Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘bird

Time-tested technology

with 23 comments

 

Black vulture (Coragyps atratus) at Palmetto State Park on December 15, 2022.
The “time-tested technology” refers to a water tower.

 

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Some of my commentaries have dealt with “the language police”—who apparently now would have me call them something like “people policing language.” It’s another example of the “people first” approach running rampant among ideologues. One organization pushing such things is the Associated Press (AP), which has long issued style guidelines for the wording of news stories. Those guidelines used to be sane, but now, as The Hill reported on January 27th:

The AP Stylebook’s Twitter account on Thursday posted recommendations to avoid the use of “the” before certain descriptors “such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, [and] the college-educated” because that phrasing can be “dehumanizing.” The post went viral with many Twitter users responding and making jokes about the inclusion of “the French.”

The French Embassy in the United States was one of the accounts that responded to the post, posting a screenshot of it changing its name from “French Embassy U.S.” to “Embassy of Frenchness in the U.S.” 

“I guess this is us now…” it commented. 

 

The last sentence in the article notes that according to the AP, “writers should be specific when possible, giving ‘people with incomes below the poverty line’ as an example.”

That makes me think we’ll have to update Emma Lazarus‘s poem “The New Colossus,” which appears on a bronze plaque beneath the Statue of Liberty. The best-known part will now need to be:

“Give me your people afflicted with tiredness, your people with incomes below the poverty line…”

Kinda messes up the meter, don’t you think?

On a less discordant note, you may or may not know that one of the most creative and successful immigrants ever to come to America, Irving Berlin, set the final part of Emma Lazarus’s poem to music for his 1949 show “Miss Liberty.” We’re fortunate to have a recording of Irving Berlin himself singing the song. You’re also welcome to listen to a version sung by a chorus.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 31, 2023 at 4:31 AM

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

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

Virginia saltmarsh mallows

with 15 comments

 

On the gulf side of Galveston Island State Park on September 19th I sat near the base of some cattails and wildflowers and took a bunch of pictures. At one point a passerby asked me what I was photographing. It seemed pretty obvious to me but I said “wildflowers.” A few minutes later a couple asked me the same question, and I answered the same way. The woman in the couple said she thought what I was photographing looked weedy. There’s no accounting for tastes, is there? The most prominent of the wildflowers I took pictures of there was Virginia saltmarsh mallow, Kosteletzkya pentacarpos or virginica, whose genus name I always have to double-check the spelling of. Below is an artsy portrait showing one of the opening flowers. That it’s reminiscent of a conch befits the oceanside location, don’t you think?

 

  

 

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Much of what we hear about race is superficial. In contrast, consider the thoughtful, nuanced, and sometimes iconoclastic discussion that Kmele Foster, Glenn Loury, and John McWhorter held in July of 2022. You’re welcome to listen to that 53-minute trialogue, “From Racial Reckoning to Race Abolition.”

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 4, 2022 at 4:31 AM

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

with 17 comments

 

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

Green heron on the hunt

with 13 comments

By August 17th, two months without rain had caused large parts of Bull Creek to dry up. When I checked a stretch along the Smith Memorial Trail that morning I found that a remaining pool had become the hunting ground of a green heron, Butorides virescens. Time after time I watched as the heron crouched, stepped slowly forward as it kept its eyes fixed on something in the water that it could see but I couldn’t, till suddenly the heron lunged to snatch a small fish from the water.

On the technical side, most of the second photograph shows motion blur because I panned to keep up with the heron as it walked fairly quickly to the left. On the good side, panning let me keep the upper part of the bird, including its bill and the fish in it, sharp. Alternatively, to reduce motion blur I could’ve set a higher sensitivity and a faster shutter speed than the 1/400 I used, but I was already at ISO 1600, and with the shallower depth of field that would have resulted from a faster shutter speed I might not have been able to keep the fish and all the important parts of the heron simultaneously in focus. Tradeoffs.

 

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“I know not why a man should not have liberty to print whatever he would speak; and to be answerable for the one, just as he is for the other, if he transgresses the law in either. But gagging a man, for fear he should talk heresy or sedition, has no other ground than such as will make gyves [shackles] necessary, for fear a man should use violence if his hands were free, and must at last end in the imprisonment of all who you will suspect may be guilty of treason or misdemeanor.”

So wrote John Locke about the Licensing Act, which had enforced pre-publication censorship and banned “heretical, seditious, schismatical, or offensive books” in Great Britain until Parliament let the act lapse in 1695. I was led to that quotation by reading Jacob Mchangama’s new book Free Speech: a History from Socrates to Social Media. I encourage you to read it, too, and learn about some of the great many times throughout history that political regimes and supporters of ideologies and religions have suppressed the speech and writing of people who disagree with them. That’s especially important now, when many activists and institutions have been assailing freedom of expression more vehemently than at any time in my adult life.

Check out Jacob Mchangama’s website, where you can listen to or read edited transcriptions of episodes from his podcast about free speech, Clear and Present Danger.

You’re also welcome to read the essay about John Locke that my father, another Jacob, included in his 1949 book Rebels of Individualism.

  

© Steven Schwartzman 2022

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 22, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Young cattails

with 16 comments

While almost everything I saw on July 21st in the Willow Trace Pond in far north Austin was darkened old stumps, some new cattail plants (Typha sp.) had sprung up, and the arcs of their long leaves, both green and pale, caught my photographic fancy. Taking the top picture at 400mm left the lower part of the image pleasantly out of focus and reminiscent of an Impressionist painting. While you and I couldn’t stand on one of those cattail plants without crushing it, that clearly wasn’t the case for the yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassia violacea) in the portrait below. Judging by leg color, this apparently wasn’t the same bird I’d photographed 45 minutes earlier beneath some black willow trees.

 

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At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern sceptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance.

 — G. K Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1908

 

I also recently came across a reference to “Chesterton’s fence,” which Wikipedia explains in its article about Chesterton 

is the principle that reforms should not be made until the reasoning behind the existing state of affairs is understood. The quotation is from Chesterton’s 1929 book, The Thing: Why I Am a Catholic, in the chapter, “The Drift from Domesticity”:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’

  

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 3, 2022 at 4:26 AM

A heralding heron

with 22 comments

Hardly had I arrived at the Willow Trace Pond in far north Austin on July 21st when I caught sight of a heron at the base of some young black willow trees, Salix nigra. Switching to my longest lens, I gradually worked my way forward and managed to take eight pictures over two minutes before I got close enough that the bird walked off into the underbrush. From what I gather online, this seems to have been a yellow-crowned night heron, Nyctanassa violacea, but if anyone knows otherwise I’m ready to be set straight.

Compositionally, notice how the long arc of a slender willow branch caps the lower portions of the two leaning tree trunks to form a de facto frame around most of the heron.

 

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Highfalutin’ Employees

 

Okay, so it’s not the employees who are highfalutin’ but the terms that companies use when referring to their employees. You’ve probably shopped at businesses like Whole Foods where employees are now “partners” and the wholesalers that sell to the company are “supplier partners.” Granted, the phenomenon isn’t new: some of us are old enough to remember when garbage collectors ludicrously got rechristened sanitation engineers. Even so, the euphemizing of employee titles has gone into overdrive in the past few years. Comedian Adam Carolla riffs on that in his just-released book Everything Reminds Me of Something:

 

It’s corporate America’s fault for calling the chick making eight dollars an hour stirring the beans at Taco Bell a “team member.” It implies she has a say. I was a goomper who worked my way up to being a glorified goomper. “Hey, idiot” was how I was greeted most days on the construction site. Now everyone is a “valued associate,” “partner,” or “colleague.” Language like that levels the field and implies an opening for a conversation about your pronouns and gender identity, or about race and microaggressions.

If inmates in a maximum-security prison were referred to as team members, and the warden talked about striving to create an inclusive place where everyone’s voice would be heard, a day wouldn’t go by without a guard being taken hostage.

Worker euphemisms hit peak absurdity last year for me when I noticed a sign outside a Jimmy John’s sub joint.

No wonder the Great Resignation is happening. Jimmy John’s is hiring rock stars. Who’d work as a bank teller and be a “team member” when they can go across the street to Jimmy John’s and be a rock star? As far as euphemisms go, this even beats Disneyland’s calling the failed musical theater student in the Pluto costume a cast member. Obviously, Jimmy John’s workers are not literally rock stars. Slash and Dave Grohl aren’t slinging the composite-meat products behind the counter. They’re shredding on their guitars, not shredding iceberg lettuce. But even figuratively, “rock star” doesn’t apply. People in sales or advertising are called rock stars when they close a big account or do something else that’s outstanding. How can someone stand out when they’re assembling sandwiches and will soon be replaced by a robot? It’s all part of the failure of the self-esteem movement. You can’t give someone self-esteem. It has to be earned. We can change the language, but it doesn’t change the job. Calling someone a rock star doesn’t make them one. We can rename herpes “happies,” but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a sexually transmitted disease.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 27, 2022 at 4:28 AM

Posted in nature photography

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