Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘animal

I cotton to snake cotton

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I rarely come across snake cotton (Froelichia gracilis), so I got excited on August 2nd when I discovered a colony of it in a dry sump at the edge of Great Hills Park. On one of the snake cotton plants I noticed spiderwebs and soon saw the spider. Below is the picture I took of it using daytime flash and a small aperture; that combination gives the impression of dusk rather than broad daylight.

Then on August 14th out beyond Bastrop I found a few stalks of snake cotton
and was able to get a picture showing one of the plant’s small and inconspicuous flowers:

Here’s an unrelated quotation for today:
“Qui grate beneficium accipit primam eius pensionem solvit.”
“Anyone who receives a benefit with gratitude repays the first installment of it.”
Here’s an alternate translation (I wanted to make it sound more colloquial):
“If you accept a favor with gratitude you’ll repay the first installment on what you owe.”
Seneca the Younger in De Beneficiis (On Benefits).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 28, 2020 at 4:32 AM

A bitterweed bud and bloom and beyond and a bee

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It’s been a couple of years since I showed you the common wildflower known as yellow bitterweed, Helenium amarum var. amarum. The native-bee-bedecked portrait above is from August 18th in Round Rock. At the same time I took what I believe are my first pictures ever of a bud in this species, so here’s one of those:

Toward the opposite end of the development cycle, here’s what a seed head looks like when it’s decomposing:

Many parts of the United States are experiencing a summer drought now. People longing for cooler and wetter times may find the following cold-weather fact welcome, and probably also surprising: if a lake has a solid covering of ice 12 inches deep, an 8-ton truck can drive on it. If you want to know how much weight other thicknesses of ice can bear, check out this chart. Notice that the relationship isn’t linear: doubling the thickness allows the ice to bear a lot more than twice the weight.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 26, 2020 at 4:38 AM

Black vulture eating an armadillo

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“Wait a minute, not so fast,” you say, “your title can’t fool me. Neither of these pictures shows a black vulture eating an armadillo. The first is of a bull nettle flower (Cnidoscolus texanus), and the second shows yellowing Lindheimer’s senna leaflets (Senna lindheimeriana) backlit by the sun.” That’s what you say, and you’re right.

The fact remains that maybe once a year in my part of Austin I’ve come across and photographed vultures eating a dead animal. I’ve never posted any of those pictures because even if scenes like that are a part of life in the natural world, many viewers would find them gross. On August 5th, driving back home from the outing in my neighborhood that produced the two pictures above (along with those of the two green herons you recently saw), I had my latest encounter, this time with an armadillo providing the food for a black vulture (Coragyps atratus). If you’re up for such a picture, you can follow this link to see it. If you’d rather stick with the pretty white flower and backlit yellowing leaflets, no one will blame you.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 25, 2020 at 4:36 AM

Austin’s still snailiferous

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Now well past May’s peak of limaciferousness in central Texas, the land beneath our baking sun has continued to host many a snail. Whether the small creatures I’ve found were living or dead has been mostly beyond my ability to say. They haven’t, however, been beyond my ability to photograph. I found the one above on August 6th near the tip of a Mexican hat seed head (Ratibida columnifera), and the one below on a bed of dry fallen Ashe juniper leaves (Juniperus ashei). In that portrait, taken on July 10th, I’d gone for a shallow-depth-of-field approach, with little more than the apex of the spiral in focus.

The last image, from June 15th in Great Hills Park when things were still more colorful,
shows a snail on a living Ashe juniper with a firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) beyond it.

And here’s a quotation about photography:

“Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”
Ansel Adams in American Way, October 1974.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 23, 2020 at 4:33 AM

More from the July 29th outing on the Blackland Prairie

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Let me continue with the July 29th photo session near a pond on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin that produced the torchlike Clematis drummondii picture you saw here last time. On another of those vines I noticed that some of its silky strands had been pulled together; by getting close I made a soft portrait that included the spider that had done the pulling together. Click the excerpt below if you’d like a closer look at the spinner (which is what spider means).

I also made a pretty pastel picture of marsh fleabane buds (Pluchea odorata).
It’s been five years since that species last appeared in these pages.

And here’s an unrelated quotation for today: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” — U.S. Supreme Court, “West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).

UPDATE: In yesterday’s post I’ve added a link below Emma Lazarus’s sonnet so you can hear the famous part set to music by a famous immigrant to the United States.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 22, 2020 at 4:45 AM

Green heron

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Click for a larger image.

On August 5th I trekked to an out-of-the-way pond in my neighborhood that I hadn’t visited in at least a year. Given the drought we’ve been in, I found the pond had partly dried up, but not enough to deter a couple of green herons, Butorides virescens, from hanging out there. Putting on my 100–400mm lens, I gradually made my way closer, finally stopping when it looked like one more step would take me into the mud of the pond’s exposed bed. In the picture above, the dead tree and its reflection were intriguing even without the bird; click to enlarge and see more detail. Below you get a closer look at one of the herons.

Here’s an unrelated quotation for today: “Three may keep a Secret, if two of them are dead.”
— Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack (1735).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 20, 2020 at 4:40 AM

Posted in nature photography

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A different both sides now

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On July 24th I stopped at the northeast corner of E. Howard Ln. and The Lakes Blvd. to see what I could do photographically with the tall column of water in a fountain there. When I got near the pond from which the water shot up, I noticed a little object on the ground. At eye height I couldn’t tell what it was, so I bent down for a better look. It turned out to be the claw of a crawfish (or crayfish, or crawdad, as you prefer), and an interesting little thing it was. To take some pictures, I held the claw in the tips of a couple of fingers on my left hand and wielded the camera with my right. Because the two sides of the claw were so different, I’ve shown you both views. An alligator, anyone? I should add that this was hardly the first time I’d found and photographed a disembodied crawfish claw; the last time I showed you one was in 2015.

Here’s an unrelated interesting fact: methuselah is the name given to a large container of champagne that holds about six liters. You may recall that Methuselah was a biblical patriarch said to have lived 969 years. Perhaps for Methuselah a methuselah a day kept old age away. UPDATE: even bigger sizes exist.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 16, 2020 at 4:36 AM

Widow skimmer dragonfly on poverty weed

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When I’d almost finished wandering the grounds of Hyde Park High School on the morning of July 30th I spotted a dragonfly. Slowly moving in on it, I managed to get close enough for this portrait with a 100mm macro lens. The subject is a widow skimmer, Libellula luctuosa. Latin luctus* meant ‘sorrow, mourning, grief, affliction, distress, lamentation, especially over the loss of something dear to one,’ and it seems the large dark patches on this dragonfly’s wings fancifully reminded people of a widow in mourning. (Never mind that this widow appears to be a male.) And speaking of grief over what has been lost, look at how Tennyson ended his poem “Ulysses” with triumphant resignation:

“Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
————

* English used to have the borrowed adjective luctual, meaning ‘related to or producing grief,’ but the word has fallen out of use. We mourn its disappearance and the chance to play off intelluctual against intellectual.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 15, 2020 at 4:27 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

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Two takes on sensitive briar

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From July 13th in northwest Austin, here are two takes on sensitive briar that relegate the flowers to secondary roles. In the first photograph, pride of place goes to the buds of the species, Mimosa roemeriana. In the second portrait, the color of the flowers works well to complement the iridescent green of a busily working metallic sweat bee (sorry, I don’t know what species.)

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 10, 2020 at 4:38 AM

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