We have had huge amounts of rainfall in Deer Park over the last several months. Everything is green and blooming, bugs are happy and it is time to get the cameras out and back in use. The Lawther-Deer Park Prairie Preserve is the perfect place to break out the camera gear. While I do use some high dollar equipment, it is not necessary to come away with memorable photos.
Damselfly in Dew
Photography is all about the light. It can be early morning or it can be late evening, but that choice will have more to do with a successful photo than the gear you use. The quality of light at those times is exceptional, almost golden as it sweeps across the prairie. All you have to do is place yourself there at the right time and frame up that beautiful scene. You can shoot wide or you can choose to shoot up close, allowing that light to fall on your subject and bring it to life. It is the easiest way to share that beauty with your friends and family.
This photo represents the first thing I saw when I first set my eyes upon the Lawther-Deer Park Prairie Preserve. I am not talking about these particular flowers and grasses, but what my mind registered at first glance. In any three foot by three foot area, I saw multiple flowers, insects and grasses. I was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and abundance of it all.
I still feel that way every time I step out onto the prairie. I want to see what different subjects I can find to photograph on each trip out there. Not only do I challenge myself to create a thing of beauty to view on a computer or in a print, but I accept the responsibility to also try and identify each subject I photograph.
So, what do you see in this photograph? Click on the photo to see a larger version. Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you know the identity of any plant, flower or grass in this photo.
My favorite time to shoot macro is at sunrise, closely followed by those occasions where dew is present. I can shoot with just one of them, but prefer having both at the same time. I have been very fortunate over the last several weeks to have both. Dew adds another whole dimension to a photograph of small subjects, including flowers.
This photo is a 9 shot image stack, all shot at the same setting, but at different focus points. I was actually leaving the Lawther-Deer Park Prairie Preserve last Saturday, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw this flower glistening in the sunlight. Upon closer inspection I realized I wanted to capture it, and in turn I’m sharing it with you.
Silky Aster (Symphyotrichum pratense)
We had a pretty good rain on the Lawther-Deer Park Prairie Preserve today, brought about by a cold front coming through town. I wanted to capture the cloud formation that came through with the front as it passed over the prairie this evening. I only had my iPhone with me, but the clouds were moving out fast as the sun dropped lower in the sky. I decided to drive over to shoot it, before losing the opportunity.
The prairie looked great, having soaked up most of the rain. It was a beautiful scene. The sunshine was playing over the prairie as the wind caused the grasses to wave softly back and forth. Click on the photo to see it full size.
Sunset and Clouds over the Prairie
The Lawther-Deer Park Prairie Preserve is quickly becoming one of my favorite locations to photograph nature. One of the big pluses is the fact that I can be there in about 6 minutes. The prairie is located close to where I live. It has so many different subjects I can capture in camera that I actually feel bad when I go longer than a week without shooting there.
I also realize what a treasure the prairie is for our community of Deer Park. We get to enjoy this through the hard work of the Houston chapter of the Native Prairie Association of Texas (HNPAT) members, and as a result of the Bayou Land Conservancy who spearheaded funding to purchase the site.
In this post, I highlight some flowers and insects I have seen and photographed over the last several weeks. Many of these are smaller than 1″ in length or diameter. Some are smaller, some are larger. You have to look close to see many of them. That means I am using macro and close-up lenses to try to fill the frame with my subject. The best time to shoot is early morning, right at sunrise. The wind is usually laying low as the sun comes up, and the light is a warm golden color. As these photos also indicate, you can get them covered in dew to really make them stand out.
Prairie Gaillardia (Gaillardia aestivalis)
White Prairie Aster (Symphyotrichum falcatum)
Long-necked Seed Bug (Myodocha serripes)
The Fragile Forktail Damselfly Ischnura posita is one of the smallest damselflies, measuring about 1 inch long. The only thing that helps to locate them hiding in the grasses, are the big colorful eyes, and the colorful markings on their thorax. It is difficult to tell from this angle, but Fragile Forktails are identified by having two distinguishing exclamation marks on their thorax. They are most active spring through early fall.
In order to spot them you have to stop, crouch down low, and slowly scan a small area in front of you. I can usually only spot one peripherally (from the corners of my eyes) as it slowly hovers back and forth, low to the ground.
Damselflies differ from most dragonflies in size, and by the fact that their wings are usually (not always) folded back onto their body when at rest. They eat mosquitoes and flies, but will eat most anything they can catch.
At sunrise one morning, I spotted this one hovering as I slowly scanned the grasses in front of me. Fortunately for me, it landed on a small twig with a great colored background.
Fragile Forktail Damselfly Ischnura posita
The Lawther-Deer Park Prairie Preserve contains 300+ grasses and plants to date that have been identified, and listed in a database. Many of them are readily seen by scanning your eyes over the prairie. Many of them are small, and require closer inspection. The same thing holds true for the subject of this post.
While Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardi) is tall and beautiful, this Yellow Jacket Hoverfly (Milesia virginiensis) at 1/2″ length can barely be seen without a closer look. Photo taken Sunday September 19, 2014.
In my journal, through the use of photos and words, I hope to convey the raw beauty of the Lawther-Deer Park Prairie Preserve. This view of the waning crescent moon, coupled with the colors of twilight across the prairie just before sunrise this morning, was spectacular. While photos and words can help shape that view, there is nothing like standing at this spot, at this time, in person.
It is easy to see the draw for nature lovers when you first lay eyes on the Lawther-Deer Park Prairie Preserve. It is a large open 51 acre tract of land, populated with all manner of highly visible grasses and plants. Many of those have flowers. The fact that it is nestled in the middle of a very active urban city makes it even more impressive.
I made my first real foray onto the prairie after it had been recently cut. There was a 7 acre section of prairie left uncut, to provide a glimpse into what the whole will look like as it grows back. What is not readily evident, are the myriad small critters living within those prairie grasses and plants. You have to stop and look closely to see many of them, since they are camouflaged quite well.
My first few steps onto the trail cut through the prairie grass garnered me an interesting subject to photograph. The very first insect I saw was a mantis. I had not seen one in years, so it was certainly a pleasant surprise to be able to photograph one. Mantises are comprised of several different types, though they are all very efficient predators of the insect world.
It took me some time to finally get an accurate ID on this one, due to its unusual features. The front legs were a slimmed down version of what most mantises look like. The body also more resembled a walking stick, which is herbivorous (they mostly eat plants and leaves). This one also did not have wings.
This is a Slim Mexican Mantis (Bactromantis mexicana) female. They are found in Mexico through southern Arizona, and southernmost Texas. The females are wingless. I really like the eyes, and this one turned to look right at me as I photographed her.
I made another foray to the Lawther-Deer Park Prairie Preserve today. My goal over the next year is to show, in photos and in words, what nature lives and thrives on the prairie. It will be from a nature photographer’s perspective, but also as a member of the community that the preserve resides in.
As the sun broke over the horizon, and spilled light onto the prairie, this is what I wanted to capture. The muted tones across the landscape, and a just rising sun, combine for a nice backlit shot.
There is beauty all around as I walk the trail through the prairie.
Prairie Blazing Star Liatris pycnostachya