Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘insect


with 25 comments


I went down to Great Hills Park on February 21st for two main reasons: to check out the damage the ice storm had done three weeks earlier, and to see whether tokens of spring had appeared in the recent warm days. Just as at our house half a mile away, the weight of ice had felled many tree limbs and even entire trees, particularly Ashe junipers, in the park. I almost didn’t recognize a few places, so heavy was the damage.

At the same time, the sub-freezing temperatures had quickly given way to mostly warm days, with temperatures on a few of them even climbing above 80°F. The calendar notwithstanding, this was already botanical spring. One sign of it that I sought out was an elbowbush I know, Forestiera pubescens, a reliably early blossomer in Austin. If anything, I proved to be on the late side, with the bush’s flowers already a little past their prime. And speaking of blossoms, if someone asked you to think of a typical flower, you’d very likely imagine one with petals. Don’t all flowers have petals? Actually not, as the elbowbush proves.

Sometimes a plant has more of something than you expect: I just learned from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website that other vernacular names for this species are stretchberry, spring herald, desert olive, tanglewood, devil’s elbow, spring goldenglow, New Mexico privet, and Texas forsythia. Elbowbush is the only name I’ve ever heard anyone in Austin use.

Even if the elbowbush in Great Hills Park had passed its flowering prime, I was still happy to find it doing its thing. So was a juniper hairstreak butterfly, Callophrys gryneus.





✦        ✦        ✦


The other day I came across a collection of essays by Theodore Dalrymple called Our Culture, What’s Left of It. I found it not in a bookstore or on the website of an online bookseller but in my living room. When and where I bought the book, and how I’d first heard about it, I can’t recall. Sic transit memoria mundi. Call me a literary squirrel, stashing away written acorns to be dug up and devoured in another season.

In any case, I randomly read several of the essays, and I quickly learned that the guy knows how to write and to think. Here are a few quotations:

From an essay comparing the art of Mary Cassatt (favorably) to the late works of Joan Miró (unfavorably): “In the history of art, unlike that of science, what comes after is not necessarily better than what came before.”

From the essay “How to Read a Society,” written in 2000, which includes a discussion of the long history of despotism in Russia, first under the tsars and then under communism: “If it was difficult for a visitor to find anything to eat impromptu in Moscow, Havana, Tirana, Bucharest, or Pyongyang, it took little effort to understand the connection of this difficulty with the vulgar anti-commercialism of Saint Karl [Marx] and Saint Vladimir [Lenin]. Indeed, it would have taken all the ingenuity of the cleverest academics not to have understood it.”

In the next paragraph, discussing the Marquis de Custine, who visited Russia in 1839: “Writing before the development of modern ‘scientific’  sociology, whose achievement has been to obscure by means of statistical legerdemain the importance of human consciousness, Custine analyzed Russian society by reference to the psychology of the individuals who made it up. His work is a supreme example of the subtle interplay between the abstract information about a political system and the imaginative entry into the worldview of the people who live in it that is necessary for the understanding of any society.”

Writing about how Custine as a boy had lived through the excesses of the French Revolution: “No doubt Custine’s family history and upbringing had heightened his acuity. His grandfather was a liberal aristocrat who became a general in the revolutionary army, but whom the Jacobins guillotined as not sufficiently devoted to the cause. Custine’s father went to the guillotine for having tried to defend him. Custine’s mother, imprisoned as an enemy of the people for having tried to defend her husband, narrowly escaped execution herself, largely because one of the revolutionary fanatics who arrested her fell in love with her. Astolphe de Custine was brought up for a time by a faithful servant, living in penury with her in the only room of the Custine home that had not been looted and sealed off by Jacobin zealots and thieves. Such a background was likely to produce a man aware of the deep subterranean currents in life and not easily deceived by appearances. The evils of envy and hatred masquerading as humanitarian idealism had darkened his life from its outset, stamping him as a man quick to search for the reality behind the expression of fine sentiments.”

Look at that 20-year foreshadowing of what’s taking hold today: “the evils of envy and hatred masquerading as humanitarian idealism.” Dalrymple goes on to compare Custine’s writings about Russia to those of his contemporary confrère Alexis de Tocqueville about America. I see that Dalrymple’s whole essay is available online, so you’re welcome to read it. In fact many more of his essays are available on the City Journal website. Probably that’s how I first heard about him.



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 2, 2023 at 4:28 AM

Yet another early wildflower

with 22 comments


At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on Lincoln’s Birthday (February 12) the most common wildflower we saw, though still only in small numbers, was Packera obovata. I’ve always known it as golden groundsel, but I see now that other vernacular names for it have included roundleaf ragwort, roundleaf groundsel, spoon-leaved ragwort, and squaw-weed.


One golden groundsel flower head had attracted two kinds of insects:



✦       ✦       ✦


Strange English word of the day


In reading Andrew Doyle’s book The New Puritans, which I’ve been quoting from in recent posts, I came across an English word that was new to me: eldritch. That adjective means ‘unearthly, strange, unnatural, eerie, frightening, weird, spooky.’ Etymologists generally take the second part of the word to be from Old English rīċe (where the dot over the c indicates it was pronounced like the ch in chew and rich), meaning ‘realm, kingdom,’ just as in the German cognate Reich. Two main conjectures attempt to explain the first part of eldritch. Some believe it’s from Old English ælf, the forerunner of the word elf, while others attribute it to a root meaning ‘other,’ as in native English else and Latin-derived alien.

One thing that strikes me as eldritch is the proliferation of claims by ideologues that certain familiar English words and phrases are offensive. On December 22nd I discussed a few of them. Another comes up in connection with the wildflower shown above, one of whose vernacular names has been squaw-weed. Wiktionary explains that squaw came into English from Algonquian languages in what is now the northeastern United States. In those languages the word meant ‘woman’ or ‘young woman’ or ‘wife.’ As Wiktionary goes on to note: “In the 1970s, some non-linguists [emphasis mine] began to claim that the word originally meant ‘vagina’; this has been discredited. The first recorded version of the word was found in a book called Mourt’s Relation: A Journey of the Pilgrims at Plymouth written in 1622. The term was not used in a derogatory fashion but spoke of the ‘squa sachim or Massachusets Queen’ in the September 20, 1621 journal entry.”

Oh well, since when does the truth matter? In an era when ideologues claim a woman is anyone who identifies as a woman, what chance did squaw have? Activists carried the day with their false claim, and now anyone who uses squaw runs the risk of getting excoriated. In 2021 the U.S. Board on Geographic Names changed Colorado’s Squaw Mountain to Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain. An article on the Colorado Politics website explains that “Mestaa’ėhehe, also known as “Owl Woman,” was a Southern Cheyenne leader and wife of William Bent…. Owl Woman ‘helped negotiate trade between the many groups who traded at Bent’s Fort, and helped maintain good relations between the white people and the Native people.'”

Interestingly, the Owl Woman link in that article brings us to a National Park Service page that calls her Mistanta, which would be easier for English speakers to “identify with,” spell, and pronounce than Mestaa’ėhehe, even if the latter is a more accurate rendition for those who speak Cheyenne.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 18, 2023 at 4:25 AM

An unaccustomed backdrop

with 28 comments


You may remember how on December 8th I spotted a bright red balsam gourd fruit hanging on a prickly pear cactus pad. As I walked to the end of that photo session a different red came into sight, namely that of our Subaru Outback. After I got close to the car I noticed that a tiny fly, probably no more than a quarter of an inch long (6mm), had landed on it. I approached using my macro lens with a ring flash around its far end. The flash got within inches of the fly, which despite the closeness obligingly stayed put while I took five pictures from varying angles. Bugguide.net so far has provided no more identification than that this is a member of the family Muscidae, known as house flies—even if this tiny one was outdoors.



§       §       §



If you want recent examples of how close academia in English-speaking countries has been coming to the dystopian society George Orwell described in his novel 1984, you need only read the January 4th article “Reaping Postmodernism’s Violent Whirlwind.” The author, Prof. Frances Widdowson, was fired from her position at a Canadian college for raising questions like “How should researchers deal with the historical circumstance of some indigenous groups pushing earlier inhabitants out of their territories?” In the article she gives details of her own harrowing experience with mob mentality. She also recounts what happened to a physics professor at another institution. In that case, his university paid an outside “expert” psychiatrist to diagnose the professor. Not surprisingly, the paid psychiatrist concluded the professor was “mentally deranged, dangerous, and deserving of forcible removal from the university”—despite the fact that the psychiatrist never even met with the professor. That’s all too reminiscent of the way the communist dictators in the Soviet Union used to have political dissidents locked up in insane asylums.

People, wake up to what’s going on! You can read the full article on the Minding the Campus website.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 15, 2023 at 4:26 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

December bluebonnet

with 36 comments


It’s quite a stretch for a bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) to be flowering now, but that’s what I found this one doing on December 9th at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The normal bloom period is March–May.

More to be expected at this time of year was a queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus, on Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii. With an angled portrait like this one you can’t expect to get a subject, especially a frequently moving one, sharp throughout. I aimed for the head, knowing the farther parts would be out of focus. Some motion blur back there actually appeals to me.



© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 14, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Fall colors at Pecos National Historic Park

with 16 comments


On October 19th we spent time at Pecos National Historical Park in north-central New Mexico. While most people visit the place for insights into the ways the Spaniards and native people interacted, as a photographer I still found things in nature to photograph—even if my task was made harder by a prohibition against wandering off the trails because this was a historic site with artifacts yet to be unearthed and restored.



The top picture shows how I looked down from a high place at trees turning bright yellow. At first I assumed the group at the right was cottonwoods (Populus deltoides subsp. wislizenii) but now the white bark makes me wonder if they were aspens (Populus tremuloides). The second photograph is one I could have taken at home because fragrant sumac (Rhus trilobata) grows in Austin. Below, chamisa, also called rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) was flowering, sometimes exuberantly.



One group of those plants attracted lots of butterflies, including a painted lady, Vanessa cardui, which I also could have photographed back in Austin (though not on chamisa). The smaller butterfly looks like it might have been a checkered skipper, Pyrgis communis, which also frequents central Texas.



© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 10, 2022 at 4:32 AM


with 18 comments


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.)



§       §       §



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

with 17 comments


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

with 17 comments

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?




§        §        §



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

Tagged with , , , ,


with 12 comments

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.


☙        ☙        ☙


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

%d bloggers like this: