Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘Blackland Prairie

My great land loss for 2021

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Today is Earth Day. That notwithstanding, not a single year in the past decade has gone by that development hasn’t claimed one or more properties where I used to photograph native plants. In the last few years the loss has been running four, five, or even six annually as the Austin area has kept up its rapid growth. Two days ago I drove out to a field in Pflugerville on the west side of Heatherwilde Blvd. immediately south of Spring Hill Elementary School. From 2016 onward I’d been photographing great colonies of wildflowers there in early May, and I went to see how things were coming along in 2021 after the delay or even total suppression of blooming that our frozen week in February had caused to some species.

Alas, I discovered that my flowerful field of yesteryear has become a construction site of today. As I did once before with another recently lost prairie site, today’s post commemorates the way the Heatherwilde Blvd. parcel of Blackland Prairie looked in the first half of May 2019 but will look no more.

The white flowers are prairie bishop (Bifora americana); the yellow are square-bud primrose (Oenothera berlandieri) and Engelmann daisy (Engelmannia peristenia); the yellow-green are prairie parsley (Polytaenia sp.); the red are firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella); the blowing grass is purple three-awn (Aristida purpurea).

I should add that the southernmost end of the property, separated from the construction site by trees and perhaps under different ownership, has so far survived. I got good pictures in that area last spring and will go back in the weeks ahead to see how the flowers are doing there. It may be my last chance.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 22, 2021 at 4:40 AM

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

Cattails in sunrise light

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After the fog dissipated on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin on the morning of December 22nd
last year, I turned my attention to making pictures of dry cattails (Typha sp.) in golden-hour light.

Is there anyone who doesn’t like the way cattail seed heads shed their fluff?
The prominent arcs in the photograph below seemed especially graceful
(though I didn’t look graceful lying on the ground to get that picture).

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 6, 2021 at 4:32 AM

From fire to fog

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The weather forecast on the evening of December 21st last year said to expect fog the next morning in the eastern reaches of Austin. Because we don’t often get fog, I went to the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin early that morning to see if I could find some. Along the way I stopped to photograph some other things (including the fiery clouds you saw last time), so I arrived only a short while before the rising sun dissipated the fog. Even so, I did get a few misty pictures. The one above, which reminds me of an old sepia-toned photograph, came nine minutes before the one below, which seems split-toned. In fact the tinting in both cases was nature’s and the camera’s own.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 5, 2021 at 4:36 AM

Ambushed bushy bluestem

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On November 15th, while wandering through the field in Manor adorned with myriad fluffy seed heads of bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) and goldenrod (Solidago sp.) that you saw in a post last month, I spied something that looked unusual and that I couldn’t initially identify. After I got closer I could tell that a plant had gotten wrapped up, presumably by a spider, but in a way I hadn’t seen before. Then I noticed the green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) that must have done the deed. Eventually I realized that what the spider had wrapped up into a nest was a bushy bluestem seed head. Notice the spiderlings, of which there were plenty more than shown in this picture. You get a closer view of the green lynx in the following picture:

As relevant quotations for today, you can listen to Rudy Francisco reading his poem “Mercy,
which he indicates is after Nikki Giovanni’s “Allowables.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 22, 2020 at 4:22 AM

Wind-waved willow yellow

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While wind whisked the leaves of this black willow tree sideways, my trusty camera set to 1/640 of a second proved its equal. The location on November 15th was new to me, Maxa Drive in Manor; the tree, Salix nigra, was hardly new, being a common species here. And not new either was the pretty yellow that the long leaves tend to turn before falling. Hardly half a mile east I’d earlier found and photographed a fine willow sapling serving as a backdrop for some bushy bluestem turned fluffy, both blazoned against the day’s blue skies. The two portraits exemplify the more-is-more or fill-the-frame esthetic that I often find myself drawn to.

Did you know that another English word for a willow is withy? Here’s “The Old Withy Tree” from an 1859 book called Songs of the Wye, and Poems, from a writer identified only by the pseudonym Wioni:

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 6, 2020 at 4:20 AM

Twi-light, yet not twilight

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On the morning of November 15th I spent a good couple of hours in a field on the north side of US 290 east of Bois d’Arc Rd. in Manor. Making that piece of prairie fabulous to behold and photograph were the extensive colonies of goldenrod (Solidago sp.) and bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) that had gone into their fluffy autumn stage. In some places the two colonies were mostly distinct; in others they interwove, as you see here. Notice in the lower right of the top picture that one goldenrod plant was still flowering.

The post’s title interweaves etymology and photography. The word twilight means literally ‘two lights,’ the two being the fading light of day and the oncoming darkness of night. I took these two pictures not in different parts of the day—they were only seven minutes apart—but in different parts of the field and, more importantly, facing in opposite directions. The first photograph shows the effects of the morning sunlight falling directly on the subject; the second picture looks in the direction of the sun, whose light on the way to the camera passed through much of the fluff and in so doing outlined the seed heads. The first landscape is softer and more colorful, the second starker and more dramatic. Both have their appeal.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 25, 2020 at 4:32 AM

It’s snow-on-the-prairie time

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Went out onto the Blackland Prairie in Manor on September 19th.
Saw snow-on-the-prairie (Euphorbia bicolor) in several places.
Couldn’t decide which view to show, so am showing two.

If you’re interested in the art of photography, points 6 and 15 in About My Techniques are relevant.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 25, 2020 at 4:30 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

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

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