Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer is for the Bugs

Many of my previous posts have featured Hornsby Bend as a favorite place to go watch birds.  Hornsby Bend is a biowaste treatment facility with 3 large ponds, and trails along the Lower Colorado River.  Roads around the ponds give you close views of the water fowl who overwinter on the ponds and space to stretch your legs.  During the winter months, the ponds are as crowded as the first day of school with hundreds of feeding ducks, and over 50 different species of birds in and around the ponds and river stream.  However like summer's empty school yards, the ponds are quiet with only a handful of coots and an ocasional turtle head breaking the glassy water surface at this time of year.  It is now that my attention shifts from birds to bugs on our weekly hikes.

Of all the insects at Hornsby Bend, the order that is impossible to ignore are the Dragonflies- Odonata.  I don't know the number of dragonfly species in the Austin area, but there is a large variety to see.  My favorite part about dragonflies is the range of colors, and of course their agile flying stunts; zooming up and down, zig-zagging, loopy-looping, stop and going.  It's no wonder that their eyes are so big; enabling them to see and react in time as they speed everywhere they're going.  Taking pictures of these devils was a little harder than I anticipated, they always land just a foot or two out of the camera's reach, and move just before you get the camera in focus.  I would try to get a few snaps and then run catch up to Jacob and the dogs only to see another dragonfly which needed to be photographed.   I haven't taken a bug net along to catch any insects, but can imagine the extreme variety camouflaged in the shrubbery.  Yes, summer is for the bugs!

Common Whitetail on a tent caterpillar nest

A Common Whitetail trying to land on a Widow Skimmer

A male (pink) and female (orange) Rosette Skimmer
A tiny Amberwing (less than 1 inch long)

Female Easter Pondhawk

Male Pondhawk

Scissor-tailed flycatcher (or dragonfly catcher)

Argiope spider

Are you coming?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Texture in Nature and Art

In order to experience texture you have to touch a thing; it is a physical and active way to become familiar with an object.  Texture is the way an item feels, everything has its own texture; bark can be bumpy, scratchy, smooth, waxy, cracked, or flaky.  Since no two trees, rocks, or other natural object are exactly the same, there is a limitless number of textures to explore in nature.  You can not experience the way a fern feels by watching the discovery channel's jungle special, you can't experience it in a book, on-line, or by looking at photos. You must actually have a thing with mass and be close enough to touch it.

I am inspired to keep looking for textures found in nature; I like to brush my hands through fluffy grass, wiggle my toes in sand, and get bear hugs.  I enjoy finding the juxtaposition of things with widely different textures for example: a smooth stone surrounded by rough gravel, soft moss next to a hard river bed, or a prickly cactus wedged in a rock crevice.  I enjoy imagining everything in black and white and seeing if any textures pop out from the crowd.  Textures can bring new wonder to a familiar place.  What are your favorite textures?

Memories can be triggered by the way something feels.  The Nature Center celebrated International Mud Day with a big mud pit.  When I squished my toes into the mud, I was transported back to summers of making mud pies, and playing in puddles after summer rainstorms with my cousin Suzy.  Holding a fuzzy peach makes me think of the juicy peaches that grew in my parents orchard and the green june beetles who also liked the delicious fruit.  One of my favorite things about the Nature Center and taking kids on Nature Walks is providing opportunities for kids to make their own memories.  Perhaps, they will member the 'Nature Lady' when they find an earthworm in their garden. 

Texture in 2D art projects can make the subject more interesting, more realistic, and convey an emotion or idea.  Texture can be added literally by adding grit to paint to make a sandy scene or using thick putty to build layers onto a canvas.  Artists can also create the illusion of texture with careful brushwork.  I am often guilty of forgetting about texture as I try to get the color, shape, and shadows just right in a painting.  Using a variety of texture can make the scene more alive, it can add patterns, create repetition, and give variety to an art project.  The closer you get physically to an item the more you can see the texture.  A realistic close up of an animal will show the individual hairs of the fur coat, but an animal at a distance may not even look furry.  Sometimes texture is used abstractly, a rough texture can make the viewer feel uneasy or chaotic, a smooth texture can create a sense of calm.  What kind of texture is used in your favorite work of art?   

I challenge you to look for texture in the week ahead.  Try tuning out color, and see how many different textures you encounter.  I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments section of this blog!

Check out this website to see a bunch of wonderful close up photos of plants, animals, and other nature items.   Check this website for art class definition of texture.

snail fossils and fern

Calcite crystals and ink bottle

Wax honeycomb and oyster shell

Gila monster painting with textures, ACM 2010

Sand grain media for the dirt, glossy glaze for the reptile scales, and lots of gloppy paint in the cactus;
textures used a literally.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reptile quiz

Reptile quiz

A reptile quiz inspired by my post Lizards in my yard. You get 8 questions this time. Have fun!

  1. All reptiles have...

  2. scaly skin
    Body temperatures regulated by the air temperature and
    Eggs with shells
    All of the above

  3. Reptiles live in all regions of the world except...

  4. Pacific islands
    Antarctic and Arctic
    African Savanna
    Mongolian Desert

  5. A basic difference between reptile and amphibian eggs is...

  6. amphibians have lots of eggs and reptiles don't
    reptile eggs have a shell and amphibians don't
    amphibian eggs need to stay warmer than reptile eggs to hatch
    reptile eggs can be eaten by humans and amphibian eggs can not

  7. Lizard pushups and throat flares are an example of what kind of behavior?

  8. attracting prey
    scaring away birds
    mating display
    exercise and fitness

  9. Another name for the cottonmouth snake is

  10. water moccasin
    white mouthed coachwhip
    softy snake

  11. Which kind of snake is known for eating other snakes

  12. Garder Snakes
    Coral Snakes

  13. Which reptile is not a Carnivore?

  14. Cobras
    Gila monsters

  15. Which animal is not a reptile?

  16. T. rex
    Snapping turtle
    Tiger salamander

Thanks for playing.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Snap, Snap, Click

Sunday I finally did it, I went to a book store and purchased a photography book.  I've had my Olympus E-520 camera for about 3 years, but I've never really taken the time to get to know all the extra buttons that it posses.  I've had a mental block, afraid to try new things with my camera, afraid that I would only break it.  My fear stems from the fact that I am not a technical person, and my camera is technical; a mini computer with menus, settings, and programs.  I've often said that I need take a class, but I don't know that I will ever make the time commitment to a class.  The pictures that I have taken are good, but I want to go beyond the basics; to understand how my camera works, be able to know what to do with the camera in different lighting situations, and be able to adjust the camera properly before the lizard, beetle, or kid runs away.  I have started my learning process by using the college photography book, my camera's user manuel, playing with the camera settings, and posting some of my practice photos for you to see.  

This blog and all of you have been a source of encouragement and purpose for me to take more and better photos.  I appreciate knowing others enjoy the pictures of my garden and creatures I come across.  Thank you for allowing me to experiment on you, and giving me your thoughts.  In today's photos, I was practicing with shutter speed and f-stop/aperture, these photos aren't the best, but I think they are fun.  Don't worry after today, I won't include camera jargon with the pictures (unless you ask for it:)).   

Ghost Dog Silly (shutter speed 1.0s)

Slooowww motion wave (shutter speed 2s)

Frog, snail, buda  (f-stop=22)

Frog, snail, buda  (f-stop=4.3)

The dogs!  (f/stop 22)

Two-striped Mermiria Grasshopper (Auto Setting :))

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

SFC East Farmer's Market

A new Tuesday Farmer's Market opened this Spring on the East side of Austin close to my house.  The farmer's market is run by the Sustainable Food Center of Austin, a non-profit with the goal of promoting healthy eating and connecting people to locally produced food.  I have become a regular customer getting fresh veggies, fruit, eggs, bread, pesto sauce, and occasionally a cool drink.  I'm happy the East Farmer's Market gives me the opportunity to purchase quality food. 

Going to the weekly market has made me more aware of the growing seasons.  For example, I think of eating salads in the summer, but lettuce is a cool weather plant...a summer salad isn't based on lettuce, but cucumbers, corn, or tomatoes.  There are many simple recipes I can make that taste great with the fresh ingredients that I get at the Farmer's Market.  

I enjoy the fair-like atmosphere of the Farmer's Market; I imagine it is a little like what markets might have been years ago, but thankfully with health regulations.  It is fun to see all the colors and variety of foods displayed; I get to know the farmers; and I can ask them questions about my own garden (such as, 'Why aren't my watermelon flowers pollinating?').  The personal contacts we have at the Market means that everyone helps everyone else out when they can.  The farmers from Simmons Family Farms set aside eggs for me, while the guy at Johnson Backyard Farms gave me a break when I was a dollar short and I paid him back the next week.  The lady from RRR Farms emailed me a pie crust recipe, and the guy from Engel Farms usually throws in an extra peach or tomato to make sure I'm getting a good basket.   It's fun, we're all friends...unlike the usual shopping cart race.  I'm thankful for farmers that grow and provide healthy food, and the SFC East Farmer's Market where I buy it. 

Food Tasting Table, each vendor donates some items for people to try.

There are about 10 vendors at the Market

I get eggs from Simmons Family Farm.
I don't have to look at the eggs; I know they will be good.

There are several types of chilies in season.


Johnson's Backyard Farm has a variety of peppers, too.

Johnson's Backyard Farm

Engel Farms always has super peaches.

Funny money.  I never have cash,
but you can buy and use tokens to get food.

RRR Farm's table with squash, melons, eggs, and a guest book. 

A hot or iced drink for the trip home.