Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘insect

Veteran

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For the many times over the past decade that I visited a flowerful piece of prairie on the west side of Heatherwilde Boulevard north of Wells Branch Parkway in Pflugerville you could call me a veteran of that field. I went there most recently on Veterans Day, November 11, and discovered that development had expanded since my previous visit. More of the portion that had until recently hung on was now scraped of vegetation, with only a fringe in the back still left. That’s where I found things to photograph on that overcast and about-to-rain morning. Probably most conspicuous were many scattered tufts of Clematis drummondii that had turned feathery, one of which you see above. I also noticed some seed head remains of common sunflowers, Helianthus annuus; on one I encountered a shield-backed bug (family Scutelleridae), seemingly Sphyrocoris obliquus. In spite of the bug’s species name, its “here’s looking at you” gaze was anything but oblique.

 

   

(Pictures from the New Mexico trip will resume tomorrow.)

 

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The basics of great education have been around for thousands of years; it simply doesn’t take tremendous amounts of money to teach well. In an English classroom, we rarely need more than a pen and paper and a book or an essay to get the job done. Small class sizes, high expectations for student academic performance and behavior, and diligent, invested, highly respected educators backed up by an administration who supports teachers over parents and students would fix so many of these problems. But until it starts getting better, fewer and fewer ambitious and competent youngsters will see teaching as an attractive profession. And so the teacher shortage problem is going to continue to get worse.

That’s the conclusion of Elizabeth Emery’s January 2020 article “The Public School Teacher Attrition Crisis.” Schools have indeed worsened since then, in part because of the pandemic but still primarily because of the terrible attitudes and practices of administrators that Elizabeth Emery detailed in her article, and that caused her to quit teaching in a public school after just one full semester. You’re welcome to read the full article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 1, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Apache plume in Albuquerque

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I enjoyed looking at the historical paintings of New Mexico in the Albuquerque Museum on October 15th, but when I arrived and noticed a bunch of native plants in a garden outside, I spent the better part of an hour there before viewing the museum’s exhibits. Among the native plants I photographed was Apache plume, which I get to see only when I travel to far west Texas or further west. Botanists classify this member of the rose family as Fallugia paradoxa, the only species in its genus. When I first glimpsed the plant years ago, its fluffy stage made me think I was looking at some kind of Clematis. The top picture shows the resemblance.

 

 

The flowers are white, but as the one above began to shrivel and produce the characteristic plumes, one petal was turning a rich red. I scrolled through several hundred pictures online and didn’t see an Apache plume flower with a red area like this one. Maybe the red is typical and people just tend not to put up photographs of shriveling flowers. On the other hand, I saw two flowers with a petal turning red, so maybe it’s common.

 

 

In any case, the Apache plume flowers attracted a slew of insects, mostly ants, but also
this syrphid fly, which is apparently Paragus haemorrhous (thanks, bugguide.net).

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 19, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Turnabout is fair play

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A few days ago you saw how at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 8th a vibrant colony of partridge peas (Chamaecrista fasciculata) claimed attention, with a stand of blazing stars (Liatris punctata var. mucronata) adding complementary colors in the background. Now the roles are reversed, and a Liatris flower spike is the center of attention. Just as I snapped this picture a bumblebee took off. While the 1/400 of a second that the camera’s shutter speed was set to wasn’t nearly fast enough to stop the action, and I normally want insects to come out sharp, the traces of wing movement ended up pleasing me. I know nothing about how to paint, but it occurred to me that an artist might paint a bumblebee with brush strokes that look like this to suggest rapid movement.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 19, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Hibiscus scentless plant bug

with 14 comments

 

At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 8th the Lady Eve drew my attention to the insects on various parts of a halberdleaf rose mallow plant (Hibiscus laevis). Those insects turned out to be (thanks, bugguide.net) hibiscus scentless plant bugs (Niesthrea louisianica). You’re looking at an adult above and two nymphs below. Colorful critters, don’t you think?

 

 

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A common theme in all my commentaries is that justice requires that all people be afforded the same rights. Alas, too often these days our governments and institutions act according to the satirical principle that George Orwell set forth in his allegorical novel Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

On September 5th I pointed out how Amazon acted illegally by treating contractors of different races differently. Just two days ago I pointed out a dorm that was allowing everyone except white people into its common spaces. Yesterday I learned about still another example of illegal racial discrimination, and it’s right here in my own state:

The largest public university in the United States is reserving faculty positions based on race and making six-figure bonuses available exclusively to minorities, programs that are now the subject of a class action lawsuit.

As part of a new initiative to attract “faculty of color,” Texas A&M University set aside $2 million in July to be spent on bonuses for “hires from underrepresented minority groups,” according to a memo from the university’s office of diversity. The max bonus is $100,000, and eligible minority groups are defined by the university to include “African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, and Native Hawaiians.”

To learn more, you can read the full September 13th article by Aaron Sibarium in the Washington Free Beacon.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 15, 2022 at 4:25 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Frayed

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Don’t know that I’d ever seen such frayed wings on a dragonfly. Even so, this one could still fly quite well, as I found out while briefly waiting a couple of times for it to return to its perch at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 8th. The dragon seems to be a neon skimmer, Libellula croceipennis.

 

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It’s been only eight days since I pointed out an instance of illegal racial discrimination in the United States. Now I’ve learned about another. As the New York Post reported on August 19: “An off-campus housing co-op for University of California, Berkeley students bans white people from entering common spaces to ‘avoid white violence’ — sparking criticism that the policy inflames racial tensions.” You don’t say. People who get banned from a gathering place because of their race might feel tense? Who’d’ve believed it?

The dorm in question is the “Person of Color Theme House.” Let me remind you that Person of Color and People of Color, both initialized as POC, are terms that exclude, because they mean ‘everybody in the world except white people.’ So much for the vaunted holy value of Inclusion. Here are excerpts from the dorm’s rules:

Many POC members moved here to avoid white violence and presence, so respect their decision of avoidance if you bring white guests… Always announce guests in the Guest Chat if they will be in common spaces with you and if they are white… White guests are not allowed in common spaces.

As you can see, the rules for guests at that dorm are both illegal and self-contradictory, but then why would you expect logic and decency from race haters? You can read more about this in the New York Post article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 13, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Ants love flameleaf sumac flowers

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Ants love the flowers of flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata. It’s hard to see individual ants and flowers above, so here’s an enlargement of a little piece of the top picture:

I found this young flameleaf sumac flowering in my part of town on August 23rd.

  

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Truth does indeed have immense power; yet it remains extremely elusive. No single person, no body of opinion, no political or religious doctrine, no political party or government can claim to have a monopoly on truth. For that reason truth can be arrived at only through the untrammelled contest between and among competing opinions, in which as many viewpoints as possible are given a fair and equal hearing. It has therefore always been our contention that laws, mores, practices and prejudices that place constraints on freedom of expression are a disservice to society. Indeed these are the devices employed by falsehood to lend it strength in its unequal contest with truth.

That’s from a speech Nelson Mandela gave to the International Press Institute Congress on February 14, 1994. Jacob Mchangama quoted it in his 2022 book Free Speech. He then noted, unfortunately, that “according to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists, 1,010 journalists were imprisoned from 2011 to 2020. This represents an alarming 78% increase from the previous decade of 2001 to 2010.” Mchangama later added that “the V-Dem Institute’s Democracy Report 2020—the largest global dataset on democracy—found that media censorship intensified in a record-breaking thirty-seven countries in 2019.”

And I’m dismayed to report the degree to which censorship and suppression of information have increased in my own country. For example, a September 1st article in the Epoch Times by Zachary Stieber documents some of the ways that “more than 50 officials in President Joe Biden’s administration across a dozen agencies have been involved with efforts to pressure Big Tech companies to crack down on alleged misinformation.” Some of that “misinformation” came from highly qualified doctors, professors, and medical researchers who happened to have opinions about the pandemic that differed from the official party line.

The documents that the Epoch Times article cites as evidence that the government pressured companies into censoring opposing opinions “were part of a preliminary production in a lawsuit levied against the government by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, later joined by experts maligned by federal officials.” You can read an announcement about that from Missouri’s Attorney General. It’s likely we’ll learn more as the lawsuit progresses.

When we look at events in the past we’re appalled, for example, by the way authorities suppressed the scientific findings of Galileo because those findings differed from orthodox—and incorrect—views of the world. We should be equally appalled when powerful people in our own era suppress views they disagree with.

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UPDATE: After I wrote this post (I usually prepare posts several days in advance of posting), the Epoch Times put out an article on September 7 which began as follows:

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and other top Biden administration officials who were resisting efforts to obtain their communications with Big Tech companies must hand over the records, a federal judge ruled on Sept. 6.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, a Trump appointee, ordered the government to quickly produce documents after it was sued by the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri over alleged collusion with Big Tech firms such as Facebook. The initial tranche of discovery, released on Aug. 31, revealed that more than 50 government officials across a dozen agencies were involved in applying pressure to social media companies to censor users.

But some of the officials refused to provide any answers, or answer all questions posed by the plaintiffs. Among them: Fauci, who serves as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden.

The government claimed that Fauci should not be required to answer all questions or provide records in his capacity as NIAID director or in his capacity as Biden’s chief medical adviser. It also attempted to withhold records and responses from Jean-Pierre.

In the new ruling on Tuesday breaking the stalemate, Doughty said both Fauci and Jean-Pierre needed to comply with the interrogatories and record requests.

 

As I said above, it’s likely we’ll learn more as the lawsuit progresses. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits our government from interfering with citizens’ free speech. Trying to get around that prohibition by pressuring or colluding with non-governmental entities to do the government’s censoring for it is also illegal. You’re welcome to read the full Epoch Times article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 8, 2022 at 4:34 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Embarking on another round of beetle galleries

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In April I showed you some bark beetle galleries on a fallen tree in Great Hills Park. On August 21st I returned to that spot and embarked on another round of picture-taking at the same tree and a couple of nearby ones.

For more information about this phenomenon, you can read “The Truth Behind Bug Trails” and “Bark Beetles.”

 

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I haven’t given enough credit to Sharyl Attkisson, a multi-award-winning journalist who promotes free inquiry and accurate reporting. Last year I watched Jan Jekielek interview her on those subjects but I didn’t post a link to the interview; here it is now. And there are plenty of good stories on her website.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 25, 2022 at 4:50 AM

Hanging out at/on trumpets

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The at was me. The on was ants. The date was August 14. The place was the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183. The bud above was about to open. Its species was Campsis radicans. Its common name is trumpet vine. If I were an ant I’d probably have stuck my head in there too. The “trumpet” below with seven sisters on it is purple bindweed, Ipomoea cordatotriloba.

 

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In recent months WordPress has been appending a grid of ads to our posts. Two days ago one of the ads looked interesting, so I clicked on it and got taken to a site called USAFacts. Here’s how it describes itself:

USAFacts provides a data-driven portrait of the American population, US governments’ finances, and governments’ impact on society. We are a nonpartisan, not-for-profit civic initiative without a political agenda. We provide vital spending, revenue, demographic, and performance information as a free public service and are committed to maintaining and expanding our available data in the future.

USAFacts believes that facts deserve to be heard. Democracy is only successful when it’s grounded in truth. We’re here to provide that grounding with trusted government data that’s both easy to access and understand. We standardize data straight from government agencies and present it in plain language with helpful visualizations so you can understand the history of programs and policies. Americans deserve unbiased facts straight from the government to have serious, reasoned, and informed debate.

As the largest source for standardized US government data, USAFacts offers something unique. We exclusively use publicly available government data presenting a vast array of reports on US spending, revenue, population and demographics, and policy outcomes. We don’t make judgments or prescribe policies. Whether government money is spent wisely or not, whether the quality of life is improving or getting worse — that’s for you to decide.

 

Here are a few facts I gleaned from browsing USAFacts.

  • Between 2010 and 2021, Texas had the largest growth [of any state] with 4.3 million more residents. Illinois had the largest decline with 169,076 fewer people. Among counties, Maricopa County, Arizona had the largest growth with 671,405 more people. Baltimore city, Maryland had the largest decline with 44,444 fewer residents. (Look at those five 4’s in a row.)
  • Obesity hasn’t doubled. It’s nearly tripled in the United States over the last fifty years…. The trend in obesity is not evenly distributed throughout American demographics. Low-income Americans were more likely than higher earners to experience obesity in 2017. Roughly 36 percent of those earning less than $15,000 a year fit the CDC definition compared to 26 percent of those with incomes greater than $75,000 per year. A similar pattern holds for those with less than a high school education (36 percent). While Asians are the least likely to be obese (11 percent), non-Hispanic blacks and American Indians are the most likely to experience obesity (39 percent for both).
  • Funding for the nation’s education system comes primarily from state and local governments. Federal, state, and local governments spent a combined $997 billion on education in 2019, the most recent year for which data is complete. Spending per student has increased 21% since the 2000–2001 academic year, after adjusting for inflation. 

 

Don’t delay delving into data delights at USAFacts.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 20, 2022 at 4:25 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , , ,

Trumpet vines

with 15 comments

I’ve come to expect to see one or two trumpet vines, Campsis radicans, in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183. The property lived up to expectations on August 14th when I found one there that had plenty of buds and flowers on it. The second picture, quite tonally and compositionally different from the high-flying view in the first, shows what it’s like to look into one of these “trumpets.”

 

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Yesterday I commented on the Orwellianly named Inflation Reduction Act—a contorted $739 billion boondoggle spending spree that will do a lot of things, none of which will reduce inflation. The supposed need for such an act is especially hard to understand, given that our President vehemently assured us on August 10th that the nation had zero inflation in July. Tell that to the people who shopped for groceries, paid their utility bills, bought gasoline, or went looking to buy a car that month. If you want a sense of how many Americans are feeling the effects of high inflation, and how worried a lot of them are, check out the easy-to-read bar charts and pie graphs showing the results of a survey The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) conducted in June.

According to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), average prices in July were 8.5% higher than in July of last year. The CPI had been 9.1% in June, so it’s true that inflation was no higher in July than it had been in June, and was even a little lower, but that doesn’t mean there was zero inflation. Inflation still ran a hefty 8.5%, which is higher than at any time over the forty years from 1982 through April of this year.

(As a math teacher I think in terms of calculus here. The change in prices from a year earlier [akin to the first derivative] was still positive, namely 8.5%, but the change of the change in prices [akin to the second derivative] was negative: 9.1% had gone down to 8.5%.)

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 17, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Dragonfly on a stick with cumulus cloud

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Behold a red saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea onusta), apparently a female, on the Blackland Prairie in far north Austin on August 1st. I hurriedly found a vantage point that aligned the dragonfly with the cloud. I originally processed the image to be darker, then changed my mind and did this brighter version.

  

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A currently pending bill in the United States Congress has proved controversial. Supporters signaled their belief by naming the bill the Inflation Reduction Act. Opponents derided the name as Orwellian, claiming that spending $700 billion the country doesn’t have at a time of 9.1% inflation, the highest in 40 years, is hardly likely to reduce inflation. Who’s right? Well, only time will tell (assuming the bill passes, which now seems likely).

And that leads me to a proposal. Last year I described a few amendments I’d like to see added to the American Constitution. (You can see examples here, and here, and here.) The current controversial bill gives me an opening to bring up another of my fantasy amendments. This one would require every person who votes on a bill in Congress to put in writing a statement of the things (including specific numbers) the bill will—or for opponents, will not—accomplish. If, after a specified amount of time, any of the predictions prove false, all members who were wrong would be removed from Congress. It’s a version of “Put your money where your mouth is.” It would also be a de facto form of term limits, given the large number of false promises politicians make. What do you think?

  

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

  

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 8, 2022 at 4:28 AM

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