Saturday, December 23, 2017

Monarch On Cowpen Daisy

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) clinging to a Cowpen Daisy (Verbesina encelioides).

Somehow I missed them for two years. Not the Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) which I could find all over the 17 acres, but that single spot of Cowpen Daisies (Verbesina encelioides) right on the fence to our neighbor. Venturing out in mid-October they were still in full bloom with clusters of late migrating Monarchs clinging to the blooms like cars in line to fill up at a Buckee's gas station next to the highway, destination Mexico.

After a first cold front most of the Monarchs were gone, other butterflies and bugs using the daisy as a late nurturing place. By early November the plants had wilted, dried out and the flowers have become clusters of white seeds. I collected the seeds, planted them and I'm trying to grow them so I can build some more "gas stations" for the migrating butterflies this coming year. I will post some more pictures of Monarchs and other butterflies and bugs visiting this interesting plant in another blog, but now I gotta go water the ones I planted.

Sources: amu communications photo, wikipedia

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Pumpjack (Oil Rig) In The Sunset

North Central Texas only has a smaller oil basin compared with the Permian in West Texas or the Eagle-Ford in South Tecas, so Pump Jacks are rather a rare sight. This one is located above the Bend Arch - Fort Worth Basin oil reserve between Alexander and Stephenville, Texas. I thought that the silhouette with the setting sun would make a great shot.

Not only refers it "romantically" to the old days of using fossil fuels, but it may also signify the end of doing exactly that. As the barrel prices are currently quite low, the pump jack stands mostly idle waiting for better times, where the parent company may make more profit. Also as the cost of a pump jack is "only" around a million dollar, many prospectors are coming back to this old method of gaining oil and gas resources out of the ground instead of using fracking.

Let me know what you think about the picture and our future concerning fossil fuels.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Sunflower Glowing In The Sunset

This is the only sunflower that started to grow from one of these strips that are supposed to produce a whole 10 feet of sunflowers in a row. Well, one is better than none and the other day my wife told me to take a picture of the flower in the evening, as the flower will be completely formed.

I waited right before the sun would set behind the cedar bushes, a couple of first shots, I did not use my flash and obviously got pictures with a relative dark silhouette of the sunflower. So to get more details from the flower I started using the flash, slightly diverted from the white brim of my cowboy hat, to not make the extra light not too harsh on the flower.

In post-processing, I had to enhance some of the darks and whites, basically playing with the contrast, till I had the picture I wanted. I also had to increase some of the blue tones in the sky a bit, to get a bit more life into the sky as well.

I then proceeded to make a BW version of the picture, with different contrast settings to make the monochrome tones work. Thanks to the solar flares, I think that picture works as well.

What do you think? Leave me a comment!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Buckeye Butterfly Perched On Unknown Yellow Flower

I do love Buckeye butterflies (Junonia coenia), their big eyes or eyespots on the fore- and hindwings. With the pigmented spots they are actually able to scare off predators. It is believed that the spots developed through evolution to give them a functioning defense mechanism. A Swedish study claims that the spots not only keep birds away but that also chickens are intimidated by the frightening eyes.

We have one or two roaming around our "ranch" so I will share more of these beauties as I shoot them. Last October I posted a picture of one sitting on top of a false thistle in my blog "Buckeye Riding On Top of Leavenworth's Eryngo" and even mentioned that the US Postal Service had a stamp honoring the Buckeyes.

Handrail - Light & Shadow

There is beauty in the urban jungle.
Open your eyes, wander and wonder.

This entry to an office complex was next door to where I was living, so strolling by I was immediately taken by the play of Light & Shadow. Even when I shot it, it was clear to me that this will be a Black & White picture.

I also like the dichotomy between the concrete and metal on one side and the tree in the background. Urban minimalism.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Monochrome Texas Windmill

Stell Dich mitten in den Wind,
glaub an ihn und sei ein Kind -
laß den Sturm in Dich hinein
und versuche, gut zu sein!

Put yourself in the middle of the wind
believe in it and behave like a kid
let the storm embrace you
and try to be good!

German lyrics Wolfgang Borchert / translation by me

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Widow Skimmer Waiting For Prey

Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) belongs to the group of dragonflies known as king skimmers. The nymphs live in the water, molting and growing until they are ready to emerge from the water and then molting a final time to reveal their wings. Even though we don't have standing water on our property, the little marsh obviously was wet enough to give us a Widow Skimmer.

This is still a male youngster - adults have a steely blue body area, but juveniles are yellow with brown stripes.
I hope to see many more, as they normally prey on mosquitoes.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Young Pine Cone

There are at least three dozen different pines all over the United States. Not exactly sure what I found here on the side of an urban road, but the growth of young pine cone fascinated me. Also with the import of foreign species for landscaping purposes I'm not even sure if it would be a domestic US pine or if the "shrubbery" is actually from Asia or from Mexico. As far as I can tell the bundle of needles is two hold together by the sheath.
Not being a biologist I also have no clue, if these are female or male parts. Maybe somebody of the readers could share some insight.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I Hear The Train A-Comin'

On my first visit to the US, I was staying with a friend who lived close to the railroad tracks. During the night a train was approaching and honked his horn because of a nearby unsecured grade-level crossing. Man, I never woke up that fast at 3am in the middle of one of my R.E.M. phases. I mean I was standing next to the bed wondering what just happened to me. Growing up, I was used to a mere loud whistle, but that intensity could have woken a dead man!
The next morning over coffee, I asked my friend about the trains and he shrugged his shoulders and said, that he can't hear them anymore when they are driving by at night. Well since then, train horns became part of my life, wherever I lived, I was able to hear "short short long short" outbursts of air. Sometimes from a distance, sometimes closer to the tracks.
Trains fascinated me since my early childhood, when my grandfather took me to watch trains passing the big train bridge leading them into my hometown and the love never subdued. Recently we stumbled upon some special locomotives of a small local railroad, in yellow and blue livery. And that's where I took the picture of the train chimes as they are also called. I loved the minimal approach with the blue sky behind the horns.
And no, I did not know that there are that many different manufacturers of horns and that they all chime for a free-passing in different tones, till I stumbled upon the video below.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Let Love Grow Slowly

Slow down!

As they say - smell the roses.

Yes love can be a "burning ring of fire" as June Carter & Merle Kilgore co-wrote in the song made famous by Johnny Cash, but sometimes you have to be careful to not "burn out." So let it grow. Let it grow slow. Take time, rest, enjoy and contemplate. And as that snail is working up its way, keep on working on it. Life is not a race, we all get to the end. Sooner or better later.

I prefer being late to my funeral. There is a lot I want to cherish before that. Love is one thing!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Sunset - Promise of a New Day

Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Last March, on a trip back to Texas from Atlanta, we had just crossed the Chattahoochee River and came into the little hamlet of Columbia, Alabama. The combination of church and sunset, made us stop, it just looked magical.

Finally coming around, editing the picture - I did some research on that church building and found out that the Columbia United Methodist Church had quite a little history in its walls.  According to a website that seems to not have been updated in over 15 years, the town of Columbia was founded in 1821.

So called circuit riders (clergymen on horseback who rode from congregation to congregation to give their sermons) were the first to teach, until 1845 when a full-time pastor was appointed. After being housed in a single room building, where the High School is now, the church saw a need for a new building as their congregation was growing. In 1889 the pictured church was completed on Church Street (also named Alabama State Route 52) and Davis Street. After World War II, in 1949 the church was bricked and in 1956 and 1978 tow annex buildings for sunday school and a fellowship hall were added.

But not everything is new, the website says that the church still houses the original bell of the first church, which was carried over to the United Methodist Church in the picture.

Sources: Columbia United Methodist Church

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hogwart? Hemlock? - Tansy Ragwort (maybe)

Seeing the shot, taking the shot, editing the shot - that's one thing! But actually trying to write something to go with it, is a completely other realm. I often spend more time trying to figure out what I shot and what I do tell about it, to make the blogpost more interesting, than in the Lightroom or on Photoshop.

With today's search engines, yes plural is correct - google is not almighty and I often find myself wondering back to the nascent of search about 6 years bg (before google). There was a thing called yahoo, well it still dabbles around, even though by now part of (tele)communications company Verizon.

Point in case - searching for "Ranch Weed Texas" on big mama didn't even bring me close. Hogwart, Hemlock, different wild carrot species showed up. All the pictures showed flowers as well, simply ignoring my quest that I took the shot in mid-winter, in January.  So long story short, after roaming a gazillion pages and photos, it was finally yahoo that suggested to me that this could be a Tansy - a Tansy Ragwort.

Yeah how the stems run to the flowers and form the little clusters is way different from Hogwart and Hemlock and it could well be Tansy Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris), So if I find it again in spring, early summer (it's somewhere in the northwestern end of the property) and I get yellow flowers on it, then I may know more. But it would also mean that I would search it with a shovel and get rid of it - as they are considered invasive and toxic to livestock. And it wouldn't matter that the decaying beauty made for quite a gorgeous photo. Don't you agree?

Sources: google, yahoo,

Friday, January 13, 2017

Don't Pick The Prickly Pear With The Paw...

Withering prickly pear fruit in Winter. As the cacti (Opuntia) are quite abundant on the ranch, this year I will try to make some PP jam, maybe a bitch even spicier with an added jalapeno to it.

Does anybody have a good recipe to share?

And yes I remember this form the Jungle Book

Don't pick your prickly pear with your paw
When you pick a pear use your claw

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Red Soil And Sweet Gum Tree

Oh land and soil,
red soil and sweet gum tree,
So scant of grass,
so profligate of pines

Jean Toomer

Writer and poet Jean Toomer described the sweet-gum tree in his poem "Song of the Son" in his more natural environment. In the meantime the tree, also called Alligator-Wood has become an ornamental tree even outside of his habitat, largely because of it's fiery red shining leaves during automn.

The picture depicts a cluster of sweetgum tree seedpods or fruits, by now (it's January) dried out and lying around in big batches. If you're an airhead, you may actually slip on them and fall.

Sources: Wikipedia, Modern American Poetry (via, Seeds in the front yard

I'd Rather Be A Fence Post In Texas...

I love the story in this simple picture. Sitting on top of the former eastern coastline of the Kansas Ocean, on a formation called Trinity Group, formed around 110 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period. Due to the high caulk & limestone amounts, most of this area is mostly used as ranchland to grow cattle.

Once grains were cultivated here, but the yields were mediocre and some of the grain mills in the area closed. So it's mostly open spaces, austere to a certain degree, but still full of beauty. I also love the negation of the wide open spaces with the prominent fence post and its barbwire in front, well at least from a picture point of view. And as they say, fences make for good neighbors or at least they keep the cattle from roaming the road.

As singer/songwriter Chris Wall said in the 90s - "I'd Rather Be A Fence Post In Texas, Than The King of Tennessee."

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Abre Los Ojos - Open Your Eyes

Playing around with the camera yesterday afternoon, I walked back into the house and saw "Pancho" (well my wife says it's Pancho) staring at me. We do have a slight problem of keeping the two brothers apart - Lefty looks exactly like him, with a tad smaller head. But how can you tell if you can't compare. And as he sat there, he was not purring or meowing either - that's two of the differences between them.

And yes "Pancho And Lefty" got named after the Townes Van Zandt song, recorded by many, but made famous by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. And thanks to Alejandro Amenábar for the inspiring title to this post.

Curled Up - Emerging Sago Palm Leaves

Wrongly named Sago Palm (there is actually a palm with that name), this belongs to Sago Palm Fern family and originally hails from Southern Japan. By now it's a widely distributed ornamental shrub all over the world, in mostly tropic (even though it doesn't exist in the rain-forest) and sub-tropic climates.

Its Latin name, Cycas revoluta refers actually to its leaves, as revoluta means curled back - as you can well see on the picture above. They are pretty cold resistance, in case they freeze and all the leaves turn yellow, just cut them back to the pineapple looking and stinging "trunk" and give them some month to recuperate and start anew.

A client of mine had some "older" sagos, where actually a male and female species started to develop - with a big cone on the male one and a leaf in the middle of the female one that carried the sporangia, the seeds being as big or even bigger than and as hard as a chestnut. Do not try to consume the leaves or the seeds, they are quite toxic and can lead to death.

Sources: Several Wikipedia sites,

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Caliche Sediment - Abstract Nature

After my first Sunset of the Year and my Cocklebur, this is a complete "different" part of our land, actually the land itself or at least part of it. As it looks we have different soil systems at various places throughout the 17 acres. Everything from shallow grayish brown gravelly to Caliche sediment and rock.

Fortunately this part of the clayey soil with it's shrink and swell capacity isn't near the house, as it may else damage the foundation it's build on. Besides not being too fertile, as it may tear roots apart, when it shrinks, it can be used in constructing adobe blocks to build a wall for a water cattle tank or landscaping. With calcium-carbonate it can also from into rocks or bind rocks almost like a cement.

I mostly took a picture of it, because of it's abstract nature, detailing that even in "useless" soil is a hidden beauty.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

First Sunset of the Year - 364 To Go

Meanwhile back at the ranch, we had a great sunset on New Year's day. With temperatures hovering around 70 degrees (20 C) we got spoiled for the first two days. The colder days now (below 40 / 3 C) give me at least time to edit some of the pictures I shot strolling through the vastness of the land. Even though there weren't many critters of any kind around, there is always an opportunity to find something, like the beautiful large cocklebur I posted yesterday. I can barely wait till all the wildflowers and the butterflies return.

Unfortunately it started raining that night and I wasn't able to take pictures of the gigantic Milky Way above us. I'm sure I will be trying again pretty soon.

And no - don't worry I won't post another 364 sunsets, even though every one up on the bluff is a real blessing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Large Cocklebur - How Velcro Came From Nature

The origins of the large Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) are unknown, but it is suspected that they originally hailed from Central and South America, even though they were first mentioned in European literature. But they are known to have been used by the Zuni, Native Americans for medicinal purposes. This even though the plant is toxic and can actually kill a cow.

The burs in the picture are so large, about an inch (~ 2.5 cm) that at first, I didn't make the connection with the familiar to me smaller "Klette" I grew up with in the Alpine regions of Europe. As I shot this on January 1st (winter), there weren't any leaves to help me identifying the plant either. I finally found a picture with similar burs that led me to where I was able to give them the proper name.

I also learned that they belong to the sunflower family Asteraceae. The species I found was about three feet tall, right in the middle of their normal size. Around here (Central Texas) they are considered a weed and a pest, as they not only can harm an animal with its toxins, but also mechanically if they should swallow whole burs. They also use the furs of animals to spread itself.

That function of hook and loop was later adopted, when Swiss electrical engineer George De Mestral  came up with the Velcro idea, after taking his dogs on a mountain hike in Switzerland. After a ten year search to find the right materials, he patented the fastener as Velcro (a combination of the French words velours (velvet) and crochet (hook.)

Sources: Wikipedia,,,