Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

First wildflower for 2023

with 35 comments


About a week ago I checked out a property a couple of miles from home where I expect ten-petal anemones (Anemone berlandieri) to spring up early in the year. I found exactly two of those flowers, and both were the worse for wear (and apparent nibbling). A day or two later we had a little bit of rain, so I returned to the property yesterday to see if the watering had had its effect. It had, and this time I found a bunch of anemone flowers scattered about. The “petals” on a ten-petal anemone are actually sepals, and 10 is more typically a lower bound than a requisite number. I count a dozen on the flower above. There are also more than 12 droplets of rain, thanks to the drizzly morning.

Hoverflies in the genus Toxomerus outnumbered me dozens to one on that property.
For the first time ever I managed to photograph three of them together on a flower.




⥥      ⥥      ⥥


Over half a year ago I requested Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom’s Do You Think What You Think You Think? from the Austin Public Library system. When month after month went by without the book showing up for me at my local branch, I figured maybe the system’s one copy had gotten lost and the long delay came from a new copy having to be ordered. Last week I unexpectedly got a notice that the book was in. Upon picking it up, I found it was an old, worse-for-wear copy, so where it had been for over half a year remains a mystery.

Anyhow, one question the book takes up is: what makes a great work of art? The authors say that “six broad types of answers have been given time and again in the history of art theory and aesthetics”:

  • The work displays great technical ability.
  • The work is enjoyable.
  • The work conveys the feelings of the artist.
  • The work conveys an important moral lesson or helps us to live better lives.
  • The formal features of the work are harmonious and/or beautiful.
  • The work reveals an insight into reality.

As is true for each topic in the book, what follows is a quiz in which you rate each of those six factors from 0 (not important at all) to 4 (vital). After a second quiz, this time comparing the works of two artists, the authors analyze your ratings. I won’t discuss them here, so anyone who wants to get the book and take the quizzes can do so with a blank slate, so to speak.

Other topics dealt with are reason, morality, taboo, God, ethics, being alive, and freedom. Interesting stuff. If that sounds interesting to you, too, check out Do You Think What You Think You Think? (and if you literally try to check it out of your public library, let’s hope it doesn’t take more than half a year for you to get it).



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 30, 2023 at 4:36 AM

35 Responses

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  1. here it is!


    January 30, 2023 at 4:50 AM

  2. Excellent pictures.


    January 30, 2023 at 6:01 AM

  3. Fortunately for you those Toxomerus dozens are not carnivorous. It’ll be months before we see wildflowers around here.

    Steve Gingold

    January 30, 2023 at 7:45 AM

    • Neither carnivorous nor large: I’m estimating about a quarter of an inch.

      Just as a few wildflowers are beginning to come up, the forecast for the next few days includes freezing drizzle. We’ll see what survives.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 30, 2023 at 8:35 AM

  4. That book does sound interesting. I appreciate philosophers who try to make their stuff interesting and even entertaining to the general public. Have you read any of Baggini’s other books?

    Robert Parker

    January 30, 2023 at 8:51 AM

    • Yes, I read The Ego Trick. I don’t remember how I heard about it, but that book put me on the track of Do You Think What You Think You Think?. Have you read any of his stuff?

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 30, 2023 at 9:03 AM

      • No, I’ve never read any of his books, I remember in college reading an article where he was discussing ethics and science.

        Robert Parker

        January 30, 2023 at 9:11 AM

  5. Lovely photos, black background is one of my favs. Do you think you think you think… sounds like my kind of book. 😉 I think.

    Alessandra Chaves

    January 30, 2023 at 9:07 AM

  6. When mild weather wakes the insects, it is not surprising to see so many hoverflies descend on the few flowers that have sprung up in the rain. Great shot, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    January 30, 2023 at 9:35 AM

    • We had mild weather indeed, a bit above 20°C. Now we’re barely above freezing, which doesn’t bode well for the flowers and insects that had emerged.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 30, 2023 at 11:51 AM

      • That’s always a worry when the weather is unusually warm. I hope that both anemones and hoverflies survive. What a lovely colour the top flower is!

        Ann Mackay

        February 1, 2023 at 5:50 AM

        • This anemone species has flowers of several colors. Yesterday we had an ice storm, so no more wildflowers for a while.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 2, 2023 at 12:56 PM

  7. Your photo provides confirmation for something I mentioned to a reader recently: if I want to see colored anemones, I need to head to the area around Palacios, or to the hill country. This is a beauty, although the color is far more vibrant than anything I’ve seen. Several of the anemones I found had been nibbled on, although I never found the nibblers. I laughed at that second photo. The first thing that crossed my mind was, “Belly up to the bar, boys.” It’s neat that you managed to capture so many hoverflies on the same flower.

    I saw a report from Avery Tomasco that you folks hit freezing at 8:56, and ice already was forming on the lenses of various traffic cams and such. You may get one more chance for ice photos this year. You’re lucky to have some favored spots close to home.


    January 30, 2023 at 9:35 AM

    • I checked the frostweed plants (from a distance) about an hour ago and didn’t see any ice. The best chance for pictures will supposedly be tomorrow through Wednesday morning, during which time we could get freezing drizzle.

      I remember you mentioned not finding the most colorful anemones in your area. The wetness of the one in the top picture may have enhanced its color saturation, as may the flash I used. Let’s hope you finally get to see some of the more hueful ones.

      As for the hoverflies, I was already happy to get several pictures with two of them together. When I third one landed, it was a new frontier in hoverfly togetherness.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 30, 2023 at 11:58 AM

  8. Especially like the second photo with the three flies. Shows the importance of early blooming wildflowers to the continuing existence of “bugs” and pollinators. Both photos exhibit the qualities listed in the text following. However, I am curious as to your opinion regarding the 5 point rating scale for the quizzes mentioned. I was taught that a 7 to 10 point rating scale was needed in order to have sufficient power to identify SSDs (with perhaps the exception where only one quality was being measured). In my previous career as a human factors/usability engineer in a big tech company, when I raised the issue I was told “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” which I didn’t find a rational reason for continuing to do so. So, to be on the safe side, I always use at least 7 to 10 points on questionnaires and rating scales. As one of my colleagues once said, “Two or three deviations is usually sufficient.” Your thoughts?


    January 30, 2023 at 10:20 AM

    • The three days at or near freezing now doesn’t bode well for the anemones or the “bugs” that have been coming out. Let’s hope they prove resilient.

      I don’t know about and haven’t researched the number of gradations on a scale to get a useful statistic about people’s preferences. Baggini and Stangroom weren’t trying to be scientifically rigorous. They seem to have felt 5 gradations sufficient for their purposes because after quiz takers add up their scores, the authors categorize those scores by ranges anyhow. The book is for the general public rather than for statisticians.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 30, 2023 at 2:47 PM

  9. A lovely view of the coming spring, including the hoverflies, Steve. It was 16 degrees here at dawn today. Our weather has been quite erratic. Too many warm days and now a hard freeze. I don’t think I have seen any temperatures this low since 2009.

    Lavinia Ross

    January 30, 2023 at 11:02 AM

    • I can well believe you hadn’t gotten down to16 degrees since 2009. Unfortunately two years ago next month Austin got down to single digits and the freeze did a lot of damage.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 30, 2023 at 2:49 PM

  10. Already!!! I won’t be seeing any for some months yet. We had snow yesterday and more in on the way.


    January 30, 2023 at 12:05 PM

    • Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country gives January as the beginning of the bloom period for these anemones, although I don’t think I’ve usually seen any in my area till the beginning of February. While you wait for your first flowers you can still enjoy the sight of snow-covered mountains.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 30, 2023 at 2:52 PM

  11. Thank you for sharing your first wildflowers of the year with those of us who are shivering while the mercury lingers in the single digits, and the ground is frozen and covered in a thin layer of snow. The raindrops and hoverflies make the blossoms appear even more vibrant. Very artistic!
    The book you had to wait for so long does sound interesting. I have waited as long as you for library books in the past. If the wait list is very long, new copies are sometimes acquired, but apparently not always. And worn-out copies don’t get replaced as they are supposed to. I suspect many library systems suffer from financial strain, but I don’t know if that’s the case with yours.


    January 30, 2023 at 12:16 PM

    • I agree that the raindrops and hoverflies enhanced the anemones. I made my rounds yesterday just in time: most likely today’s at-freezing temperature unenhanced the anemones and the hoverflies.

      With the Austin library system I’ve seen plenty of cases where a bunch of people get backed up waiting for some hot new book. With a loan period of three weeks, the wait could drag out for a few months. In the case of this book, however, I was the only person to request it, and it wasn’t even new. The mystery of the super-long wait remains. As for financing, I expect the people who run every library feel like it’s underfunded. I’d gladly have more of my tax dollars go to the library and less to various boondoggles that the voters in Austin keep approving.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 30, 2023 at 3:05 PM

      • I suspect that some books simply sit forgotten on someone’s shelves until they resurface unexpectedly. And since many library systems got rid of fines (ours did), some people seem to forget more easily to return checked out materials.


        January 31, 2023 at 5:01 PM

        • You may well be right. During my years in graduate school at the University of Texas it wasn’t unusual for me find mis-shelved books in the library. Maybe that’s what happened to the one I’d requested from the Austin Public Library.

          Getting rid of fines is an invitation for at least some people to keep books indefinitely.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 31, 2023 at 8:03 PM

  12. It’s a thrill to see the early blooms and even the insects out and about. It makes me a little antsy to take a hike to the river with the deer kids.


    February 3, 2023 at 12:46 PM

    • I assume it’s not also ants you’re antsy to hike to see by the river. Down here an ice storm put an early end to our first wildflowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 3, 2023 at 5:53 PM

      • This is my favorite time of year to hike to the Washita. No snake surprises and very few insects to battle. Weeds are down so treasures are easy to spot. I may go this weekend.

        We didn’t get much ice here thankfully. Just a thin layer that melted a few hours later.


        February 3, 2023 at 6:06 PM

        • Unlike the horrible ice storm you had last year (or was it the year before?). Happy hiking down by the Washita.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 4, 2023 at 8:03 AM

          • That ice storm was two years ago, and the property is still dangerous in areas from dangling limbs and dead branches caught above. The river area will be like that as well, so it makes walking there a challenge. I certainly do not have outings on windy days!


            February 4, 2023 at 8:27 AM

  13. Great photos Steve … we also have hoverflies here too


    February 10, 2023 at 1:33 PM

    • My impression is that almost every place has hoverflies of some sort. I don’t recall seeing any in NZ, but most of my photographs there were on a broad scale that wouldn’t have revealed a lot of insects.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 10, 2023 at 3:32 PM

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