Big Mike Biathlon

21 May, 2017            Big Mike Biathlon

My Dad enjoyed shooting rifles, pistols and shotguns his whole life. I did a lot of that from my early teens until I married in mid-1987, but slowed down after my accident in April of 1988. I continue to hunt and shoot whitetail deer in Virginia – with a camera. I hunt in Pony Pasture several times a week. Sometimes when I’m hunting deer I get lucky and bag a Barred Owl (Strix varia). This afternoon at Pony Pasture I got two Barred Owls! Not the best image I’ve ever taken, but have a look. I think that’s an adult on the upper right and a first-year owl on the lower left:

Two Barred Owls at Pony Pasture. One in upper right, one in lower left.

The owl on the upper right only stayed a moment. Not long enough for me to get a good position to shoot from, especially with all these leaves. The younger one stayed quite a while after the adult left. Here is the younger (I think) owl. It’s the one in the lower left on the first picture, anyway: 

The younger owl tolerated my presence for longer:

I took both of those pictures by the place where the big concrete pipe goes across the creek. Two people started walking across that pipe and the second owl flew away.

To me, that’s part of the beauty of taking pictures in Pony Pasture. It’s a public place, and every living thing from the lichen on the rocks to the whitetail bucks in the woods knows how to thrive in the presence of humans. If I’m trying to get a picture of an owl or a deer and it leaves because some person walks along, that’s my tough luck. If I’d seen it earlier or in a more remote part of the park, I would have gotten my shot. The owls can accommodate the presence of pipe-hiking humans. As a photographer, I need to accommodate them too!

So I took the owl pictures early this afternoon (Sunday) at Pony Pasture. Ten minutes walk from the main parking area. I was almost precisely the same distance away except on the trail closer to the river on Monday afternoon. I took this picture around 2:00: 

Gorgeous deer in Pony Pasture Monday afternoon

I should have backed out my zoom so you could see how invisible this deer was. There are about five total deer in the little herd. But the sun was behind her and it was shining through her beautiful big ears. And there’s just nothing pink in the woods. If you see a color in nature that doesn’t belong in nature, take a second look. Because although it’s always possible you’ll see a piece of trash, you may also get to see something really cool. 

I get a lot of nice pictures in Pony Pasture. Rich Young gets even better ones. Michael Marra’s pictures are spectacular. I always get mine in the middle of the day. There are always dozens of people around. Keep your eyes open when you’re in Pony Pasture. These deer and owls watch us all the time. We just usually don’t notice them! 

Evelyn has another bumper crop of nasturtiums growing around our yard. This is a color I once associated with deer hunter’s clothing, but those are actual flower petals. I did nothing to modify this picture. This is precisely the natural color – I’m not even kidding: 

It’s so bright it looks like it’s vibrating.

Speaking of other unexpected colors in nature (that aren’t found in male birds), Ev is growing not one but two varieties of lavender:

Lavender – it smells as good as it looks!

Please re-read caption on preceding picture

On Wednesday I saw two Red-tails. I think one of the pair near Discovery United Methodist Church flies off the nest every morning and sits on the cross to dry the dew from its feathers while it waits for an unsuspecting breakfast to wander by. But nearly every time I go past, other birds are harassing it. It’s some sort of ritual. Maybe this mockingbird is trying to reduce the Red-tail’s chance for a successful kill:

Mockingbird staying safely out of reach of a hawk

That Discovery UMC red-tail is a very predictable bird. Certain times of certain days during certain parts of the year, you can almost be assured of a picture. That’s my “morning” bird. In the evening there’s another predictable Red-tail. I took this one the same day on top of a cell phone tower at the western edge of the Westbury Pharmacy parking lot. I got a “double” here recently too; Wednesday there was only one bird:

Notice the quizzical tilt to the head as it evaluates me. No bird is as aware of a camera lens as a Red-tail is. It’s an eye thing. Raptors do not miss anything. 

Mackey and Turner and Yuki at Pony Pasture earlier today: 

Mackey, Turner and Yuki at Pony Pasture today

We usually hike right next to the river but Thursday we stayed on the main trail. I always forget how big those vines are until I walk past them. Look how tiny Mackey and Turner look at the bottom of the vines: 

Look how those vines and that tree dwarf Mackey and Turner. And they are not small dogs. 

I’ll close with a honeysuckle picture. It’s an invasive and it’s destructive but even from the time I was growing up in Maryland, honeysuckle has been one of my favorite living things. It is inarguably gorgeous and the smell is inarguably heavenly:

Nothing else looks this beautiful and smells this beautiful with so little effort. Just add sunlight and water. And inhale and smile.

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Big Mike Biathlon

My Dad enjoyed shooting rifles, pistols and shotguns his whole life. He was my height and outweighed me by close to fifty pounds; my friends often referred to him as “Big Mike.” Dad was born in 1935 and he was on the rifle team at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, VA. A favorite story of his described the time he put his rifle across the handlebars and rode his bicycle from his house to school for rifle team practice. He told us about the police officer who stopped him to make sure his rifle was safe. Dad showed him that the bolt was in his pocket, not in the rifle, rendering it inoperable. This, according to Dad, was sufficient to satisfy the officer, and Dad rode the rest of the way to school.

When dad died in November of 2012, part of his will was that we each got to choose from among his rifles and pistols before we sold them off. I chose an old Smith and Wesson police revolver. An indoor shooting range (Colonial Shooting Academy or CSA) had recently opened only three miles from my house. I visited and began taking the multi-day qualification course for a Virginia Resident Concealed Handgun permit. Eventually I was certified as safe to fire a handgun. I filled out an application at the Henrico County Circuit Court. They checked to make sure I am not in any legal trouble, then approved and notarized my application. I then paid the permit fee, and  I was able to ride my bicycle while carrying dad’s old revolver. And around dad’s birthday (August 17) in 2013, I remembered dad with what I called the first “Big Mike Biathlon.” Put the pistol and some ammo and targets and hearing protection in my backpack, ride my bike to the range, shoot for an hour or two, then ride home.

This is my bike where I lock it up every year when I visit:

My bike at Colonial Shooting Academy for the 5th Annual Big Mike Biathlon

I’ve done it every year since, and Tuesday of this week (on 16 May) I rode my bike to CSA and did the 5th Annual Big Mike Biathlon. It was 75º and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind and the humidity was undetectable. There is no better weather for riding a bicycle. There is no better weather for doing anything outdoors.

Here is a picture of my targets inside the range. When I was taking my qualification course (you had to show them you could hit a target) the instructor told all of us that store brand paper plates are the cheapest targets. That’s all I’ve used over since. Here’s what it looks like:

Four of my targets on the range at Colonial Shooting Academy:

Dad shot a lot – for his whole life. Even when he was out of practice, he was an excellent marksman. When I was shooting a lot I did it relatively well, but I’m not a natural. I was also mainly a rifle shooter. Pistols are more difficult because they have short barrels. When I got to the range this week I could barely hit the target. A helpful range officer watched me for a few minutes and I asked him if he would make suggestions to improve my accuracy. He just told me to put my finger lower on the trigger. Here is the result. Not impressive, but I wasn’t even on the target before:

Pistols are a lot harder to aim than rifles. But it’s a great challenge:

I understand the widespread antipathy toward guns in general and toward the NRA in particular. But my dad was a proud NRA Life Member and I guarantee you would have loved my dad. You may actively dislike guns or the NRA, but if you met my dad, you liked him, end of story. Everybody liked my dad. He was just one of those people. He didn’t try to make you like him. He was just a welcoming person. Always.

Sometimes when I shoot I become deeply aware of the attraction target shooting held for my dad. He was an only child, and he was never much into team sports.  Dad loved to read. He loved to focus and concentrate and sort things out. When you’re aiming at target, especially at an indoor range, there is just nothing else. The world goes away. There is no weather, there is no work, no economy, no politics, no worry, no good health or bad health or anger or happiness, there’s not even any bliss – there’s just the target. If you are a person who thinks too hard and too often, as I do, and as I learned to do from my father, you just stop. You don’t think about the last shot or the next shot, you think about the shot you’re making. You can’t be anxious or sad or happy or worried or celebratory – you can only stay still and let the world go away. Even if you’re an anti-gun person, it’s worth going to an indoor range and trying out shooting for an hour or two. Whether you’re having your taxes audited tomorrow or leaving for a tropical vacation, it won’t matter – you’ll stop thinking about it when you’re shooting.

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Next week: Son of Big Mike

Come back then!

All best,

Jay

Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, honeysuckle, James River, koans, mockingbirds, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Happy Mother’s Day!

14 May, 2017 Happy Mother’s Day!  

I did a post with the same title a year ago. None of us had any reason to believe it would be her final Mother’s Day. Last year on Mother’s Day mom went swimming near her home, and I went swimming in Lake Anna the same morning. This is how the first paragraph of that blog post ended: “We were together in spirit! My lifelong enjoyment of swimming comes directly from my mother.” 

My friend Marion and her husband John are accomplished gardeners, and they enter their roses in contests. Marion told me years ago that roses were planted and trimmed so they’d be blooming before and around Mother’s Day. Evelyn is spending this weekend in NJ with her mother, but she keeps our roses in spectacular shape. I should have washed this grimy garage wall before I took this picture!: 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mom took us to church when we were young; Dad didn’t join us. But if Mom believed Heaven was somewhere other than right here on this planet, she sure didn’t act like it. If there’s a heaven and it has roses, they won’t look or smell better than that one. And I know it won’t smell better than this gardenia. Unless it smells like chocolate chip cookies, but that’s a different category. This is blooming on our back porch: 

You’d have to sneak out the back door of Heaven and come to our back porch to smell this:

It rained a lot here in Richmond this week and I didn’t get outdoors as much as I’d like. I was passing the Fulton Bank Wednesday and I stopped to see if the ospreys were there. I have one picture of the nest with the female’s yellow eyes peering through the sticks, but nothing blog worthy. It’s weedy there though, and the flowers had lots of ladybugs on them. I’m not certain about the personalities of insects – who can really say? A wasp or even a tick might be garrulous and outgoing. And this ladybug may be irritable and crabby. But I, at least, am automatically conditioned to think ladybugs are cheerful. It’s hard to believe otherwise: 

This might be my favorite picture this week. I got lucky.

My feeders are overrun with birds. There are three primary colors: red, yellow and blue. I decided to challenge myself and see if I can get a feeder shot with all three primary colors at once. I took these three on the same day. Now I need to catch all three on the feeder at the same time: 

Red (Male Northern Cardinal)

Yellow (American goldfinch, with female Cardinal tail hanging down)

Blue (Eastern Bluebird)

Now to just get all three of them on the feeder at the same time. Stay tuned. 

Speaking of red, there was a pair of red-tails on the cell phone tower in the parking lot of the Westbury Pharmacy on Monday. The female is on the left; she’s visibly much larger. The male is on the right; he’s rearranging his feathers:

Redtail pair on tower. Always look in high places if you want to see Red-tails.

Female Red-tail, a little closer:

This unusual fledgling landed on my feeder this week. I can’t quite identify it. Anyone?: 

I like the quality of that gaze. It’s opaque, but it sure looks like there’s a lot of hidden meaning.

I “got” a Brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) on the ground outside my office window this week. It’s not a brilliant shot but they’re hard (for me) to get and I always enjoy them:

Brown Thrasher holding a prize

I apologize – content is thin this week. Maybe we’ll see more next week! I’ll close with a couple more feeder birds – both male woodpeckers. Presumably their partners were at the nest. First a male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens ): 

Chowing-downy [I wonder if anyone will notice that caption] 

Last but by no means least a Red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) on the feeder the same day as the Downy: 

One of the reasons I don’t own a television – I can watch these guys all I want

Happy Mother’s Day! Have an outstanding week! 

All best, 

Jay 

 

 

Posted in Birds, cardinals, Downy woodpecker, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, Insects, James River, raptors, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, roses, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three decades of triathlon, and another snake!

7 May, 2017             Three decades of triathlon, and another snake!

I was hiking with the dogs Saturday morning when a woman named Pam pointed out a  baby Barred Owl on one side of the trail:

Adolescent Barred Owl at Pony Pasture

And its parent (presumably) on the other:

If you’re watching a young Barred owl, look around – its parent is watching you.

My friend Andrew drove with me to Lake Anna State Park this morning where we tied for first place in the 2017 Peasantman Triathlon. True excerpt from their web site: “As previously mentioned, We allow people to mix distances (i.e., sprint swim, oly bike, oly run or any such combo), cheat, and pull a Rosie Ruiz on the run, so don’t expect any age group awards. The people finishing in front of you, probably cheated.” They don’t give real awards, they just have a podium at the end and you can stand on it as you see fit. Since Andrew and I crossed the finish line side-by-side in first place, here we are standing side-by-side on the first place spot on the podium:

Andrew and me at the top of the podium tied for first place

We’re holding up a “three” in one hand and a “zero” in the other because this was my thirtieth year in triathlon. My first race was the Karen Dudley Memorial Triathlon at William and Mary in 1987. As a long time endurance athlete, I have more than my share of obsessions, not least being a selective hoarder (is that an oxymoron?)0 This is my training log entry from my first race:

The blue line is my first ever triathlon – April, 1987

One more picture of Andrew and me. This time with our bikes. I don’t know if it’s legible in this picture, but on the top tube of my bike it says “Jay” and on the top tube of Andrew’s bike it says “Jay’s 30th.” I knew it was my thirtieth anniversary and I knew I was happy about it but I didn’t know Andrew had done any of this stuff:

Andrew and me with our bikes post-race

Andrew is much faster than me – I’ve been in a number of triathlons with him where he has really gotten to stand on the podium. Not a toy podium. Andrew is serious. But he was so enthusiastic and supportive of my race today, he did the entire bike and the entire run alongside me. And we crossed the finish line together! I cannot say how grateful I was to have an old friend share this day with me. And make an already fun experience even more fun!

Fair warning non-snake people – there’s another snake at the bottom of this post. This time it’s a black snake at Pony Pasture. So as you get near the end of the post, veer off if snakes aren’t your thing.

A lot of other fun stuff has happened this week – good thing I didn’t have to train a whole lot! Evelyn has our roses in extravagant bloom:

Evelyn’s stunning roses

I got my first Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus ) of the year this week. Hopefully I’ll have a better picture soon:

Rose-breasted grosbeak

I’m running out of steam fast. A few more pictures and I’m going to bed. I’m getting plenty of Gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) this week:

Gray catbird

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A quick moment so the anti-snake people can see this before they duck out. I’ve always thought about my parents during triathlons, primarily during the swim. My mom was an avid swimmer for her entire life. I was thinking about her while I was swimming today, and that hearing from her post-triathlon was as gratifying and  reliable as hearing from her after a blog post. I did my first triathlon at 25 years old, and I’m sure I heard from her right afterward. She and Dad accompanied me to several. I was swimming in the gorgeous lake this morning and thinking about not hearing from her after the race.

I guarantee – 100% – that I am less athletically gifted than any other long time triathlete, ever. I have one talent that helps me cross all these finish lines, and I get half of it from Mom and half from Dad – I’m stubborn. Since I’m a brain injury survivor, I may more accurately be described at “hard-headed.” Lenin, the communist revolutionary from the early twentieth century said that “quantity is its own kind of quality.” So hopefully I’ll be back in 2018 for year thirty-one. 

Stubbornness can get you far in life. It can get you in trouble, but it can get you far. But the unwavering and unquestionable and unconditional love and support I got from the two of them for my entire existence was really what made all this possible. I talk about it almost never. But I think about it almost daily.  

I’ll put a picture of a chipmunk below this as a buffer for non-snake folk. Then it’s on to the snake. I took a really cool short video with it.

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And why not a picture of Mackey, Turner and Yuki taking a hike break at Pony Pasture on Thursday: 

Mackey, Turner and Yuki taking a breather at Pony Pasture:

Chipmunk on our woodpile at home:

Cutest rodent in our neighborhood

On to snakes. I believe – but am not positive – that this is a Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor). It may be an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis); both are in the park. 

Here’s a picture with Mackey in the background for scale: 

Black snake in foreground; black dog in background:

Here’s the snake’s head, closer: 

Cooperating for a closeup

I got a beautiful video of that snake crawling and sticking its tongue out, testing the air. It’s about twelve seconds long and well worth your twelve seconds if you think snakes are interesting. It’s a good video – check it out:

And have a great week! And come back next week! All best,

Jay

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Birds, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, James River, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, Snakes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The first poisonous snake I’ve ever photographed

30 April, 2017           The first poisonous snake I’ve ever photographed

The first poisonous snake I’ve ever photographed wasn’t at Pony Pasture. It was at Deep Run Park in western Henrico.

It’s better to open a blog post with an owl picture – everybody loves owls. I got a beauty a few minutes walk from the parking lot this morning. But I like this image a bit better – it’s the same bird, or its mate. I took this one at Pony Pasture Thursday morning at 11:00:

Always good to open a blog post with a picture of an owl

About the poisonous snake – the one I photographed at Deep Run is a Northern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)  and the three pictures are at the very bottom of this page. So no one with an irrational fear of snakes will be caught off guard. Fear of poisonous snakes is rational. Fear of pictures of poisonous snakes is irrational.

Here’s another picture from Pony Pasture this morning. This is (please correct me if I’m wrong; I’m not positive) a Virginia Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana):

Spiderwort – there is nothing to not-like about this photograph

Wednesdays I usually swing by the Fulton Bank parking lot across from Stony Point to see if that pair of ospreys are “home.” Only one was there, presumably the female. I just could glimpse her face through the nest. I got there around 2:15. According to wunderground it was 70º, clear, 61% humidity, 3.5 mph breeze – that seems like moderate conditions, especially given the way I know it will be in July or August. But she sure is panting. It must be hot sitting on those eggs or keeping those babies warm. This pair was late; she’s probably still on eggs:

She’s hard to see – right in the middle – but you can see her panting. In April!

There is another pair a couple of powerline towers down. Too far for me to get a decent shot, but you can see this pair. I should have cropped out that crow on the right but left it in. You can see why people glimpsing these birds from far away while driving might mistakenly believe they’ve seen a Bald Eagle:

Far off pair of ospreys, with crow overseeing the operation.

Friday morning before I saw the copperhead I was passing Discovery United Methodist Church earlier than normal. There was a redtail on the cross. I believe this is the female. It was still early and the grass was saturated with dew. My guess is she’d been on the nest all night and she was saturated with dew. She kept turning different parts toward the sun to dry out. It was fascinating and enlightening to watch. It makes sense she’d dry her tail first. After this I watched while she stretched out her primary feathers and began to dry them: 

Red-tail tail feathers drying in the early morning sun

Immediately – it probably started before I even arrived – a mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) began harassing her. That cross is on top of a huge latticework support structure, a little bit smaller than a delivery truck but enormous. The mockingbird would fly up and dive and feint and flare around her, screaming constantly. She appeared to ignore it. Then the mockingbird would drop down and rest on the latticework for a couple of minutes. Then fly back up and harass her again. Over and over and over again. It appeared to be a ritual – they both gave the distinct impression they were just going through the motions. I’m sure she dries her wings there every morning. It is mesmerizing to watch. I took probably fifteen (or more) pictures of the mockingbird almost hitting her. And an equal number of the mockingbird perched on the latticework. If you’re looking at this on a screen you can zoom in or magnify, look closely at the mockingbird’s mouth. You can see that it’s screaming:

Mockingbird unwittingly (probably) makes the sign of the cross before moving any closer to this apex predator

Pony Pasture this morning was so pretty – it’s always so pretty. I was happy to get more pictures of the owl, though none were blog worthy. Working on those snake images Friday cast a bit of a pall over my blog-thoughts – it’s funny the way that happens. I’m a more-than-moderately outdoorsy person, but the actual emotional experience of photographing a poisonous snake in close proximity is way different from photographing any bird. Or flower. So a few more flowers from Pony Pasture this morning. Well anyway, here’s a multiflora rose:

Fragrant multiflora rose from Pony Pasture this fine April morning

It wasn’t sweltering at the river this morning – really it was remarkably pleasant – but we squeezed four miles of hiking into our morning and by the time we were back to check on the owls one final time, my boys were ready for a break!:

Chillers: Yuki (gardenia colored), Mackey (black dogs matter), Turner (coffee with too much cream colored)

Not at Pony Pasture (or Deep Run) but from our yard – about 7:45 this evening: 

The first lush rose Evelyn has coaxed from our yard this Spring:

When Mackey and Turner and I dropped Yuki off on our way home from the river his gracious owner Ariel gave us a spectacular Yuki-colored gardenia. I don’t name plants or wild animals, but I made an exception and called this gardenia “Yuki” – it’s his precise color. So we put the gardenia in our car and the whole way home it smelled like Yuki! You should be so fortunate! Here’s Yuki:

Introducing “Yuki.” He smells spectacular!

Now to snake pictures. So if you’re not a snake person, come back next week. Otherwise, carry on – you’re in for a treat. 

Another thing about poisonous snakes – according to the Virginia Herpetological Society, we have three poisonous snakes in Virginia versus around thirty non-poisonous snakes. The three poisonous snakes are the Northern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix), the Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) and the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus). At least in Richmond and Henrico, there are zero Cottonmouths or Rattlesnakes. Copperheads, I’m learning, are widespread. They are extremely conflict avoidant and they almost disappear in the leaf litter. Their camouflage is remarkable.

Well anyway, almost to the snake. There are three pictures. Two have items I placed near the snake for scale. I’m aware that putting my hand that close was not a risk-free proposition, but I’d been watching the snake for some time. It was still cool out, and the snake was sluggish. Torpid. It wasn’t angry or upset or agitated – calm people and calm dogs and calm birds and calm snakes all have a similar behavior profile. Nothing unexpected ever happens with calm people and calm dogs and calm birds and calm snakes – we’re all quite predictable. The first picture is with my iphone. It’s 6.25” long. So I’m guessing the snake was around 30” long, average for a copperhead. The second picture is with my camera. The third one is the snake’s head itself. I’m not kidding – moderately outdoorsy, moderately well-read guy like me, it never occurred to me why they’re called “copperheads.” It’s a neat shot. Enjoy, and come back next week. And show this to your snake loving friends or anyone else who is interested. Copperhead with iPhone: 

Copperhead with an iPhone 7+ (6.25″) for scale

Copperhead with a Canon SX60HS for scale

Copperhead so if you live to be 100 you’ll always remember how they got that name

Have a great week! Pass this blog post around! Come back next week! All best, 

Jay 

 

 

Posted in Birds, copperhead, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Quiet week

23 April, 2017           Quiet week  

The birds have been noisy – I misspoke. And the flowers are bright. Also perhaps you recall two weeks ago I put up a post called Accident anniversary / Singular encounter(s) / and more. It showed a Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) flying off a church cross, killing and eating a gray squirrel, then flying back to the cross – thirty-three minutes, cross to cross. That happened on April 5. Twelve days later – on April 17 – I drove past the same church again (Discovery United Methodist Church) and there was another (or the same, or possibly its mate) Red-tail on the cross. Here’s the picture I took on the 17th: 

I learned just as I clicked, this hawk was looking at a chipmunk

This hawk flew down to a tree and in an instant killed a chipmunk. I have a picture of it on a branch with the chipmunk’s recently deceased body in its talons. For me it’s much more disturbing to look at a hawk-killed chipmunk than it is to look at a hawk-killed squirrel. I suspect it would be disturbing for others too and I’ll leave it out of this post. The hawk took 33 minutes cross to cross with the squirrel. It only took 4 minutes with the chipmunk. They were both remarkable sequences to watch. 

Tuesday I saw an Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) just outside my window. All of my pictures (I only took four) were indistinct but this one is the least indistinct. I recall when we were growing up and staying at the cabin we’d hear them all the time but rarely see them. It’s the same way here in Richmond – I hear them a lot but almost never see them. You probably hear them too – it sounds like they’re saying “drink your tea.” At the cabin (this was primarily in the mid-1970’s through the mid-1980’s) we always referred to this bird as a “rufous-sided towhee.” Interestingly (to me) it says this in wikipedia: “The eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) is a large New World sparrow. The taxonomy of the towhees has been under debate in recent decades, and formerly this bird and the spotted towhee were considered a single species, the rufous-sided towhee.” Anyway, here’s my subpar shot; I’ll get a better one soon, I can feel it coming: 

Disappointing quality Eastern Towhee image (but the bird was handsome)

If you follow me on facebook you’ve already seen the next picture. I don’t usually post blog pictures during the week but I was so excited about this one I put it up anyway. I got this groundhog Wednesday when a buddy and I were hiking on the North Bank Trail when we saw this guy (possibly girl) scrambling off the edge of the trail. It’s a groundhog (Marmota monax):

A lot of luck involved in this shot; I only managed to click the shutter four times between its appearance and disappearance

When you photograph an animal or bird a lot, you begin to predict when you’ll see them. It gets easier and easier. I think this was a one-off; I doubt I’ll see enough groundhogs to anticipate them. We’ll see. 

This locust was flowering only about five minutes walk from the groundhog. If you see a locust blooming, make an effort to smell the flowers. I wish I’d caught it in better light. The smell of a blooming locust is one of the underappreciated treasures of Spring: 

I am a connoisseur of Spring smells. These black locust flowers may be #1.

These multiflora roses at Pony Pasture (and everywhere else in town) smell beautiful, and they’re everywhere. I believe unfortunately they’re also invasive. So is honeysuckle, which will appear soon, and smell most divine of all. But multiflora roses are pretty and fragrant:

Weedy but smells gorgeous

I saw mallards that day too, and my first dragonfly (I think) of 2017, although I didn’t get any blog-worthy pictures. The puddles were filled to the brim with tadpoles. Picture this density of tadpoles spread out over a puddle about two feet wide and four feet long: 

Scads of tadpoles

This is a quick video (eleven seconds) of those tadpoles swimming around. It is in its way mesmerizing. You can hear birds singing while you watch: 

Friday at the Tuckahoe YMCA I got a male Red-winged blackbird, obscured a bit by branches: 

Male Red-winged blackbird at the Tuckahoe YMCA

I took this picture from the same spot – this time a male Brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater): 

Male Brown-headed cowbird in the grass

Yesterday I thought our Sunday hike might be a rainout so I took the dogs to the river to get some exercise. It was overcast and threatening, and if there were any birds or animals or insects around, they chose not to reveal themselves to us. But I did get to see the river in a light I don’t often see, and I find this image pleasing: 

James River under a lowering sky

I didn’t love too many pictures this week. The groundhog was a good catch and that river picture is not bad. We’ll see what the final week of April has to offer. This was the last shot I took at Pony Pasture this morning. Mackey (on the left, black) is the most cooperative guy in the world, but it is real hard (for me) took take good pictures of him. I mean, look at this – how, of the three of them, is the only black dog the only one with a big dark tree behind him? He is such a good and handsome and elegant boy, though. Black goes with everything: 

Mackey on the left (tree behind him) then Turner then Yuki

Have a terrific week, I hope to have more to look at for the final Sunday in April. All best, 

Jay 

PS I was looking at those tadpole pictures and they brought to mind a blog post I did on May 18 of 2014 called Mexican tadpole. It’s kind of a cool post, it may be worth a look. My mom had been in Mexico and she showed them a tadpole in one of my blog posts and learned the word. And it has a link, I’ll even supply it here, to a wonderful song from James Taylor in 1975 called Mexico

 

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Happy Easter! Happy Spring!

16 April, 2017            Happy Easter! Happy Spring!

Pony Pasture (and the rest of the mid-Atlantic region) are bursting at the seams. I don’t know where to begin. But a lot of pictures this week. Zebra swallowtails (Eurytides marcellus) are as bright and cheerful and iconic an image of Spring as you’re likely to see here in central Virginia. In the insect world, anyway:

A pair of Zebra swallowtails usher Spring in to Pony Pasture

The host plant for zebra swallowtails is the pawpaw (Asimina triloba). Pawpaws are practically the dandelion of Pony Pasture; they grow everywhere in the park. In our area they won’t have fruit until mid-August but they’re flowering now. I took this picture on Thursday:

Pony Pasture Pawpaws in Spring

Tuesday (the same day I took the zebra swallowtail picture) I also photographed this Barred owl (Strix varia):

Barred owl in Pony Pasture – a bird I never tire of seeing

Wednesday (the day after the zebra swallowtails, the day before the pawpaws) I “got,” in moderately quick succession, a pair of Northern Rough-winged swallows (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) (my first, possibly), a Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) singing so loud I’m sure they could hear him in his native state, a pair of Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) cobbling together a new nest at the edge of the parking lot at Fulton Bank off Chippenham, and a female Brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) sorting through the grass at the edge of my front yard. First a pair of Rough-winged swallows perched on a sign: 

A pair of Northern Rough-winged swallows. Mighty cute, eh?

 

Carolina wren in Virginia, singing loud enough to be heard in Carolina. Not South Carolina, of course. 

 

A pair of late-arriving ospreys. These two do not have an air of quiet competence.

 

Female Brown-headed cowbird at the edge of my front lawn.

Just FYI, I am not a whiz at bird identification. I’m not one of those people who just looks at a bird and says “Oh, look, it’s a… ” I often have no idea. I “cheat” with a terrific app called Merlin Bird ID from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I had no idea what those rough winged swallows were and I did not know what that brown-headed cowbird was. But when you open the app and tough “Start Bird ID,” the first question it asks is where you saw it. And gives you possible locations, beginning with “current location” since it knows where you are. After you tell it where, it asks when you saw it, beginning with today. Then it offers seven possible sizes beginning with “sparrow-sized or smaller”, through robin-sized, crow-sized, and topping out at “goose-sized or larger.” Each question you answer narrows the field. The next choice is nine different main colors; you choose between one and three main colors. Then it offers a list of possible birds; hopefully you find yours. I’m sure there are plenty of others, but this one has been effective for me.

Flowers now are (of course) beginning to burst forth. I generally rely on Evelyn Flower ID for that. She taught me a year or two ago about the Spider wort at Pony Pasture:

Spiderwort. A month or two the whole place was brown and gray. Now just look at it.

 

Some flowers I’ve known since I knew what a flower was. This one is on a tree in our front yard; I knew that Dogwoods were my Dad’s favorite since I knew what “favorite” meant:

Dogwood – elegant, understated, breathtaking

 

The Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) began blooming this week; I took this picture this morning:

First Mayapple flower I’ve seen in Pony Pasture in 2017

Back in the fauna world, I saw this morning what I believe is my first Eastern Snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) in Pony Pasture. Its shell was maybe a foot long. This was in the creek at the western edge of the Willow Oaks Country Club golf course. In keeping with Easter Egg Hunt theme, there is a high  probability this is a female either going to lay eggs or coming from laying eggs. It’s that time of year:

My first ever snapping turtle at Pony Pasture

I’m running out of space! My blog post runneth over! Speaking of Easter and eggs and new birth, frog egg masses must be hatching; there are more tadpoles in the puddles every time I visit Pony Pasture. This is from this morning’s hike:

Tadpoles filling up the puddles at Pony Pasture

An enormous fungus, also from Pony Pasture, also from this morning:

That’s an iPhone 7+! Big! Big fungus!

If you were afraid I’d actually let a week pass without posting a deer picture, you can breathe now – I took this one Thursday morning at guess where:

Tadpoles and snapping turtles are graceful in their way. But look at this beauty. She’s demure.

White lilacs from our backyard:

White lilacs in our yard = and in our house. We smell them 24/7 now. Everyone should be so fortunate.

Rabbit (a.k.a. “Peter Cottontail”) also from our backyard:

The less well-known “Maundy Thursday Bunny”

Enough already! Come back next week – if you can stand it! Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Spring, Happy Sunday, have a wonderful week, all best,

Jay

 

Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Accident anniversary / Singular encounter(s) / and more

9 April, 2017            Accident anniversary / Singular encounter(s) / and more 

Some of the pictures of dead squirrels in this post may be offensive. That’s just a heads up. You can skip it if you’re inclined. 

An impressive looking red-tailed hawk holding a fresh killed squirrel on a lamppost.

I was locked – locked – in the psychiatric unit at MCV because I was, in the crisp  language of my neuropsychiatric evaluation, “suicidal without specific ideation.” Late 1988 or early 1989. More on that later. Wednesday (April 5) was the 29th anniversary of my accident. Clinical depression often follows traumatic brain injury as self-awareness returns. I was in there for three weeks on that psychiatric admission.  

I took this picture in the parking lot of the Discovery United Methodist Church on Wednesday, April 5, at 9:28 AM. If you’re uninformed about my accident and want to learn a bit more, I’ll put a link. But be forewarned, it opens with a graphic picture of me in the emergency room at MCV. Then a picture of me at the end of my first 140.6 mile triathlon about fifteen years later. Maybe I need to invert the two. Two pictures and a couple of hundred word description from my blog: More about me.

Anyway, I was on my way home from my morning job Wednesday when I passed the church. I see red-tails hunting from a perch on the cross at that church regularly, so I always look up. I saw this one Wednesday morning. This picture was at 9:26: 

Red-tail on the cross, scanning for breakfast. 9:26 

I took another picture – it was still 9:26 according to my camera – and the bird turned around to face the opposite direction. I clicked the shutter another time – it still says 9:26 on the camera – and the bird dove off. See its talons underneath?:

See its talons at the bottom of the picture? Its headed for that squirrel. 9:26

In that picture, the bird was diving off toward the opposite side of the church from where I was parked. I drove to the other side of the church so I could see where the bird was. That’s when I took this picture; 9:28:  

Hawk on the lamp-post – holding a dead squirrel. 9:28

He (possibly she) was fully exposed on top of that lamp and defenseless against the descending mob of crows. He flew again almost immediately, across the parking lot to a mature sweet gum tree towering at the edge. I took the next picture at 9:29. He’s in the tree, beginning to eat the squirrel. See the sunlight shining through his right eye? You can see the squirrel’s body hanging over the front edge of the branch:

Red-tail makes it to the safety of a tree with its freshly killed squirrel. 9:32

The redtail was still in a moderately exposed position, but safer. I took pictures of him in that tree for five minutes until he took what remained of the squirrel and flew across the street to another, better protected tree. The first picture I took in the new tree was at 9:37. He stayed there for a long time, slowly devouring the squirrel:

Red-tail in the second tree with its dead squirrel. 9:37

I took the last picture on that tree twenty minutes later. A few pictures of a bloody lump that was the last of the squirrel. Eventually the hawk flew back to the cross. I took the first picture back on the cross at 9:59:

Hawk back up on the cross – this time with a crop (stomach) full of fresh squirrel

So, 9:26, dove off cross. Killed a squirrel, ate it, flew back up to the cross to hunt again, 9:59. Thirty three minutes.

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It was so remarkable. So efficient. This had obviously happened often – the bird knew what it was doing. My mind wandered to the possibility that perhaps that was a mother squirrel who stumbled out of her nest after feeding babies all night, to fill up on acorns so she could feed them again. But the hawk killed her, and now baby squirrels are at the nest, waiting for their mother to come back, but they starve to death.

But when there are hungry baby squirrels in nests, there are hungry baby hawks in nests. And if the hawk doesn’t catch a squirrel, its babies starve. There’s no right or wrong in that scenario. It’s just evolution at work.

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I have so, so, so much to write. You simply cannot imagine the journey I’ve been traveling this 29 years. Whenever I’m moved to write, I don’t know where to begin. I still don’t. But when the accident happened – when I was in a coma – I was twenty-six years old and I was a college dropout with a high school diploma. The longest triathlon I’d completed was a total of less than 16 miles long, and took not much over an hour. I’d been married ten months before the accident. I’d moved from an apartment into a new house four days earlier. Since the accident I’ve gotten a BS in Psychology and an MS in Rehabilitation Counseling. I’ve completed eleven triathlons that are over 140 miles long and take fifteen hours to complete. I’ve gotten divorced. I’ve lost that home. I’ve been in a healthy relationship for over five years. I’ve bought a new home and I’ll pay it off this year. I’m becoming more able to share. Starting this week. Hopefully continuing in future blog posts. 

I’ve done a lot – a lot – in the last twenty-nine years. But I’ve lived in Richmond the whole time. I’ve done short triathlons in New Zealand, Montana, Florida and more. I’ve done eleven long ones, in Maryland and North Carolina. I did animal assisted therapy for eleven years at MCV. While doing that work, I became very close friends with a twelve year old girl and her parents and her brother. I met her on her first admission for a neuroblastoma; she was young and healthy and it went into remission quickly. Ivory and I were still doing pet therapy when she was readmitted five years later with a relapse. We continued to visit as the disease ran its course. She loved dolphins. The last time we visited her she was in the Pediatric ICU; her head was propped up and a tube was vacuuming the saliva she couldn’t swallow out of her mouth. She had dolphin earrings on and Ivory was being present for her; I’m still trying to master that. I couldn’t take my eyes off those dolphin earrings as the jiggled slightly from the vibration of her breathing tube.

Later I took Ivory home. I went up to the Y to swim, so I’d be able to sleep that night. Everyone was gathered around the television. A Virginia Tech senior had just shot and killed thirty-two people then killed himself. That was ten years ago this week. I am still appalled to think about the way I felt standing in that Y. All these people had just been murdered. I could not get the image of those dolphin earrings out of my head. Looking at the people who had been murdered was horrible, watching my friend slowly die was horrible, the fact that I could only direct my full attention to one of those things – and it had to be one of those things – was horrible. That was on April 16 of 2007. We visited the hospital once a month. I don’t recall our May visit. She died on June 10.

Ivory and I did pet therapy for eleven years. So many people changed my life, constantly. The people who are the most unforgettable – like her – are the  ones who have taught you the most.

There were more. There were great stories too, especially doing pet therapy. And there have been great stories with my family and with Evelyn and with my countless friends and of course with dogs, dogs, and did I mention dogs? And I’ve had some great adventures. I’ll get more organized. And write more. I’m looking forward to it! All best,

Jay   

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