Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘heron

Stripes and squiggles

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Here’s an abstraction of horizontal black and blue stripes with squiggly white penetrating them vertically.

If your
makes you
wonder what
was going
on here at
Inks Lake
State Park
on January
26th, click
the little
icon below.




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So you’re reading an article, and at one point the author refers to somebody as a troglodyte. Unfamiliar with the term, you turn to a nearby friend and ask what a troglodyte is. Your friend answers that a troglodyte is anyone who behaves like a troglodyte. Are you any better off with that answer? Of course not, because you still have no idea what a troglodyte is. Later you check an old-fashioned dictionary and find that a troglodyte was originally ‘a prehistoric person who lived in caves.’ By extension, a troglodyte is ‘a person who lives similarly to a cave dweller, as in seclusion or in a primitive or crude state; a hermit; a recluse.’ Now you understand the term.

A statement like “a troglodyte is anyone who behaves like a troglodyte” is what we call a circular definition. It isn’t a real definition because it “explains” a word by using the very same word we’re trying to learn the meaning of.

These days we needn’t resort to fancy vocabulary like troglodyte to baffle some people. Take the familiar word woman. Last year I reported on a March 23rd interchange as the United States Senate continued interviewing the latest nominee for the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown-Jackson. When it fell to Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn to ask questions, this dialogue ensued:

Blackburn: Can you provide a definition for the word “woman”?
Brown-Jackson: Can I provide a definition?”
Blackburn: Yeah.
Brown-Jackson: No. I can’t.
Blackburn: You can’t?
Brown-Jackson: Not in this context. I’m not a biologist.

I can tell you from over seven decades of being alive and speaking English that not until recently would asking someone what a woman is have been a question so baffling that we have to turn to a biologist for an answer.

Probably more common among gender ideologues than a refusal to answer the question is answering it with a circular definition: “A woman is anyone who identifies as a woman.” If you follow that up with “Describe the characteristics of what the person is identifying as,” you’ll likely be met with a repetition of the circular statement that “A woman is anyone who identifies as a woman,” or with a refusal to say anything further.

That’s the sorry state of affairs some people have devolved to in this third decade of the 21st century. They not only delude themselves into believing that “A trans man is a man” and “A trans woman is a woman,” but also that “A circular definition is a definition.”


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 11, 2023 at 4:33 AM

Green heron on the hunt

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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

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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

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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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Yet another change of pace

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Outside Corpus Christi’s Art Museum of South Texas on June 3rd as we were walking back to our car I noticed a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) standing on a piling in the bay right at the edge of the parking lot. Hurriedly going to my camera bag and putting on my telephoto lens, I made a bunch of portraits. A man fishing near by noticed what I was doing and volunteered to throw a fish onto the ground near where the heron was. I said sure: he threw his fish, the heron fluttered onto the ground and snatched it up, and I kept taking pictures till the fish disappeared down the bird’s long throat.


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Here’s some good news. In Chicago on June 6th, 20-year-old Anthony Perry had just arrived at his train station when he noticed a nearly unconscious man on the electrified third rail. Anthony jumped down on the track bed, nimbly worked his way into a good position, and pulled the injured man away.

“‘I was hoping I could just grab him and not feel nothing, but I felt a little shock,’ Perry said. ‘I felt it all through my body actually. I didn’t let that stop me.’ With the help of another commuter, Perry administered CPR, saving the man’s life.”

You’re welcome to read more about this heroic act and watch a 7-minute video about it.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 18, 2022 at 4:27 AM

White egret standing on a grape vine

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Herodias alba; Lakewood Park in Leander; January 12.

And here’s an unrelated quotation for today: “There’s more mendacity in the way educated people in America talk to each other now than I have ever seen in my 54 years.” — John McWhorter in a recent interview.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 1, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Posted in nature photography

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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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Great white herons at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge

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On the roof of a shelter at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge on October 6th we saw a great white heron, Casmerodius albus. Half an hour later I got a lot closer to one that was unfortunately behind branches which had me struggling to aim through them for a clear shot. The busy background also fell short of ideal, but we photographers sometimes have to take things as they come to us. Now that I think about it, having my first and last initial come to me in the form of a heron’s neck isn’t so bad.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 5, 2019 at 4:33 AM

Great blue heron on the Pacific coast

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I’ve seen an occasional great blue heron (Ardea herodias) in Austin, but the closest I ever got to one was at Muir Beach on the Pacific coast of California on November 1st of last year. Why the bird let me get so close, I don’t know, but I wonder if my being downhill from it made me seem less threatening. From a photographer’s point of view, my lower position let me aim upward enough to isolate the heron’s head and neck against the sky.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 17, 2017 at 4:56 AM


with 23 comments

White Egret in Dead Trees 8174

See how this gleaming white great egret (Ardea alba) contrasts with the bare branches of the dead trees all around it. You can also contrast this bird with the somewhat bedraggled gull you saw a few days ago hunkered down on an Indiana beach. And then there’s the contrast with the second and much smaller egret below and to the left of the prominent one. The great egret, by the way, is the largest white heron in Texas.

Today’s photograph comes from Southeast Metropolitan Park on September 1.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 5, 2016 at 4:58 AM

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