Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘animal

They’re here again

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On January 11th I spotted my first cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) of the season. It was on the trunk of the Ashe juniper tree right outside my window, adjacent to two fruit-laden yaupon trees (Ilex vomitoria). On January 19th I saw several cedar waxwings nibbling a bit of the fruit on the farther tree. Finally on January 20th at least a dozen cedar waxwings kept swooping in and out for a while as they grabbed fruits on the nearer tree. Whenever one of the birds landed in a place not blocked from view by branches I could finally try for pictures, which I did with my telephoto lens zoomed to its maximum 400mm. The dull light and the not-as-clear-as-I’d-have-liked glass in the window led me to spend more time than usual enhancing the image, first in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop, then in Topaz Photo AI.

 

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“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” ― Galileo Galilei, letter to the Grand Duchess Christina. 

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 26, 2023 at 4:25 AM

Posted in nature photography

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What I found in the drizzle

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Forward into the new year, which you’ll be thrilled to know is very seveny because 7 x 17 x 17 = 2023.
The most recent year to be a prime number was 2017 and the next one will be 2027. Once again, seveny.

 

Let’s begin the year with a little look-back at the misty morning of December 12th at the Riata Trace Pond, where I found some luscious bushy bluestem seed heads (Andropogon tenuispatheus) covered in drizzle droplets. In the background you see brief traces of some falling droplets.

I also photographed a bird that I later learned is a white-throated sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis.

 

  

And how could I resist a few drizzle-dropped flowers of gulf vervain, Verbena xutha?

 

 

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Speaking of sevens, I’ve been aware of the name Loren Eiseley for most of my life but until last month had never read anything by that naturalist who lived from 1907 to 1977 and who wrote prose with a sensibility more poetic than that of many people who identify themselves as poets today. Take an essay called “The Slit,” in which he describes working his way through a narrow slit in some sandstone and coming face to face with an embedded skull:

It was not, of course, human. I was deep, deep below the time of man in a remote age near the beginning of the reign of mammals. I squatted on my heels in the narrow ravine, and we stared a little blankly at each other, the skull and I. There were marks of generalized primitiveness in that low, pinched brain case and grinning jaw that marked it as lying far back along those converging roads where… cat and man and weasel must leap into a single shape.

… The skull lay tilted in such a manner that it stared, sightless, up at me as though I, too, were already caught a few feet above him in the strata and, in my turn, were staring upward at that strip of sky which the ages were carrying farther away from me beneath the tumbling debris of falling mountains. The creature had never lived to see a man, and I, what was it I was never going to see? …

I restrained a panicky impulse to hurry upward after that receding sky that was outlined above the Slit. Probably, I thought, as I patiently began the task of chiseling into the stone around the skull, I would never again excavate a fossil under conditions which led to so vivid an impression that I was already one myself. The truth is that we are all potential fossils still carrying within our bodies the crudities of former existences, the marks of a world in which living creatures flow with little more consistency than clouds from age to age.

 

For wonderful prose and insights into nature and evolution you can turn to The Loren Eiseley Reader and also The Immense Journey, a collection of his essays from the 1940s and ’50s.

 

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 1, 2023 at 4:32 AM

December bluebonnet

with 36 comments

 

It’s quite a stretch for a bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) to be flowering now, but that’s what I found this one doing on December 9th at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The normal bloom period is March–May.

More to be expected at this time of year was a queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus, on Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii. With an angled portrait like this one you can’t expect to get a subject, especially a frequently moving one, sharp throughout. I aimed for the head, knowing the farther parts would be out of focus. Some motion blur back there actually appeals to me.

  

  

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 14, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Veteran

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For the many times over the past decade that I visited a flowerful piece of prairie on the west side of Heatherwilde Boulevard north of Wells Branch Parkway in Pflugerville you could call me a veteran of that field. I went there most recently on Veterans Day, November 11, and discovered that development had expanded since my previous visit. More of the portion that had until recently hung on was now scraped of vegetation, with only a fringe in the back still left. That’s where I found things to photograph on that overcast and about-to-rain morning. Probably most conspicuous were many scattered tufts of Clematis drummondii that had turned feathery, one of which you see above. I also noticed some seed head remains of common sunflowers, Helianthus annuus; on one I encountered a shield-backed bug (family Scutelleridae), seemingly Sphyrocoris obliquus. In spite of the bug’s species name, its “here’s looking at you” gaze was anything but oblique.

 

   

(Pictures from the New Mexico trip will resume tomorrow.)

 

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The basics of great education have been around for thousands of years; it simply doesn’t take tremendous amounts of money to teach well. In an English classroom, we rarely need more than a pen and paper and a book or an essay to get the job done. Small class sizes, high expectations for student academic performance and behavior, and diligent, invested, highly respected educators backed up by an administration who supports teachers over parents and students would fix so many of these problems. But until it starts getting better, fewer and fewer ambitious and competent youngsters will see teaching as an attractive profession. And so the teacher shortage problem is going to continue to get worse.

That’s the conclusion of Elizabeth Emery’s January 2020 article “The Public School Teacher Attrition Crisis.” Schools have indeed worsened since then, in part because of the pandemic but still primarily because of the terrible attitudes and practices of administrators that Elizabeth Emery detailed in her article, and that caused her to quit teaching in a public school after just one full semester. You’re welcome to read the full article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 1, 2022 at 4:29 AM

On and near the boulders

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The last two posts have featured scenes from our October 12th visit to City of Rocks State Park, which is in southwestern New Mexico. While the arrays of boulders are the park’s major draw, as a photographer I also got attracted to things on and near the boulders. Include among them the chartreuse lichens on a shaded boulder, as shown above. Grass seed heads stood out against the darker base of another boulder:

 

Did I mention that the chartreuse lichens on a shaded boulder caught my fancy?

 

 

In the underbrush near some other boulders the Lady Eve noticed something moving. It turned out to be a tarantula, which I coaxed onto a stick so I could hold it up for a portrait before setting it gently back on the ground in the place it had come from.

 

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 30, 2022 at 4:29 AM

More birds from Galveston Island

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On September 19th we spent time at Galveston Island State Park, where we glimpsed various shore birds. You’ve already seen a willet and three roseate spoonbills. Today’s top picture offers up twice as many spoonbills (Platalea ajaja) but they play second fiddle to an even larger group of black-bellied whistling ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis). Below is a white ibis (Eudocimus albus).

 

 

 

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For a change of pace, you can click your way through a slide show of some three dozen funny and perplexing signs. And Austin’s El Arroyo restaurant has a pedigree of clever signs.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 6, 2022 at 4:32 AM

A willet won’t will its way into your will, will it?

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On September 19th we spent time at Galveston Island State Park, where we saw—how could we not?—several kinds of shore birds. I figured the one above in the surf on the gulf side of the park is a kind of sandpiper, and Shannon Westveer confirmed that it’s a willet, Catoptrophorus semipalmatus. The dictionary says the common name mimics the willet’s cry. An hour later—to within 15 seconds—on the bay side of the state park I photographed three roseate spoonbills, Platalea ajaja, doing their bill-in-the-water thing sifting for food: 

 

 

 

 

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I’ve long known that calumny and lies in politics go back centuries, in fact probably as long as politics has existed. The introduction to Alan Dershowitz’s new book, The Price of Principle: Why Integrity Is Worth the Consequences, provides a quotation in which Alexander Hamilton called out the practice in 1797:

A principal engine, by which this spirit endeavours to accomplish its purposes is that of calumny. It is essential to its success that the influence of men of upright principles, disposed and able to resist its enterprises, shall be at all events destroyed. Not content with traducing their best efforts for the public good, with misrepresenting their purest motives, with inferring criminality from actions innocent or laudable, the most direct fals[e]hoods are invented and propagated, with undaunted effrontery and unrelenting perseverance. Lies often detected and refuted are still revived and repeated, in the hope that the refutation may have been forgotten or that the frequency and boldness of accusation may supply the place of truth and proof. The most profligate men are encouraged, probably bribed, certainly with patronage if not with money, to become informers and accusers. And when tales, which their characters alone ought to discredit, are refuted by evidence and facts which oblige the patrons of them to abandon their support, they still continue in corroding whispers to wear away the reputations which they could not directly subvert….

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 2, 2022 at 4:36 AM

Brazos Bend State Park

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On the morning of September 18th Eve and I met up with Linda Leinen and Shannon Westveer at Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston. It was the first time we’d all gone on a hike together since the fall of 2019, at the time of the annual Native Plant Society of Texas meeting that year in League City. Those two naturophiles live in the region and know Brazos Bend well, which was a big help to the visiting Austinites who’d never visited that park before. You’re looking at 40 Acre Lake above, and then a great egret, Ardea alba, near an edge of the lake.

 

   

And here from a different place in the lake is a closer look at the egret,
whose bill is the reverse of the dry vegetation sticking up parallel to it from the water:

 

  

 

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It’s common in politics for X to say something bad about Y, and for Y to reply that X’s statement was politically motivated. Imagine that: a politically motivated statement in politics. Who’d ever have believed such a thing? Sarcasm aside, the appropriate question is whether a politically motivated statement is true:

 

A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent.

— William Blake, Auguries of Innocence.
Written in 1803; published posthumously in 1863.

 

 A more famous passage comes a little earlier:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

(Capitalization was inconsistent.)

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 26, 2022 at 4:35 AM

Take home a stance

with 17 comments

 

I’ll grant you the title of this post may seem a bit strange. That’s because “Take home a stance” is an approximate way to pronounce the scientific name of today’s subject, Tecoma stans. One of the shrub’s common names causes no trouble: yellow bells. The other common name causes no trouble, either, if you know that esperanza is Spanish for hope, and what color is more hopeful than yellow?

This member of the legume family produces pods whose walls are on the thin side and decay rather easily. When I went to photograph one in that condition I noticed a tiny snail on it that I estimate was about a quarter of an inch across (6mm).

 

  

I took both pictures alongside our house on September 10th.

 

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I recently learned about the website called Freespoke. It’s a search engine that has the motto “See Clearly. Search Clearly.” If you go to Freespoke’s home page, beneath the search box you’ll also see links to three treatments of many recent news items: one from a centrist organization, one from a leftist organization, and one from a rightist organization. In addition, there are some links to stories that the mainstream media generally haven’t covered. For example, when I checked Freespoke yesterday I found a link to a story about 77 newspapers in one chain canceling the popular 33-year-old comic strip “Dilbert” because its writer, Scott Adams, has begun to satirize “woke” culture in offices.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 23, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Flower tower power versus mottled

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From the bed of the North Fork of the San Gabriel River near Tejas Camp in Williamson County on September 12th come these contrasting views of clammyweed, Polanisia dodecandra. The looking-upward view popped the phrase “flower tower power” into my mind, while “mottled” seemed a good word to describe the looking-downward picture with its patches of light and shadow on the ground beneath the flowers.

 

 

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A main theme in my essays for the past year and a half has been that justice requires similar things to get treated in similar ways. If it’s known that person A and person B both committed a certain transgression but only person B gets called out or punished for it, that’s not justice; it’s a double standard. Thirteen months ago I wrote a detailed commentary along those lines regarding the extensive rioting that took place in the United States from mid-2020 through January 2021.

A much less consequential example came to light this week. Sunny Hostin, a co-host on the American television talk show “The View,” accused Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and former American ambassador to the United Nations, of playing down her ethnic Indian heritage by using the first name Nikki. Turns out, however, that Nikki was in fact one of the names on Nikki Haley’s birth certificate. It’s not unusual for a person with multiple given names to prefer one of them, even if it isn’t the first one on the person’s birth certificate or baptismal certificate. For example, the great classical music composer Franz Joseph Haydn went by Joseph, not Franz. The American naturalist and writer Henry David Thoreau had been given the birth name David Henry but he eventually changed the order of his two given names and went by Henry. Similarly, Mr. and Mrs. Randhawa named their daughter Nimrata Nikki, and as a girl she chose to go by Nikki.

And now for the pot-calling-the-kettle-black part of the story. Knowing almost nothing about Sunny Hostin, I looked up her biography and found that her mother, Rosa Beza, comes from Puerto Rico, and her father, William Cummings, is American. Mr. and Mrs. Cummings named their daughter Asunción. That’s Spanish for Assumption, a Catholic reference to the Assumption of Mary. It’s easy to see how the -sun- in the Spanish name Asunción could give rise to the English name Sunny. There’s nothing wrong or unusual about that. What is wrong and unusual is for a person who changed Asunción to Sunny to accuse someone else of trying to cover up a foreign background. We call that hypocrisy.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 22, 2022 at 4:36 AM

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