Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘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

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

Textures

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On August 12th I spent some time on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin. Of the many textures I observed there then, this post singles out two. Compare and contrast, as schoolteachers are wont to say.

In the first you’re looking at a Texas spiny lizard, Sceloporus olivaceus, on one of those low construction fences that have become so common in central Texas (and presumably also everywhere else).

The second picture is a closeup of the brain-like chartreuse fruit of a Maclura pomifera tree—known as osage orange, hedge apple, and bois d’arc—that I found fallen on the ground.

Did you know that the words text and texture are both ancient metaphors? They come from textus, the past participle of the Latin verb texere, which meant literally ‘to weave,’ and then more generally ‘to fabricate.’ As a noun, textus took on the sense “the style of a work,” which is metaphorically how it is woven, which is to say its texture. The subjects of these portraits gave me a pretext for providing a bit of etymology that I hope has let you put things in context (two more derivatives of textus).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 15, 2020 at 2:38 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

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

Bluebell bud and flower

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Way back on June 8th I went to a little pond I know on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin because in some previous years I’d found good amounts of bluebells (Eustoma sp.) there. No luck then, but I did better when I returned on July 29th. Well, only slightly better: I found exactly three scattered bluebells, and all of them had been partly eaten (by what, I don’t know). By getting on the ground and aiming judiciously, I managed to make this portrait of a bluebell bud rising in front of a non-nibbled part of one of the flowers.

In our Ancient History Department, the magazine Archaeology reports in its July/August 2020 issue the discovery at Abri du Maras in France of the earliest known piece of cord. It dates back 46,000 years and was made, surprisingly, by Neanderthals. The article says that the “cord was made of three separate strands of fiber taken from the inner bark of a coniferous tree… The strands were then twisted in a clockwise direction to hold the fibers together, after which they were twisted together in a counterclockwise motion to make the cord.” That led archaeologist Bruce Hardy of Kenyon College “to believe that Neanderthals shared a cognitive capacity for mathematics with modern humans.” You can read more about this find in a Science News story.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 19, 2020 at 4:46 AM

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