Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for the ‘animals’ Category

Adieu to camphorweed

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A Syrphid fly on camphorweed; click for more detail.

As we bid goodbye for now to camphorweed, Heterotheca subaxillaris, I’m reminded that it’s not just spiders and I who visit this species. In 2009 the Syrphid fly shown here hovered about and finally landed as I was photographing some camphorweed on the the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin. I’m also reminded that before Europeans brought honeybees to the Americas, the flowers that had evolved here somehow managed to get themselves pollinated with never a word of English, Spanish, French, or Portuguese being spoken.

Update on August 23, 2011: Valerie Bugh has confirmed that the Syrphid fly is Toxomerus marginatus.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 13, 2011 at 5:44 AM

Texas thistle as butterfly attractor

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Swallowtail butterfly on Texas thistle; click to enlarge.

Once upon a time in Texas we had water. Some say, and memory confirms, that it was as recently as 2010. On May 4 of that year, thanks to a tip from native plant enthusiast Agnes Plutino, I found myself in a luxuriant field of wildflowers in the old Union Hill Cemetery on FM 1460 in Williamson County about five miles north of downtown Round Rock. The man who was accustomed to mowing the cemetery had been persuaded—and praise be to him—to let this prairie parcel revert to its natural state, which in last year’s rain-rich spring meant that it was covered with wildflowers. The yellow was from a dense colony of Engelmann daisies (Engelmannia peristenia); the red was from some firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella). Those two types of flowers and an occasional Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum) attracted insects and other animals, including a swallowtail butterfly and me. Put my body in a place like this, now and later.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(Technical note: this was one of those times when I used my Canon 100 mm f/2.8 IS lens not as a macro but as a moderate telephoto. Walking through the field to get closer would probably have scared the butterfly away, and taking time to change to a more powerful telephoto might have meant that the butterfly would finish and fly out of range. I did what I could with the macro I’d been using for close-ups, which fortunately focuses to infinity.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 3, 2011 at 4:29 PM

The 2 + 3 = 5 that got away

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What? A pictureless post in a column on photography? Yes, it’s true. Yesterday morning, you see, I went out to take pictures as I so often do. I chose a place I hadn’t visited in several years, one that had had and turned out to still have dried milkweed vine pods hanging from the trees. I set my heavy camera bag down and was looking at the scene around me when suddenly out of the nearby underbrush came a fox. I’d heard people say there are foxes in Austin, though I’d never seen one. What luck! And no sooner had the fox come out than a second one followed it! But before I even had a chance to take my camera out of the camera bag both foxes ambled down an embankment and out of sight.

And there’s more. Late that afternoon, when I walked out of my garage to drop a letter in the mailbox across the street, I found three young armadillos rooting about in the ground adjacent to the driveway. They showed no fear of me at all, letting me walk right up to them. I quickly went into the house and grabbed my camera, but by the time I got back outside all I could see was the tail end of the last armadillo disappearing under my neighbor’s backyard fence.

So call me zero for five for mammals yesterday, but I did get some good plant pictures in the morning, and a few of those will make their way into this column in the days ahead. (Update: the picture posted on July 23 is one of those compensations.)

© (though why bother?) 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 1, 2011 at 6:51 AM

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Pennant dragonfly

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Click for a larger size and more clarity.

As I walked from one large stand of sunflowers to another two days ago, I noticed a dragonfly perched on a dry stalk on higher ground nearby. I put on my Canon 70–200mm telephoto lens and 1.4x converter to take a series of shots looking somewhat upward at the dragonfly. In this picture I positioned myself in such a way that the insect, which I take to be a pennant dragonfly, appeared against a patch of blue sky rather than against the clouds that you can see in yesterday’s picture of the sunflower colony.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 26, 2011 at 7:10 AM

Predation on the rays of a sunflower

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Crab spider biting a tiny caterpillar

Although lady beetles eat aphids and other insects, I’ve seldom seen them do so. In contrast, I often come across the remains of spiders’ meals in their webs, and sometimes I find their prey still live in their grasp. I witnessed one such encounter on an early sunflower a month ago in the prairie restoration at Austin’s old Mueller Airport. You can get an idea of the scale of the little drama shown in the photograph from the fact that the body of the crab spider, which Spider Joe Lapp has identified in a comment below as Mecaphesa dubia, was less than half an inch long from fore to aft. I watched for a good while as the tiny caterpillar continued to writhe in a vain attempt to break loose from the spider’s firm grip, a grip that never faltered even as the spider dragged the caterpillar around on the sunflower from time to time in response to my close presence and movements as I kept taking pictures.

Update on August 23, 2011: Valerie Bugh has identified the tiny (and doomed) caterpillar as belonging to the flower moth genus Schinia.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 13, 2011 at 6:45 AM

Bird on the Wire

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Of course I’m reminded of the opening lines of Leonard Cohen’s great song:

Like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir,
I have tried in my way to be free.

I’ve never been a drunk in a midnight choir, but some would say I’m drunk on photography. And while I photograph primarily plants, I have occasionally taken pictures of birds. To do good bird photography normally requires a long (and heavy) telephoto lens, a tripod, and lots of patience. Not my usual thing. Nevertheless, armed with a 200mm image-stabilized lens and 1.4x converter I marched forth several times this past fall to photograph the grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) that were massing for weeks on power lines in certain parts of Austin as late afternoon gave way to evening each day.

The birds were dark, the sky was bright, and some high contrast processing led to what seems to be but isn’t a black and white image.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 6, 2011 at 1:17 PM

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