Portraits of Wildflowers

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New Zealand: Views from Cape Reinga

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On February 14th we drove from our base in Paihia to the northern end of the North Island. After stopping at the Te Paki dunes, we continued up to Cape Reinga. While not technically the northernmost point on the island, it’s close, and it has the virtue of a highway that takes you right there. You won’t be surprised to hear that there’s usually a brisk breeze at Cape Reinga, which whips up sea spray and makes distant places look hazier than closer ones, as you can confirm in the landscape/seascape above.

At a relatively bright moment, even with some clouds drifting low, I recorded a view of cabbage trees and flax high above a span of sun-saturated sea.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 27, 2017 at 5:01 AM

The demise of an ant on a snail

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As you heard and saw last time, on the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville on April 30th I stopped to photograph some dodder (Cuscuta spp.). In one place a small snail had climbed up on a plant that the dodder was attacking. Snails often climb plants here, so that’s not unusual, but when I got close I noticed something I don’t remember ever seeing before: an ant had died on the snail, perhaps caught up and immobilized in the snail’s slime.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 26, 2017 at 4:50 AM

Dodder on the prairie

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On the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville on April 30th I stopped in several places to photograph dodder (Cuscuta spp.), a parasitic plant that sucks the life out of other plants. Victims in the downward-looking photograph above include square-bud primroses (Calylophus berlandieri), firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella), and antelope-horns milkweed (Asclepias asperula). Here’s a much closer view from the side showing dodder attacking a square-bud primrose:

Parasites repel people, and that’s understandable, but dodder’s yellow-orange-angelhair-pasta-like tangles offer a visual complexity it’s hard for a nature photographer—at least this one—to pass up.

If you want to know more, come read an article of mine about dodder that the Native Plant Society of Texas just published.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 24, 2017 at 4:55 AM

“Diabolical Dodder”

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Read the hot-off-the-presses article “Diabolical Dodder” on the website of the Native Plant Society of Texas.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 23, 2017 at 7:35 AM

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Tumbling flower beetle on American basket-flower

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My first photo stop on May 1st was at the old Merrilltown Cemetery on Burnet Rd., at whose edges in past years I’d photographed plenty of American basket-flowers, Centaurea americana. Though it was still early in the season, a few basket-flowers had opened, and on one of them I found this tumbling flower beetle.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 22, 2017 at 5:00 AM

New Zealand: variable oystercatchers

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Driving north from Thames on March 6th along the eastern shore of the Firth of Thames, I stopped to photograph a colony of birds whose bills were conspicuously long and orange. I later learned that the birds were variable oystercatchers, Haematopus unicolor, and that the species is endemic to New Zealand. If many of the oystercatchers look as if they were turning away from me, they were, because even with a long lens I’d approached the limit of their comfort. Nevertheless, I did manage to get closer to a few more-tolerant birds, like this one:

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 20, 2017 at 3:55 AM

Kansas: one out of five

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Last month we drove up to Kansas City for the wedding of a former student of mine. On the way back home on April 25th we came south through Kansas along US 169, and after I saw some wildflowers I felt compelled to stop in two places. I ended up photographing five species, of which only one turned out to be native. That’s a terrible average, but I guess I should be thankful for the one native: Baptisia australis, known as wild blue indigo, blue wild indigo, and blue false indigo*. One characteristic I noticed about this species is that the plant’s stems feel stiff and rubbery.

Last year I posted two pictures of Baptisia alba, white wild indigo, from our visit to Illinois.

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* Those names are zero for three in color accuracy, at least for me, because my eyes and brain see the color of these flowers as violet or purple.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 18, 2017 at 4:49 AM

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