Portraits of Wildflowers

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Posts Tagged ‘amphibian

Miniature amphibian

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The green heron I saw along Bull Creek on August 17th was much less familiar to me than the miniature amphibian I saw hopping about in the dry creek bed. These little creatures are only about an inch long.

Similar to amphibian is amphigory (especially if you stress it on the second syllable rather than the first; both are accepted pronunciations). Amphigory is ‘a nonsense verse or composition a rigmarole with apparent meaning which proves to be meaningless.’ This amphibian produced no amphigory, at least not while I was there to hear it.


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After teaching math for a year and a half in Honduras as a Peace Corps volunteer, I returned to New York at the end of 1969 and was dismayed to find out that no public high school would hire me as a math teacher because I’d never taken any “professional” education courses. (Oh, how I came to loathe the word “professional,” which bureaucrats wield as a cudgel.) The fact that I’d already taught for a year and a half made no difference. For three years I resisted going back to school, then somehow discovered—remember, the Internet still lay a quarter-century in the future—a program at Duke University that in just 14 months would get me both a Master of Arts in Teaching Mathematics and a secondary school math teaching certificate for North Carolina. That was by far the best deal I could find, so that’s what I did. Half the courses in the program were math, which was fine, because I hadn’t been a math major in college; I particularly liked the introductory number theory class. The other half of the courses were education, and a total waste of my time. I learned nothing of any value in those education courses.

Now here we are fifty years later. Education departments are still a waste of time, but what’s worse is that now they’ve become indoctrination mills for transgressive causes. If you want a glimpse at how noxious the education schools are, read an August 19th Wall Street Journal article called “Education Schools Have Long Been Mediocre. Now They’re Woke Too.” In the article, Daniel Buck describes what he experienced when he studied for a master’s degree in education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2015. For example:

We made Black Lives Matter friendship bracelets. We passed around a popsicle stick to designate whose turn it was to talk while professors compelled us to discuss our life’s traumas. We read poems through the “lenses” of Marxism and critical race theory in preparation for our students doing the same. Our final projects were acrostic poems or ironic rap videos.

In that article Daniel Buck links to a study conducted by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which analyzed syllabi in the education schools at the 14 branches of the University of Wisconsin:

On the syllabi, noticeably lacking are academic literature or manuals of classroom instruction. Instead, Hollywood movies like “Freedom Writers,” popular books like Jonathan Kozol’s “Letters to a Young Teacher,” and propaganda like “Anti-Racist Baby” abound. In place of academic essays, graduate students write personal poems or collect photographs. These kitschy activities infantilize what ought to be a rigorous pursuit of professional competency.

You can find out more distressing details in Daniel Beck’s article and in the report by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 26, 2022 at 4:26 AM

Small frog on a palmetto leaf

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On November 11th at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center the Lady Eve caught site of a small frog on a palmetto leaf (Sabal minor) and called my attention to it.

UPDATE: This appears to be an American green tree frog, Dryophytes cinereus. Austin is at the western edge of the range for that species.

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I invite you to take a look at Michael Shellenberger and Peter Boghossian‘s chart showing the taxonomy of the Woke religion. “We decided to publish the Woke Religion Taxonomy because it was helpful to our own understanding of Wokeism as a religion, and we felt it might help others. The Taxonomy identifies common myths and supernatural beliefs and helps explain why so many people continue to hold them, despite overwhelming evidence that they are false. We are under no illusion that the taxonomy will reduce the power that Wokeism holds over true believers. But we also believe it will help orient those who are confused by its irrationalism, and are seeking an accessible overview. Finally, we are publishing it because we recognize that we might be wrong, either about matters of fact or classification, and hope it will encourage a healthy discussion and debate. As such, we have published it with the caveat that it is ‘Version 1.0’ with the expectation that we will revise it in the future.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 11, 2021 at 4:30 AM

It-takes-two-toads-to-tango Tuesday

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‘Twas on Tuesday last that the previous afternoon’s rain had created a little pool in an otherwise still drought-dry tributary of Bull Creek that runs through Great Hills Park. I looked down at the shallow water and noticed a toad completely submerged. When the toad came out onto a dry portion of the creek bed, it revealed itself to be they, and in flagrante delicto, at that. Here’s what the Encyclopedia Britannica has to say on the subject: “In the sexual embrace, called amplexus, the male toad clasps the female from behind. The pair swims about as the female, swollen with eggs, selects a site for depositing them. As several thousand eggs are expelled from the female’s body in jelly-like strings, the male fertilizes them with sperm.” I saw no eggs, so perhaps things hadn’t gotten to that point yet.

I’m assuming this delictual duo was in fact toads, because when I searched online I found articles saying that frogs have smooth skin and toads have warty skin, which you can see these two certainly did. I also learned that toads move with short hops, rather than the long ones that frogs often take, and that also matched what I observed. Numerically minded me further found out that frogs and toads have four digits on their front feet but five on their hind feet. Wouldn’t they be more balanced if they had four and a half on each foot?

Photographically speaking, notice how the catchlight in the toads’ eyes mirrors the shape of the bulbs in my ring light flash. When processing the photograph I originally removed those reflections, but then the toads’ eyes seemed too dull, so upon further reflection I put the reflection back in.

Speaking of which, here’s a quotation for today, from Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man:

Remembrance and reflection how allied!
What thin partitions sense from thought divide!”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 11, 2020 at 4:41 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

Our water still remembers how to freeze

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With great anticipation I awaited the rain, sleet, and perhaps even snow predicted in central Texas for the night of January 15th into the morning of the 16th. I figured I’d finally get another shot at ice-encased plants like the ones from 2007 you’ve seen in the last two posts. The rain came right on time. The temperature promptly dropped below freezing and ended up staying there for a day and a half. Alas, the morning light on January 16th revealed that practically no ice had stuck to any vegetation. I decided to wait till the 17th to go out and see whether at least the prolonged cold would have produced some things for me to photograph. As I walked along the creek that runs through the southern part of Great Hills Park, the line that is the title of today’s post sprang into my mind.*

Both of the pictures included here from that day look straight down at places where the surface of the creek was turning to ice. The abstractness of the first image appeals to me. In the second photograph, notice the amphibian in the water beneath the ice. I was so intent on capturing patterns in the congealing surface of the creek that I didn’t see the animal till I looked at my pictures on the computer screen later, and even then it took me a while.



* I find the line has several virtues. The thought is poetic. The meter is iambic pentameter. As far as Google can tell, no one has ever written down that sequence of words. Thanks, mind, for the inspiration.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 19, 2018 at 4:50 AM

Not a kind of predation I expected

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Click for greater size and clarity.

On November 15th I drove down to San Marcos, a town about 40 miles south of where I live in Austin, to explore a place I’d discovered on the Internet, the Spring Lake Natural Area. Near the farthest place that I hiked to was a small pond, and on it what I took to be a small duck.* I switched to my longest lens, which I wished could have been longer, and took a few pictures. Then I walked a short distance past some cattails at the edge of the pond, and when I caught sight of the bird again a minute later it seemed to have something white in its mouth. A look through my lens revealed, to my surprise, that the white thing was a frog. Holding the frog in its beak, the bird tossed its own head back and forth, a movement that seemed intended to injure or kill the frog, though I didn’t understand why the bird would want to do that to an animal that I thought was too large for it to eat. After a while I couldn’t see the frog anymore, and I assumed it had either gotten loose or died, had swum or sunk beneath the water. Or maybe I was wrong and the bird had managed to swallow the frog after all.


* Commenters [see below] suggested that this isn’t a duck but a double-crested cormorant or a grebe. I did some research that provided evidence for this being a pied-billed grebe, Podilymbus podiceps. In The Birds of Texas, John L. Tveten writes: “A pied-billed grebe might be mistaken for a small duck, but the beak is like that of a chicken.” In photographs that I took of this bird without the frog in its mouth, the beak does look like a chicken’s rather than a duck’s. I even found a page online that shows pictures of a pied-billed grebe attempting to swallow and finally swallowing a large frog.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 21, 2012 at 6:20 AM

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