 2021 at 5:33 AM

    • And what’s not to like about your fowl~foul play on words? Let’s hope 2022 gives us a lot of good to crow about.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2021 at 7:46 AM

      • I’ll be caw-tious about expecting 2022 to be much better, certainly for the first six months.


        January 2, 2022 at 11:52 PM

  3. That first shot is really striking, hinging upon simplicity.

    Robert Parker

    December 31, 2021 at 7:38 AM

  4. Another way to distinguish between the cormorant and the anhinga is the bill; the cormorant’s has a hook on the end. Your photo from Brazoria shows it perfectly. Have you noticed that the branch and its reflection forms what could be a third, differently formed bird’s beak?

    Your mention of tautonyms (and the interesting facts about their presence and removal in botany) reminded me of tautologies: both rhetorical and logical. While exploring a bit in that realm, I came across this:

    “There once was a fellow from Perth
    Who was born on the day of his birth.
    He got married, they say
    On his wife’s wedding day,
    And died when he quitted the earth.”

    Now I have this line floating around in my mind: “Pity the errant tautologist…” Finishing that limerick should provide plenty of amusement at work today.


    December 31, 2021 at 8:21 AM

    • So Peter Pan for the anhinga and Captain Cook for the cormorant. In the case of this bird, it’s not that I was trying to distinguish between an anhinga and a cormorant, but that I had no idea what it was, knowing as little as I do about birds.

      It’s indeed the same tauto in tautology and tautonym. I just learned from the American Heritage Dictionary that tauto is a contraction of to auto, where to means ‘the’ and auto is the familiar word for ‘self,’ as in the automatic thing that runs by itself.

      Let’s see what you come up with to fill out “Pity the errant tautologist…”

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2021 at 9:19 AM

      • I didn’t come up with anything to finish the line about the errant tautologist. As sometimes happens, things took a turn, and I ended up working with three different last lines. Still, this one tickled me, especially given the inclusion of a Latin phrase:

        The tautologist, ever so glum,
        found no words he could pluck like a plum.
        What he wrote with his pen
        he soon wrote again
        and again, unto ad infinitum.


        January 3, 2022 at 7:26 AM

  5. For a biologist, I can say with certainty that I am pretty terrible with birds. I liked your pictures, very simplistic and effective. I don’t recall having seen this bird, but if I did, I wasn’t aware of its identity. Happy new year to you!

    Alessandra Chaves

    December 31, 2021 at 9:02 AM

    • You don’t have as much of an excuse as non-biologist me has for being terrible with birds, but it’s still true that an entomologist shouldn’t be automatically expected to know a whole lot about a different branch of the animal kingdom.

      You’ve seen how often I’ve used a black background as an isolating element in my photographs. Much less often, but with equal effect, I’ve used white in a similar way.

      Feliz Ano Novo.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2021 at 9:26 AM

      • Oh people expect me to know everything biological. I’ve had people show me skin problems and ask me what is it! 🙄

        Alessandra Chaves

        December 31, 2021 at 11:43 AM

        • I hope you charged those people a doctor’s rate for your opinion.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 31, 2021 at 1:00 PM

          • This one didn’t work out so well. It looked like melanoma and it was… All I said was “you need to see the dermatologist for this one.” Oh well.

            Alessandra Chaves

            December 31, 2021 at 8:54 PM

            • So you did know, though I’m sorry I’m sorry for the other person’s sake that you were right. It’s good you advised going to a dermatologist.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 31, 2021 at 10:45 PM

  6. That first picture is a perfect interpretation of the bird’s Latin name.
    I wish you and yours a Happy New Year,


    December 31, 2021 at 9:05 AM

    • In following that duplicative theme, I’ll have to reply “Happy New Year, Happy New Year.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2021 at 9:27 AM

  7. Both those images have a drawing like quality to them that I like. Probably caused by the fog and lighting.

    Happy New Year to you too! I hope 2022 brings you loads of lovely wildflowers, and other wonderous things to photograph.


    December 31, 2021 at 9:33 AM

    • I believe you’re right that the fog contributed to the impression of a drawing. A drawing seldom provides all the fine details that a photograph usually does, but in this case the fog reduced the details that the photograph was able to record.

      Thanks for your good wishes, and likewise to you. One thing that we in Texas don’t lack is wildflowers. I’m still seeing some even on this last day of the year, including red flowers on the sage plants hanging over onto our deck in the back yard.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2021 at 10:22 AM

  8. The fog really helped create the mood here – the reflection shot is outstanding! I love the spread-wing photo too.

    I thought it interesting that just this week we watched Russell Crowe in “Unhinged”. I’m no Pollyanna about the state of our country or the world, which is why I appreciate the information and links you provide. I hope we are safe in the coming year.


    December 31, 2021 at 10:12 AM

    • As soon as I noticed the anhinga’s reflection I knew I had the makings of a good composition, at least for one subset of the photographs I took of this bird. The spread-wing picture lacks the dualism but adds all those wing details and a sense of dynamism.

      When I showed nature photographs here from 2011 into 2020, I never imagined I’d begin adding sociopolitical commentary, but a part of our population became so unhinged last year that I increasingly felt I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t start speaking out against the suppression of free speech and the increasing imposition of radical ideology in so many of our institutions. Naturally I hope things get better in 2022, but I’m realistic enough not to expect that they will. That said, I’ll keep working toward a better outcome.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2021 at 10:40 AM

  9. That first photo had me look twice – quite amazing, Steve. Wishing the best of the year to come.


    December 31, 2021 at 12:54 PM

    • Looking twice is certainly appropriate for the first photo.

      I remember when I was young and used to think about how old I’d be in 2000. Hard to believe we’re now 22 years past that. Let’s hope for better things for all of us in 2022.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2021 at 1:19 PM

  10. Great set of photos, Steve! I also did a double-take on that first one–it’s superb! Wishing you a happy, healthy new year–and more wonderful photos!


    December 31, 2021 at 5:19 PM

    • Thanks, Tina, and the same to you and your family. We could all use a boost in the year ahead.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2021 at 6:50 PM

  11. The high-key look and the reflection in the first image are super. Best wishes for 2022…


    December 31, 2021 at 8:48 PM

  12. Just came in from watching Anhinga in the creek out back! We mostly see her just like your second photo, perched along a snag, wings outstretched, drying.

    As for 2021 just here in Texas, unhinged is the descriptive word. Here’s to divisiveness being tempered somewhat so that important good work can continue. Leaving my hope in a basket indoors, I’ll take with me instead some pruners (seed-collecting), a sharp shooter (shovel, for rescuing doomed ditch or impending-development natives), and a whole lot of charisma and knowledge to teach and empower others. Texas and her important ecosystems need all of us to be attentive, purposeful and joyful in our work. Cheers, Steve! And a Most Happy and Hinged 2022 to you!


    January 1, 2022 at 8:38 AM

    • You’re probably the first person ever to wish someone a hinged new year, so happy originality (and hingedness) to you, and may your thought come to pass. I also like the way you put it in “leaving my hope in a basket indoors.” You have a distinctive take on “sharp shooter” as well. I mentioned to Linda that I carry extra batteries and memory cards in my camera bag, but I suspect you carry around more charisma than I do.

      In my encounter with the anhinga the outstretched-wings pose came only after I’d been observing and photographing for a while, so I assumed it conveyed at least a little apprehension about my getting closer. From what you say, though, it’s a common posture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 1, 2022 at 8:52 AM

  13. I’ve only ever seen anhinga in photos, but hope to one day see one myself. They are a fascinating and sometimes strange looking bird. These are some really graphical images, nice!

    Todd Henson

    January 1, 2022 at 5:56 PM

    • I’m pretty sure that, like you, I’d only seen anhingas in photographs, and not more than a few times ever, which is why I didn’t recognize what this bird was. I agree that it looks kind of strange—so much the better for taking pictures of it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 1, 2022 at 11:30 PM

  14. Although the name, anhinga, may be hinged to unhinged in your mind, the photos are not the least bit unhinged. The first one is particularly beautiful and well put together. As for the unhinged things you link to at the UN, I think a little more context would be helpful. The UN Watch article is entitled “The Top 10 Worst UN Actions of 2021″ and while UN Watch’s mission, as an NGO, is to hold the UN accountable, according to the UN Charter, it also says ” United Nations Watch believes in the United Nations’ mission on behalf of the international community to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and provide for a more just world. We believe that even with its shortcomings, the UN remains an indispensable tool in bringing together diverse nations and cultures.” I concur that the UN is indispensable. For someone, like me, who was firmly hinged to the UN system for 18 years, the good news is that we still have a UN. For all its shortcomings and faults there is nowhere else in the world where you can gather so many disparate groups/governments in one place and get them to talk to each other and negotiate with each other.


    January 1, 2022 at 10:53 PM

    • You’ll understand how eager I was to take photographic advantage of the anhinga and its reflection in the lake.

      I remember your long connection to the UN and wish we’d thought to ask you to tell us stories about your experiences. Most people never get to hear in person from anyone on the inside. The UN Watch report made me aware of how many unjust regimes there are in the world. Can any amount of diplomacy convince dictators to stop being dictators? Will any amount of talking get China to take down its Internet wall and let its people hear freely from the rest of the world? I believe you’re more of an optimist about such things than I am. For years now I’ve thought about a UN 2.0, where only democratic countries would be allowed to join.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 1, 2022 at 11:48 PM

      • Yes, I may be more optimistic about some things. I think talk/diplomacy works. Sometimes very slowly, though.


        January 2, 2022 at 1:19 AM

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