Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘animals

Tawny emperor

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On July 23rd I noticed what I take to be a tawny emperor, Asterocampa clyton, on an aluminum railing near the entrance to Great Hills Park. I’d been doing botanical closeups in the park and still had a ring flash at the end of my macro lens, so I was able to get good depth of field in the pictures I took of the butterfly.

The other day I used the second picture to play around with some of the effects in Topaz Studio 2, which I downloaded a 30-day free trial of. Click the thumbnail below if you’d like to see the result of applying “Brilliant on White.”


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When I got home from taking pictures that morning, Eve was watching a television program in which the host was interviewing two women who had opposite political perspectives. I walked in just at the moment when the woman representing the Democratic Party claimed that a bill that had passed the Texas Senate, S.B. 3, would prevent teachers in Texas public schools from teaching about the Ku Klux Klan. I’d heard that false claim before. The reason I knew it was false, aside from the blatant implausibility that Texas schools would suddenly forbid the teaching of important episodes in American history that they’d already been teaching for decades, was that the first time I heard the claim I did what I normally do: I looked for evidence to support or refute it. In this case, the obvious source to check was S.B. 3. You’re welcome to read it for yourself, and if you see a clause that would forbid teaching about the Ku Klux Klan, please point it out to us.

You may recall that in a post last week I mentioned a television interview program decades ago that made a big impression on me because a guest persisted in repeating a claim about a federal bill even after the moderator had read viewers the relevant section of the bill that proved the activist’s claim false. In the July 23rd interview I wished the host had asked the activist making the claim to cite the provision in S.B. 3 that would prove her assertion.

I intended to include a link to information about the Ku Klux Klan for any readers from outside the United States who might not know about that terrorist organization (which ironically was founded and sustained over the course of a century by members and supporters of the Democratic Party). I thought the article in the Encyclopedia Britannica might serve, and then I noticed a mistake:

The 19th-century Klan was originally organized as a social club by Confederate veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1866. They apparently derived the name from the Greek word kyklos, from which comes the English “circle”; “Klan” was added for the sake of alliteration and Ku Klux Klan emerged.

Actually Greek kyklos has given English the word cycle. Our similar-sounding word circle comes from a diminutive of Latin circus, which the Romans had borrowed from the etymologically unrelated Greek noun kirkos. Several days ago I sent an e-mail to the Encyclopedia Britannica pointing out the mistake. So far I haven’t gotten a reply and the mistake is still there.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 29, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Whole lotta spashing going on

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On February 3rd we visited McKinney Falls State Park for the first time in more than a year. At one point as we walked along Onion Creek I startled some ducks and they quickly took off. I raised my camera, which fortunately had a long lens on it, and without time to adjust any settings I somehow managed to get this one picture with the ducks’ heads in focus. The wings, especially at their tips, were moving too fast to keep from blurring, even at the 1/500 of a second shutter speed the camera had been set to.

UPDATE: See the comment below from Circadianreflections regarding what species these birds are.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 19, 2021 at 4:37 AM

New Zealand: Gannets at Muriwai

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Six years ago today I took many pictures of Australasian gannetsMorus serrator, at their colony in Muriwai on the west side of New Zealand’s North Island. While we don’t usually get to see birds in flight by looking down, this is one place where we do. The Māori name for these gannets is tākapu, and in English we call a breeding colony of them a gannetry. Rest assured that during courtship there’s gallantry in a gannetry.

And here’s a tip for those of you interested in science and history (presumably anyone who’s reading this): for just $20 you can get a whole year’s subscription to Curiosity Stream, which offers thousands of programs to watch on your computer, tablet, or phone; with appropriate cables or equipment (Apple TV in our case), you can stream from those devices to a full-size television. We spent a good chunk of yesterday learning about the ancient ruins at Mes Anyak in Afghanistan; genetic engineering’s promises and perils; finding and exploring ancient shipwrecks in the Black Sea, along with evidence that only gradually did it change from a smaller fresh-water lake into its current larger saline state; the British artist and humanitarian Lilias Trotter, whom we’d never heard of.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 7, 2021 at 4:35 AM

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Beetle galleries

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While waiting on January 18th for a leaking tire to get dealt with I went for a one-hour walk, a main portion of which took me along Stonelake Blvd. north of Great Hills Trail. The properties lining both sides of the road there are owned by the University of Texas but have never been developed. At one point, only several feet in from the sidewalk I noticed a couple of leaning dead tree trunks whose outer bark had mostly come off and revealed in the phloem, or inner bark, the trails of insects that had lived there.

From an informative article I learned that those trails are known as beetle galleries because the insects that produce them are beetles. Another reason for the term is that the original sense of gallery was architectural, ‘a covered part of a building, commonly in the wings, used as an ambulatory or place for walking,’ and it’s the walking around of the insects that create the trails in the phloem. By a happy coincidence, the main current meaning of gallery also fits the fact that many people consider these designs to be works of art, specifically woodcarvings. To maintain the abstraction I’ve tightly cropped the photographs

I don’t know what local species produced the beetle galleries in these pictures, but you’re welcome to look at some characteristic galleries identified by species.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 30, 2021 at 4:31 AM

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

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Four years ago today we were heading down California’s Highway 1 in waning daylight when I saw a sign for the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery near San Simeon and drove in to check it out.

In chronological order, you’re seeing three of the pictures I took there. You may be surprised, as I am when I look back at these photographs now, that the first one came about 17 minutes before the second one, and the third followed the second by about 16 minutes. In other words, we got two differently colored sunsets a little over half an hour apart. Hail, metadata, as good an elucidator as a sunset! (Let that last line live on as an idiosyncratic quotation for you today.)

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 3, 2020 at 4:35 AM

Snails on the prairie

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Snails that have climbed up on plants are a common sight on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin, as I confirmed again on May 4. Future posts will elucidate the great prairie wildflowers that you get hints of here.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 7, 2020 at 4:42 AM

Dioxyna picciola

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During my time on the wildflowery embankment along Mopac at Braker Lane on March 18, I got in close to photograph the bud of a greenthread, Thelesperma filifolium. That’s when I noticed a tiny insect on it, not much more than 1/8 of an inch long (3mm). In looking more carefully, I realized I was seeing two insects, one on top of the other. Not recognizing them, I turned to Val Bugh, who quickly identified these for me as “the almost perpetually mating fruit flies… Dioxyna picciola. I think they don’t mate ALL the time, but they are so small that it is easier to notice them as a pair.” On the esthetic side, note the way the bud lines up with the center of a greenthread flower head. Note also the pleasant colors, including a little indigo from nearby bluebonnets. Below you get a better look at the action in a side view from a different frame.

Given the insects’ tiny size, the low light due to overcast skies, and the fact that the breeze moved the greenthread bud even as the flies sometimes moved about on it, I set a high ISO and a fast shutter speed and adopted the strategy of taking a bunch of pictures in the hope that a few of them would turn out okay. My minimally acceptable rate ended up being only one in six.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 26, 2020 at 4:26 AM

Deck the lines with flocks of grackles

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It’s been almost two years since the last post about the grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) that sometimes swarm near sundown at the intersection of US 183 and Braker Lane. Late in the afternoon on November 19th I went there with my camera and a long lens because the previous Sunday I’d noticed the return of the grackles. The picture above gives you an idea of how densely the birds line up on the wires in some places. The second picture shows the way the grackles tend to take off in large groups when something startles them.

And here’s a closer look at a grackle that seems browner than normal
due to the flash I had to use once night had mostly replaced day:

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 25, 2019 at 4:46 AM

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On the ferry

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“We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.”

So begins Edna St. Millay’s 18-line poem “Recuerdo” (Spanish for “I remember” or “Remembrance”). While we could have gone back and forth as often as we wanted on the free car ferry between Galveston and Port Bolivar*, on October 7th we went only one-way, northbound from Galveston. And we weren’t tired, because it was morning, not night; tiredness would come later, after we’d driven four-and-a-half hours back to Austin.

I hadn’t taken this ferry in decades, yet I had a distinct recuerdo of the way birds follow the boat, and now I aimed to follow the birds and see if I could get any decent pictures of them. My technique was to pan with a telephoto lens at a high shutter speed to track an individual bird as it wheeled by, trying to keep it in focus and also completely inside the frame. Sometimes I failed on one count, sometimes on the other. And occasionally I succeeded, as you see in these two photographs of gulls.

* The Spanish surname is Bolívar, with the middle syllable stressed: bo-LEE-var. The Texas place name, however, has come to be pronounced in a way that rhymes with Oliver.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 11, 2019 at 4:36 AM

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More birds at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge

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How about the long common name black-bellied whistling duck and the scientific name Dendrocygna autumnalis (whose genus confusingly means tree swan)? We saw a group of those birds at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge on October 6th. A quintet that I watched placidly gliding by reminded me of a longer single file I’d seen two years earlier in Alberta. (Click each picture to enlarge.)

As for those buds rising from the water on erect stalks, they’re Nymphaea elegans, called tropical water lilies. I’ll devote a future post to them in their own right.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 29, 2019 at 4:44 AM

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