Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘autumn

Channeling my inner Rembrandt—or not

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On December 23, 2020, I found myself out on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin waiting for the sun to come up, which it must have done, only the sky was so overcast I never did see the solar disk. In the gloom I channeled my inner Rembrandt and made a somber portrait of goldenrod (Solidago sp.) seed head remains. In contrast, on November 11th at the Riata Trace Pond I’d made a much brighter portrait:

And from January 10th of this year, here’s another vaguely
Rembrandtesque view, this time of some ground-bound goldenrod:

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 26, 2021 at 4:30 AM

More Texas red oak

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Among the last displays of colorful fall foliage in Austin each year is that of the Texas red oak, Quercus buckleyi, as seen here from Great Hills Park on December 15th. (The oaks are young and slender; the large trunks are from other kinds of trees.) Now it’s two weeks later and I’m still finding some red Texas red oak leaves, including a few in our back yard.

Sensorily and psychologically it seems that red is the most fundamental color, and it’s a truism of linguistics that the first color word a language creates is the one for red. The Indo-European language root representing the color red has been reconstructed as *reudh-, which is still recognizable thousands of years later in native English red and ruddy. Red-related words English has acquired directly or indirectly from Latin, which is a cousin of English, include rufous, rubeola, ruby, rubidium, rubicund, rubefacient, rubella, robust, rouge, roux, and russet. (If you’re puzzled about robust, it’s based on Latin rōbur, which designated a type of red oak tree; robust conveys the strength of that tree rather than its color.) From Greek, also a relative of English, comes the erythro– in technical terms like erythrocyte and erythromycin.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 30, 2020 at 4:39 AM

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Late-in-the-year scenes along Brushy Creek

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On December 17th we walked a section of Brushy Creek in far north Austin that was new to us. In the first picture you see how the slender leaves of a black willow tree (Salix nigra) had turned yellow and fallen onto the creek’s surface next to a colony of cattail plants (Typha domingensis), some fresh and others dried out. Nearby it was dead cattails that did the falling:

The image below shows dry goldenrod plants (Solidago sp.)
on the creek bank by dense tangles of vines and now-bare branches.

If you’re interested in the art and craft of photography, point 15 in About My Techniques pertains to all three of the pictures in today’s post. And if you’d like to go off on a bit of a maximalist tangent, you can check out Victorian interiors and certain modern décor.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 29, 2020 at 4:41 AM

Strangely somnolent squirrel

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During a walk in the already large and still expanding Sunfield subdivision in Buda on December 12th, the Lady Eve caught sight of a squirrel on a tree branch just a few feet above us and called my attention to it. Despite the barking of a nearby dog and my taking a bunch of pictures over a span of 11 minutes, said squirrel never budged from its perch. In fact its eyes closed for a few seconds at a time before reopening, as if sleep were calling in the middle of the day. If only all my live subjects were so docile or so in need of a nap.

I take this to have been a fox squirrel, Sciurus niger, which is common in central Texas (including right outside my window at home). The tree seems to have been a sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua, which grows abundantly in east Texas and can occasionally be found in the wild as close as one county to the east of mine, but which some people plant in the Austin area.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 26, 2020 at 4:36 AM

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The holly and the ivy

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Ilex decidua is a native Texas holly known as possumhaw. Where many hollies have prickly leaves and are evergreen, this one has soft leaves that it sheds by the end of the year, as the species name decidua indicates. The falling off of the leaves makes it easier to see the tree’s bright red little fruits, of which there can be multitudes. The photograph above from Bell Mountain Blvd. on December 1st shows a stage at which the leaves had paled and were gradually falling off. Three weeks later we got curious about how this already colorful little group of possumhaws was coming along, so we went back. The second picture shows almost no leaves left, nor had birds or anything else reduced the dense red splendor.

As for the ivy in this post’s title, let me back up to November 15th and add an item to the bright autumn leaves series you’ve been seeing on and off here for weeks: it’s Toxicodendron radicans. You might say that when it comes to colorful small-scale fall foliage, nothing can touch poison ivy.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 25, 2020 at 4:34 AM

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There’s no month of the year when Austin doesn’t have wildflowers

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Yup, the title’s true. Here’s a December 15th portrait of an aster (Symphyotrichum sp.) in Great Hills Park as an example. Because the aster was growing in forested shade I had to use flash, and because the light from a flash drops off quickly, I aimed sideways so that distracting things in the distance obligingly went black.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 19, 2020 at 4:35 AM

A second round of frostweed ice this season

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After I awoke yesterday morning and saw that our outdoor thermometer showed exactly 32°F (0°C), I knew that after the sun rose I’d be heading down to Great Hills Park to find out if the frostweed plants (Verbesina virginica) had gone through a second round of their famous ice trick. The view from where I parked didn’t look promising, but once I walked down the slope to the frostweed plants, I saw that there’d be enough ice to work on. In fact I ended up spending a little over three hours there.

I took the third picture at almost 11 o’clock, when the temperature
had risen to 45° and the frostweed ice was slowly melting.

If you’re not familiar with this unusual phenomenon, what happens is that when the temperature drops to freezing the frostweed plant draws water up from underground via its roots and extrudes it through the splitting sides of its stalk as delicate sheets of ice, mostly close to the ground. You can learn a lot more about the science of frostweed ice in an article by Bob Harms.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 18, 2020 at 4:34 AM

When red becomes orange

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Another reliable source of colorful fall foliage in central Texas is the small tree known as rusty blackhaw, Viburnum rufidulum, whose species name means ‘reddish.’ You see it exemplified in the photograph above, taken in Great Hills Park on December 15th. As a reddish color came over those leaves, curiosity came over me, and I wondered what sort of pictures might be possible from behind the tree looking in the opposite direction. Cautiously I worked my way in there and got low to aim partly upward. From the other side the leaves looked more orange due to the sunlight shining through them and perhaps the blue sky beyond:

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 17, 2020 at 4:43 AM

Sumac fruit

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Of the three sumacs native to Austin, here are the fruits of two of them. Above you have evergreen sumac, Rhus virens, from Far West Blvd. on November 3rd. Below you see prairie flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata, from Arterial 8 on November 8th. From these fruits some people make sumac-ade, which I’ve tried and liked.

And here’s a closer look at another cluster:

You might also find it fruitful to check out the the winning photographs from the 2020 Siena International Photo Awards.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 16, 2020 at 4:41 AM

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Way up there on the GAIN scale

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Way up there on the GAIN (great appeal in natives) scale for our grasses is gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris), which turns a delicious pink in the fall. It grows as close to Austin as one county east, but landscapers are understandably fond of planting it here. That’s why I could photograph these specimens along South Lakeshore Blvd. on November 17th. Texas is at the southwestern edge of gulf muhly’s range, which I was surprised to find tapers off in the opposite direction through Long Island, where I grew up, and into southern New England. The second picture offers a closer look at the pleasant disarray. In both images I used the contrasting blue sky to set off the pink of the grass.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 14, 2020 at 4:32 AM

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