Ecclesiastes – there is a season – Turn! Turn! Turn!

18 March, 2018           Ecclesiastes – there is a season – Turn! Turn! Turn!

Today is the final Sunday of winter. Spring officially begins Tuesday at 12:15 PM EDT when the sun crosses the equator from south to north. I don’t know enough about the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes to address it knowledgeably. But Pete Seeger based a song on it in the late 1950’s and The Byrds covered it in 1965. The seasons are always turning, but today is officially “winter” and a week from today will be officially “spring” and if you spend time outdoors, you’ll see both. And if you’re in Richmond, Virginia, they’re currently predicting snow on Wednesday – the first full day of Spring! We’ll see.

Speaking of snow in Richmond, I took this picture of a Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) perched outside my office window in driving snow on Monday of this week:  

Northern Flicker in the snow

Tuesday was pretty but I didn’t get a ton of good pictures. Wednesday I got my first osprey of 2018! The inexorable advance of the season. Now I’m guaranteed a raptor a week between now and at least August. There will be at least one osprey on that nest until the chicks fledge (the eggs haven’t even been laid yet) in the summer. But this is across Parham Road from the West End Assembly of God, one power line tower south (toward the river) of the parking lot. This was one of a pair; the other one was flying around above: 

1st Parham Road osprey of 2018:

Raptors included in my “raptor-a-week” project include Red-tailed hawks, Red-shouldered hawks, Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Barred Owls. There is a small but non-zero chance I’ll get a Great Horned Owl and/or an American Kestrel. I could also go downtown and try to “get” a Peregrine Falcon – we have them in downtown Richmond – but it’s unlikely.

I got a Red-shouldered hawk earlier in the morning the same day I got the osprey (Wednesday). It was early in the morning and I wasn’t in photography mode and the hawk was a bit ruffled too but it was my first raptor of the week:

Neither the hawk or I were ready for this shot. Possibly should have skipped it. But it was my first raptor of the week.

I got another Red-shouldered hawk close to my house the next day. It was sitting on a wire. I had my bike on my car and this hawk wasn’t real comfortable when I stopped near it. This isn’t an awful image though:

Red-shouldered hawks seem comfortable on low perches

Looking at that bird – and other Red-shoulders I’ve seen – I had a sudden realization about the hunting habits of Red-shouldered hawks (RSH’s) v. Red-tailed hawks (RTH’s). 90% of the RSH’s I’ve seen have been low – 20 or 30 feet above the ground. Usually on neighborhood power lines or phone lines.  90% of the RTH’s I’ve seen have been high – 80 to 100 feet above the ground. Usually on electric towers or cell phone towers. I have never – in all these  years, with all this photography – seen it the other way around. So they  must not compete.

On Saint Patrick’s Day – as luck would have it – a Mockingbird “posed” for quite a while on my feeders. I was typing or reading or something and snapped a few images. The suet and the scruffy pole make an inelegant background, but Mockingbirds are in my opinion elegant. They’re rewarding to photograph, though I’m not 100% certain why that’s the case:

Sharp looking bird, inelegant background

Our hyacinths have been above the ground for some time as the season turns, turns, turns, turns. I took this picture beside our driveway this morning at 10:30 – but you really need to smell a hyacinth to fully appreciate it:

Hyacinth gleaming and fragrant beside our driveway this morning

Today also, remarkably, I got a red-tail on our way home from the river near the Westbury Pharmacy: 

1st Red-tail of a 2 Red-tail day – this one near the Westbury Apothecary

Then went riding at West Creek and on the way home one flew across Patterson Avenue and landed in a tree next to the driveway at the Tuckahoe YMCA. This pair had an offspring get hit by a car on Patterson Avenue and killed last year; I’m glad they’ve seen fit to try this spot again. It’s a good environment:

2nd Red-tail of the day – at the Tuckahoe YMCA

I’m watching the lilacs as the season turns, turns, turns again. Ours will bloom in mid-April; every year their fragrance reminds me of Walt Whitman’s When Lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d. It’s heartbreaking because it’s Whitman’s experience of stepping outdoors the moment he’d heard Lincoln had been assassinated (15 April, 1865) and smelling lilacs. And lilacs and Lincoln’s assassination became inextricably linked in his mind. In the poem Whitman also writes about Hermit Thrushes; this is the passage:

In the swamp in secluded recesses,

A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary the thrush

The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,

Sings by himself a song. (lines 18–22)

I was thinking about hermit thrushes before I left the house this morning, and one popped out on the edge of the parking lot at Pony Pasture just as Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I were getting in the car to head home. Keep your eyes out – they’re attractive little birds, but it’s not for nothing they’re called “hermits” – they don’t advertise their presence. Here’s the one we saw this morning:

Hermit thrush at Pony Pasture this morning

I’m also beginning a project at Pony Pasture as soon as the trees leaf out. Black Walnut trees (Juglans nigra) were a favorite of my Dad’s and I’ve always loved walnut wood myself. I’m going to locate a few black walnuts in Pony Pasture and watch them throughout the year. I’m also considering locust trees, and possibly pawpaws and sassafras and redbuds. Of course a sycamore or two, the signature tree of Pony Pasture.

Have an excellent week! Come back next week!

All best,


Posted in Birds, Flowers, Fun, hyacinths, James River, mockingbirds, Northern flicker, ospreys, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I’ve been upstaged!

11 March, 2018            I’ve been upstaged!

My friend Sam got a better raptor picture than any I’ve gotten this year! Have a look:

Barred owl Monday afternoon at Pony Pasture – perfect light, perfect picture. Great job Sam!

I’ve been working on a-raptor-a-week this whole year – today is the end of the tenth week – and been successful each week. I’ve gotten a couple of cool images, including a Bald Eagle on January 1, a couple of accipiters, and a couple of Red-tails holding fresh caught squirrels. But nothing to write home about. Then Monday afternoon Sam and I were hiking at Pony Pasture and we heard the familiar sounds of a Barred Owl near where the pipe crosses the creek. If you’ve never heard one, check it out here: Barred Owl sounds. If you hear something that sounds owl-like at Pony Pasture, it’s generally a Barred owl.

We looked across the creek and saw a person watching one with binoculars but we couldn’t see it. She crossed on the pipe and told us where it was. We had the dogs, so we went down, crossed on the bridge then came back up. Sam lay on the ground to keep steady and he took one shot – like he was using film or something – and it was that one. Better than anything I did all day. He was in the right place at the right time. That light vanished when I pointed the camera.

This was the river at 3:40 that day. We started taking owl pictures at 5:05:  

James River at Pony Pasture – my Safe Space

I’ve gotten a few shadowy pictures of Red-tails near my house this week. If Sam hadn’t gotten that Barred Owl I’d probably use one. But they’re such poor quality compared to that owl!

I did get a nice mockingbird Wednesday at Hollywood Cemetery. When they pose, as they occasionally do, they photograph well. I took this picture out of the driver’s side window of my car, the perfect urban blind:

Does this bird look like it’s modeling? I don’t know what else it was doing. Warming up. Digesting. Something.

I was also at the river for a bit on Thursday. I see buffleheads every time I’m there now; every photographic experience (for me) is the same with them. They’re never too near or too far – they seem to ignore people more than almost any other bird. They just stay out there in the middle of the river, constantly. I snapped a frame Thursday when one was flying:

Bufflehead flying. I’ve seen 10,000 or more in my life – and never once on land. Or in a tree. Only flying or swimming. 

I had my “big pack” of dogs at the river today – five dogs. They can be a handful, but were cooperative and amiable this morning. I took a bunch of pictures, but none that I really loved. This is from my phone; I put it up on instagram so it also went on facebook. This is close to the 1 / 4 mark – all the way down the riverbank until just before the creek:

Lola on the left with her back to us. Mackey is black, Yuki is white. Turner is the brown dog second-to-right, and Luna is all the way on the right.

As my friend Holly – who lives in Hawaii no less – wrote when she saw this on Facebook “That must surely be what heaven looks like!” In my opinion that is heaven! The James River at Pony Pasture on a Sunday morning with five dogs – it can’t be improved! Unless maybe with six dogs… hmm… .  

After our hike we dropped Yuki off at Ariel’s house. Then Mackey and Turner and I took Lola and Luna to their house and dropped them off. So we’re driving home – we have less than two miles to go – we pass the Tuckahoe Shopping Center and then Tuckahoe Elementary School and I see a Red-shouldered Hawk perched on a wire next to the road. Red-shoulders sit and wait for a long time, so I came back and parked and got out and took this shot:

Red-shouldered hawk watches me from a wire on Forest Avenue

For perspective – and if you want to look up the location – I took a step backward and snapped this image. Look closely on the wire just to the left of the letter “F” in the word “Forest” on the street sign. See the hawk sitting right there? That’s how they look in urban environments. You can pass right by and not notice them:

See the hawk? Just to the left of the “F” in “Forest”? Above the “r” in “Paris”?

I suspect it won’t snow tomorrow, or if it does snow, it won’t amount to much. If it does, we’ll be ready. If not, we’ll be ready when the first cold Canadian cold fronts blow down in the Autumn. Our friend Tim Drake at Drake’s Lawn Care Service ((804) 837-1555) has been selling us firewood since I moved to this house in 2001. Not to mention helping out with our yard when we’ve needed it! This will keep the house warm for a while:  This will hopefully be enough to keep us warm through the snow tomorrow. Thanks Tim!

Anyway, that’s it for today, the final day of the tenth week of 2018. Have an excellent week – and come back next week!

All best,


Posted in Birds, buffleheads, Dogs, firewood, Fun, James River, mockingbirds, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Rivers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Squirrel lovers, avert your gaze

4 March, 2018            Squirrel lovers, avert your gaze

This is a non-sequitur – but Evelyn, my faithful editor, is out of town this weekend. She normally reins in my blogging impulsivity, in addition to correcting my spelling and grammatical errors, so you may notice the absence of her influence on this blog post.

I didn’t ask her if I could use this image, so I hope she won’t mind. She sent it around 5:30 this evening – I’m guessing that’s when she took it. Evelyn grew up on Waackaack Creek in New Jersey; her mother still lives that house and her sister Jackie is not far away. Evelyn is visiting them both this weekend. I grew up in suburban Maryland inside the Beltway; it was probably about twenty feet from our house to our next-door-neighbor’s house on either side. This is the view where Evelyn grew up:

Waackaack Creek, New Jersey, a couple of hours ago. Thanks for the picture Ev!

Anyway, back to the way this blog post started out. I saw precisely one raptor this week – two if you count when her mate flew over and they took off together. Normally I see ten or more during the course of a week. I’m not sure why this week (Week 9 of 2018) was so slow for raptors.

The Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is the most visible wild mammal in central Virginia. If you live in this area and you didn’t see one today, you probably will tomorrow. They’re everywhere, all the time. Adult gray squirrels are too big and tough even for many hawks in this area, but they still make up a large part of a Red-tail’s diet. I was in my backyard Wednesday – filling my bird feeders, believe it or not – when a Red-tail flew very low over my head and landed in a sweet gum tree next to my house. The hawk was carrying a very dead gray squirrel. The picture is not shocking but neither is it pretty. Especially if you love squirrels. So I’ll put it several images down. And start with something more cheerful – a whitetail deer from this morning at Pony Pasture!

When you’re taking pictures in the woods – or anyway when I’m taking pictures in the woods – things happen that you are unaware of. Or I’m unaware of, anyway. When I first took this picture, I was sure I was only seeing one deer. They started to move later, but it wasn’t until I got home that I noticed the two deer on the right of the picture: 

A deer in the center, two more on the right

To give an idea of how close the deer let us get, have a look at this brief video. I point the camera at the dogs then move it around to the deer. They watch the dogs (and me) but they don’t waste valuable energy running away: 

A couple of daffodils from today – I never tire of them: 

Daffodils still glowing beside the trail at Pony Pasture this morning

Possibly they were out earlier and I missed them, but this morning was my first look at Redbud buds at Pony Pasture. They’re a beautiful, bright, brief-tenured harbinger of Spring – they’ve been a favorite for decades. I used to hike and camp on the Appalachian Trail every Spring with Nicky and Ivory (my first dogs) and Redbuds continue to remind me of the inevitability and incipience of the new season. Take a look – they’ll be developing in the coming weeks:

First redbuds of 2018

Another pleasant picture or two then the Red tail with the unfortunate squirrel. So if that’s not your thing, avert your gaze. Or skip the rest of this blog post and come back in seven days. Here’s a Carolina Wren at my house this morning when the dogs and I got back from the river:

Carolina Wren on my fencepost

Here’s a Downy Woodpecker from Pony Pasture yesterday:

Male Downy woodpecker, well-camouflaged, center of the image

OK – a Red-tail with a dead squirrel. This is a female Red-tail; her much smaller mate flew in just after I put my lens cap on. I don’t know if she killed the squirrel or not. If a squirrel gets hit by a car, a hungry Red-tail won’t pass it up. If you look closely at the end of the squirrel’s tail, you can see missing hair. It could have lost the hairs in a fight with that hawk, or when it got hit by a car, or it could be old age. However the hawk caught it, the squirrel’s flesh has now become hawk flesh:

Very alive Red-tail with a very dead squirrel:

The Spring free-for-all is building in earnest, and yesterday there were starlings on my feeder – no surprise. But a female Red-bellied Woodpecker showed up too, and she drove some starlings off – there is no doubt that is precisely what was happening. I wish the light was better, but she was making gestures like this (and gestures that appeared to be more aggressive) toward the starlings and they moved out of the way:

Doesn’t that look aggressive? I think it is.

These guys (and girls) are favorites of hawks too, and they don’t put up as much of a fight. It’s an Eastern Chipmunk. Notice its puffed up cheeks? One of their survival strategies is to fill their cheeks with food then go underground to eat it. Spend less time attracting the attention of hungry predators. They love fallen bird seed:

Chipmunk with its cheeks stuffed with bird seed

I’m going to wrap it up for this week – next week my editor will be home and you can expect a better blog post. But it won’t begin with a beautiful picture of her backyard in New Jersey! Have a great week,


Oops – got a passable picture of a female Pileated woodpecker at the river this morning. Have a look: 

Female Pileated Woodpecker at Pony Pasture this morning


Trust the process

Subtitle – everything is ephemeral

Please in advance pardon my stream of armchair philosophizing. I’m watching the boldest part of the new season begin, and the predictability of it balances my habitual uncertainty about the future.

“Let go, let God” is a bromide I do not subscribe too – I know I have to take action to affect certain outcomes. But at least for the half-century plus I’ve been on this planet, Spring has followed Winter. It hasn’t failed yet, and I suspect it won’t. The flowers open every Spring – it’s already begun. Soon there will be pollen – there will be lots of pollen. It makes my eyes red and my nose itch, but it’s not intolerable. I know some people react more than I do. Some people react less than I do. I don’t love flowers less because there’s pollen.

Trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) will appear at Pony Pasture before long. They’re referred to as an “ephemeral” which, at least in the case of plants, means “short-lived or lasting for a brief time.” Brevity is, of course, relative. Redwood trees would refer to humans as “ephemeral.” The Blue Ridge Mountains would refer Redwood trees as “ephemeral.” There are plenty of bacteria and tiny organisms that even Trout lilies would refer to as “ephemeral” – it’s all relative.

It won’t be long – a month or six weeks – before you’ll see baby mallards and baby Canada Geese. At Pony Pasture, a lucky few people will see young deer – they’ll be appearing soon. There will be baby owls, hawks, chipmunks, squirrels, frogs, fish, salamanders, bluebirds, rabbits, new life everywhere. 

Buffleheads are here now, but not for long. They’ll head north soon. Never fear – they’ll be back in October. I’ve heard there are ospreys down the river, in downtown. Soon they’ll appear on this upper part of the river. They typically arrive for the summer at the same time the Buffleheads depart. They swap again in the Fall.

I saw Juncos on the ground below my feeders today. They’re often referred to as “snowbirds” and keep a similar schedule to the buffleheads.

Tuning into these rhythms provides me comfort and calm in every season, in every view of the river. The sun set awhile before I typed this, but it’s going to rise about 6:30 tomorrow morning – I trust the process.



Posted in Birds, Carolina wren, daffodils, Dogs, Downy woodpecker, Flowers, Fun, James River, Pileated Woodpecker, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Paper cranes

25 February, 2018            Paper cranes

It’s a “paper crane.” Not an “origami swan.” The reason for the distinction currently escapes me, but I’ll figure it out. These caught my eye on Wednesday morning around 8:00 at Black Hand Coffee at 3101 Patterson Avenue, Richmond, Virginia 23221. I cannot recommend that place highly enough – what a tremendous experience:

Paper cranes at Black Hand Coffee

In Japanese folklore, the gods will grant a wish to a person who folds one thousand paper cranes (origami). A girl named Sadako Sasasi was two years old and lived with her family on the outskirts of Hiroshima when the United States incinerated it and poisoned it with the world’s first atomic bomb on August 6, 1945. She and her family escaped, and the war ended and she grew up and went to school. She was a popular student and athlete. When she was twelve  years old, she began to experience symptoms of what the Japanese referred to as the “Atomic Bomb Disease.” The correct name is leukemia. Sadako began folding paper cranes while she was in the hospital. Unfortunately she died about two months before her thirteenth birthday. Her story has survived as a symbol of the horrors of war and the nightmare of atomic weapons.

When I was studying about paper cranes, I read this: What does an origami swan mean? Traditionally, it was believed that if one folded 1000 origami cranes, one’s wish would come true. It has also become a symbol of hope and healing during challenging times. As a result, it has become popular to fold 1000 cranes (in Japanese, called “senbazuru”).

I’ve read two wonderful books about Sadako and her experience. I recommend either of them to anyone. Both are brief and well written. If you’re interested, try either One Thousand Paper Cranes: The Story of Sadako and the Children’s Peace Statue by Ishii Takayuki or Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr.

It was hard to read and hard to experience but it was time well spent. It’s hard to write about too and I’m ready for a change of pace. Here’s an idea – how about a daffodil? Pony Pasture, 11:00 this morning:

Yellow and green – note the conspicuous absence of the blues

I was at our friend Ariel’s house last week (that’s where Yuki lives) and she had a stunning gardenia on her back patio. The gardenia and Yuki were the same color. I asked her about it and she said she’d gotten it at Strange’s Florist near Broad and Gayton, which is just down the street from where I work three days a week. So I picked one up Wednesday morning and brought it home. Photographs don’t do gardenias justice, but this is just one of perhaps a dozen buds from that plant. It’s still blooming on our back porch, except for a few buds Ev trimmed off and put in a vase in the house:

My jaw always drops. There is simply nothing to not-like about a gardenia.

Our bird feeders are covered in birds; here’s a bluebird with a treat the same morning I brought that gardenia home:

Not a crisp image, but this bird looks triumphant. To me.

I clicked again a moment later when a Brown-headed Nuthatch (lower left) lit on the feeder for an instant before it vanished. They have a special place in my heart because I never knew such a bird existed before one landed on my feeder last year. That experience of discovery etches itself in my brain. It’s almost a physical sensation:

Brown-headed nuthatch, lower left. I’m always grateful when I see one.

I could hardly even open my eyes without seeing a hawk this week. I’m seeing pairs of them (I mean that literally, not in the sense that I’m “seeing double”) all over the place. I’ve never gotten great light or great angles on any of the pictures, so here’s the least worst picture I’ve gotten this week. Soon I’ll get a pair on a church cross. It happens every year and it’s always a good picture. But here’s a representative picture for Week Eight of my “Raptor-A-Week” project for 2018:

I don’t love this image, but I feel privileged every single time I see two Red-tails together.

I don’t do a “Dog-A-Week” project because it’s too easy with domestic animals. But we got right in the middle of a little herd of deer at Pony Pasture this morning and I tied off the dogs’ leashes so I could take a few pictures. Of the deer, of course, but here’s one of Yuki (white), Mackey (lying down) and Turner (none of the above):

They’re such a handsome, easygoing crew. A joy to hike with.

I’m guessing this is Mom. She was calm and cool. There were three youngsters – adolescent age I’m thinking – tiptoeing around looking much less confident. They were making an almost comically conspicuous attempt to appear inconspicuous. She was alert but not anxious. She knows Mackey and Turner and Yuki are not a threat:

A picture of calm awareness. She’s in the moment.

Here’s a youngster. The mother is gazing; this one is peering. It is a subtle but in my opinion unmistakable difference:

Compare this gaze to the one above. I wish I’d known their heart rates. I guarantee this deer’s was 20% higher than the other one.

When Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I went back to Ariel’s house to drop Yuki off, she invited me in for a spritzer and the dogs for their post-hike treats. My camera is hanging around my neck from the time I leave the house Sunday morning until I get home after the hike, so I picked it up and snapped a quick shot when this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) landed on a  metal fencepost:

Song sparrow in Ariel’s backyard early this afternoon:

Anyway. It’s been a good week. I hope yours was even better, and next week is better than last  week. And come back again! Have a great week,


Posted in Birds, daffodils, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

February is the new March

18 February, 2018            February is the new March

Happy Birthday Sheila! Today is my sister Sheila’s birthday. Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I texted her birthday greetings from the river this morning. This was the photograph (more or less) we sent:

“Frog Dogs” at Pony Pasture this morning. Listen to the 7 second video to hear why

But the sound is what sets it apart – the frogs in the background. This video is seven seconds long – and it’s partially why I chose the title for this blog post:

I’m not sure what all those frogs are. I know people who do – Kim H, I’d be interested to hear your take. Years ago I would have said “Spring Peepers” and that is correct but imprecise. There is a web site called iNaturalist that catalogs naturally occurring phenomena, at least across the United States and perhaps across the world. I did a search on the page for “James River Park amphibians” and you can see them all here – and maybe decide for yourself: James River Park amphibians

There was a deep flood at the river early in the week. The river crested above fifteen feet at the Westham gauge, a couple hundred yards upstream from the Huguenot Bridge. At fifteen feet, most of the paths at Pony Pasture are under water. My friend Sam and I took the dogs and had a good hike, but only the high ground was passable. And it mainly has trees on it and you can’t get great river views.

Mackey and Turner on one of many newly dead-end trails (Monday, 2/12/2018).

Today marks the end of the sixth week of 2018. I am six for six in my quest to photograph a raptor a week in 2018. Nothing magazine-worthy this week, but there are hawks everywhere. I could almost do one a day. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to get any good pictures yet – but soon. Here’s a wet one I took on Valentine’s Day near Freeman High School:

Wet Red-tailed Hawk near DS Freeman HS

That one was shortly before noon. A friend of mine and I went to Hollywood Cemetery later that day, and looked down the bank at the flooding river. We saw a Richmond Fire Department River Rescue Team practicing in the rapids. Next time you think your job is difficult, consider whether you’d trade places with these folks. Remember, this is February:

Training for work. These people are hard core.

My feeders are covered with birds most of the time now – the “Dawn Chorus” will begin soon. When I came home yesterday there were the usual starlings on it. There are certain birds that, if you are an elite photographer, you can take a good picture of them. I am less skilled than that, and I have  yet to take a good picture of a starling. But this big Red-Bellied Woodpecker had muscled them out of the way. It appears to be flaunting this prize it got from the feeder, but I suspect it’s just a way to eat it more easily:

I don’t know why I think they deserve seed and starlings don’t. But there it is.

I hiked at Deep Run Friday; the light was elusive. This is far from a gorgeous bluebird picture, but I was interested in the unusual color and texture on its breast:

Odd light, odd color. Cute bluebird. It’s Spring. After a fashion.

I think it’s because their colors are about to “pop” for spring courtship and mating, but they’re not quite there yet. Here’s one fattening up on my front feeder: 

Everybody is filling up for Spring!

I also photographed a flicker, a bird I always enjoy, but the light was too thin. Another time. 

The days are getting longer and lighter and (eventually) warmer. I’ll be here! Hopefully! Hopefully you will too! All best,


PS Oops! I photographed my first flower of 2018 today just before noon at the north end of Charlie’s Bridge. Feast your eyes – this is only the beginning: 

That’s an appetizer. The main course will take about two months.


Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Short and primarily sweet

11 February, 2018            Short and primarily sweet

Short because it’s getting late and Evelyn and I just got home from a long and excellent weekend with family in Blacksburg and Charlottesville. Virginia. Primarily sweet rather than completely sweet because it’s not all my lovely nieces and adorable nephew. Because of course Obsessive Uncle Jay has to include at least one picture of a hawk to wrap up the sixth full week of 2018. I won’t start with the sweetest picture – but it’s primarily sweet.

Blacksburg this morning – Shane, Kristin, Wesson, Evelyn, me, Tara, Mackey, Turner (timer shot set up by Shane) 

This picture is more than partially sweet – it’s 100% sweet. I regret cutting off the tip of Turner’s nose in this one but he wasn’t the subject. My nephew Wesson on his 2.5 year old birthday, walking Mackey in Blacksburg in the 50º February rain. For nearly an hour. And when we were headed back toward the house, Wesson wanted to keep going! I should have asked Shane, but I’ll bet Wesson weighs less than Mackey. Think about walking a dog that weighs more than you do for an hour in the rain – and wanting more:

Check out that jaunty dog-walking flair. That’s how it’s done – he’s a Natural.

Evelyn’s sister said “he looks like a mini-Jay.” If his face was in that picture, she’d have said “he looks like a mini-Jay except he’s much handsomer!” He is a born dog walker, though.

Since I began this blog post a few minutes ago, my brother Shane texted me a picture he took early in today’s hike. Moments before Wesson hitched up Mackey:

Mackey keeping an eye on us, me walking Turner, Wesson walking point. This morning in Blacksburg (Shane took this one) 

Now a couple of obligatory (to me) raptor pictures and a pileated woodpecker or two then it’s off to bed. Have a great week!

1st raptor of the week – Red-shouldered hawk, 9:20 Monday AM, 10000 block Patterson Ave

2nd raptor of the week, Red-tail leaping from a cell phone tower near my house Tuesday

Honestly IMO there really is NOT such thing as too many raptors. But three is enough. Red-tail Friday, Discovery United Methodist Church.

Slight change of pace – no red-tail here, but a red crest on this adult female Pileated woodpecker from Pony Pasture early Monday afternoon:

Adult female Pileated woodpecker, Pony Pasture, Monday midday

 I hope to be more organized next week and get a more substantial blog post up at a more reasonable hour. But there are never guarantees. But have a fine week! All best, 

Jay, Evelyn, Mackey, Turner, and more

PS On our way back from visiting my brother and his wife and my nephew in Blacksburg today, Evelyn and I stopped in Charlottesville and had a late lunch with our niece Clare! I regret we came away with zero photographs, but our visit was as wonderful as our visit to Blacksburg. Except it didn’t last long enough! Another time. 




Posted in Birds, Dogs, Fun, People, Pileated Woodpecker, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

There is no full moon in February!

4 February, 2018            There is no full moon in February!

Who even knew? It can only happen in February. Talk about “learn something new every day.” Back to that in a paragraph or two. Here’s something that’s not new – today (Sunday, 4 February, 2018) is the last day of the fifth week of 2018. And I photographed hawks for the fifth consecutive week!

Red-shouldered Hawk on a wire in Bon Air (photographed through my sun roof) 

Evelyn plants nasturtiums in our yard every year. The earliest picture I can find in my blog is May. So you won’t be seeing any this month and I’m sure not next and it’s possible they’ll be out in April but unlikely. This is an out of season picture – in the sense that you can’t photograph a blooming nasturtium outdoors in central Virginia in February. This is from a blog post from May of last year called “Big Mike Biathlon.”:

Glowing orange nasturtium from our yard last May

The guideline for planting nasturtiums is you plant them on the full moon in February. I looked on my Virginia Wildlife Calendar for the date of the full moon – and there was none! So I read up on it and found this on a site called, on a post called “Lengths of lunar months in 2018”: [[…called a lunation or synodic month, it has a mean period of 29.53059 days (29 days 12 hours and 44 minutes). That’s the mean, but the true length varies throughout the year.]] So that means every month with thirty or thirty-one days has a full moon, and some even have two. Only February can go from start to finish with no full moon, and that is a rare occurrence. As I understand it (don’t bet your life on this), it happens about five times per hundred years. In addition (another fact I learned this morning), a February with no full moon is almost (but not always) preceded and followed by a month with a “blue moon” – a month that contains two full moons. January (last month) had a full moon on January 1 and a second (a “blue moon”) on January 31. That will happen again next month  – a full moon on March 1 and another on March 31.

The genesis of this post came earlier this week when I saw these on our kitchen windowsill and asked Evelyn what they were:

Nasturtium seeds on our kitchen windowsill. They look like tiny moons. Or sea monkey eggs.

I thought they were sea monkey eggs. But Evelyn said they were nasturtium seeds. Don’t they look sort of like miniature moons? I wonder if that was involved in the folk wisdom of planting on the full moon. I’m not sure when Evelyn will plant them in 2018, given the absence of a full moon in February, but I have faith I’ll be posting images of healthy nasturtium blooms before Memorial Day. Stay tuned.

Anyway, I’d gone two full days at the beginning of this week and seen not a single raptor – that is unusual for me. I still hadn’t seen one Wednesday morning, and it wasn’t until Wednesday around noon when that Red-shouldered hawk perched on a wire in a neighborhood in Bon Air. I pulled over and opened the sun roof and took that picture without getting out of the car. Or even turning it off. That broke the no-raptor stalemate for the week, and ninety minutes later I looked down a hill in Hollywood Cemetery and saw this fat female Red-tailed hawk. The image is not crisp and although it’s obvious she’s eating something bloody, I can’t make out just what:

Female Red-tail at Hollywood Cemetery. Converting some other form of life into living hawk.

I’m confident this was a female; she was massive. Here is a brief video of her eating. I was on a hill in Hollywood Cemetery, looking down toward the CSX tracks and to the north bank of the James River. Take a look at this – it’s worth watching and hearing. Fifteen seconds long: 

I spend most of my central Virginia “park” time in Pony Pasture but venture to other parks on occasion. I was in Deep Run Park in western Henrico this week. I wasn’t walking dogs in Deep Run, but I take my dogs to Pony Pasture multiple times each week. As a multi-decade multi-dog walker, I am sensitive to the way different areas approach the problem of pet waste. This is a sign at Deep Run, and it feels sensible to me:

A sensible sentiment about pet waste removal

Also at Deep Run this week – and at home, and at Pony Pasture, and everywhere else I’ve been, the flocks of American Robins (Turdus migratorius) are large and boisterous. My main reference for birds is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds and they use strong language. This is what they say about robin behavior: “Behavior – American Robins are industrious and authoritarian birds…”. “Authoritarian” is an unusual choice of words. “Industrious” is too, but less surprising. Here’s one at Deep Run Friday. You almost never see them on a feeder. In bird baths often, but not on feeders:

Robin at Deep Run on Groundhog Day. I believe it saw its shadow. Does it look authoritarian?

Shortly after lunch today I was pointing my camera out the window at a robin when it abruptly leaped off the ground and headed for a more comfortable spot. I was surprised to see it was displaced by this Red-winged blackbird: 

Marauding Red-winged blackbird. I am surprised nearly every day.

A couple more pictures before I sign off. The first is a male Downy Woodpecker from my feeder on Monday: 

Bright Downy Woodpecker clutching the bird feeder pole outside my office window

I almost closed this post and left a picture out. This isn’t brilliant but I like the angle of the bluebird’s head. I suspect it’s not being quizzical, but it gives that impression: 

They’re cute even when they don’t cock their heads like this. See the raindrops falling? 


Good for what ails me

I am a natural worrier – I always have been. I’m a calm anxious person. Politics themselves don’t make me anxious – I am a firm and faithful believer in the democratic system. I stay informed about the workings of our local, state and federal government. I am comfortable reading about it, but the shrill and strident tones I’ve heard on broadcast media are deeply unsettling for me. So I read.

At the river, the tones are never shrill and strident. Outdoors, walking my dogs in my neighborhood, no shrill or strident tones. Birds will be nesting soon, and their tones may be construed as shrill or strident, and they may even experience some anxiety, if birds have emotions. But they’re the opposite of anxiety producing for me – they’re good for the anxiety that ails me.

They’re predictable too, in the sense the river and the seasons and the moon phases are predictable. There is no end to the violence in nature. Look again at that video with the Red-tail up there. Whatever it’s eating woke up earlier that day, no doubt expecting to make it through another twenty-four hours. But the hawk didn’t kill it out of anger, or for entertainment, or because it was bored. Look again at the video; you can see the river flowing downstream, and the breeze rocking the branches on the tree. The hawk, the river, the breeze – they’re all just doing what they do. It’s good for what ails me.


Posted in Birds, Downy woodpecker, Flowers, Fun, James River, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, robin | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments