The craziest picture I’ve ever taken

18 August, 2019            The craziest picture I’ve ever taken

I almost put the craziest picture first – but it has a snake in it. So I’m giving  Ophidiophobes a chance to bail. I’ll begin with Mackey and Turner at our lovely river this morning: 

Mackey and Turner at Pony Pasture this morning. Words are unnecessary and inadequate

This week I looked over the rail at the dark rocky creek bottom hoping to glimpse a water snake. I saw a large one that had just captured a large fish. The snake was twisting and thrashing about, working to position the fish head down for easier swallowing.  

Crayfish on left, watersnake on right, fish caught in the middle

Suddenly a crayfish – the first I’ve ever photographed – appeared on the rock. See it on the left? It immediately began moving aggressively toward the snake. The snake had to have been twenty times larger than the crayfish. But I guess the crayfish was trying to get the snake to drop the fish, perhaps by threatening the snake’s eyes. Whatever the reason – you should have seen this happen – if you’d seen the snake’s reaction, and if you were describing it in human (anthropomorphic) terms you would have said the snake had a panic attack. One instant it was concentrating on swallowing this large fish, and the next instant it clutched its fish and dove backward into a shallow pool and speed-swam across it. 

My birthday is later this month. Evelyn gave me an early birthday gift, The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New by a favorite author of mine (that Evie introduced me to years ago), Annie Dillard. A recurrent theme of Ms. Dillard’s is just how amazing the world is – everywhere, everything in it – but you have to pay attention. It can be frustrating, because if you’re e.g. paying attention to birds in the trees, which are awesome, you’ll walk right past turtles on the ground, which are also awesome. 

This week I also saw a five lined skink poking its head out of a hole in a bathroom wall:   

Skink peering out of a building

The same day I saw that whole snake – fish – crayfish incident happen, I read this by Ms. Dillard: “Many carnivorous animals, of course, devour their prey alive. The usual method seems to be to subdue the victim by downing or grasping it so it can’t flee, then eating it whole or in a series of bloody bites. Frogs eat everything whole, stuffing prey in their mouth with their thumbs. People have seen frogs with their wide jaws so full of live dragonflies they couldn’t close them. Ants don’t even have to catch their prey: In the spring they swarm over newly hatched, featherless birds in the nest and eat them, tiny bite by tiny bite. That it’s rough out there and chancy is no surprise. Every live thing is a survivor on a kind of extended emergency bivouac. But at the same time we are also created.” 

Ages ago I read this – and it’s quite possible Ms. Dillard quoted Ms. Dickinson: 

“To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else” – Emily Dickinson 

Ms. Dillard later writes that “Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it. It is, as Ruskin says, “not merely unnoticed, but in the full, clear sense of the word, unseen.”

I was really, really, really moved that I had the opportunity to watch that interaction between those three animals. Who knows what I miss. Who knows what was happening behind me when I took that picture. 

These small catfish were swimming in a pool just below the snake-rocks another day this week. I guess when the snake got the opportunity to consume that giant fish, it could ignore these little hors d’oeuvres for a few days: 

Baby catfish, a.k.a. “water snake snacks”

Speaking of outdoor food, this morning I had my first bite of a pawpaw for 2019. I read a lot of things to do with pawpaws, ways to prepare them, etc. But I bit into a pawpaw for the first time twenty-five years ago at Pony Pasture, on the river bank. I ate a couple of delicious bites then dropped it on the ground for whatever else wants to eat it. And for me, that’s how you enjoy a pawpaw. It’s not something to eat some other place or some other time – it’s to eat there and then. A person on facebook asked how to eat them and what they taste like. I responded thus: “I ate my first pawpaw of 2019 this morning on my dog hike! IMO, they’re ripe when they hit the ground. And I just brush the dirt off and take a bite – right there, in the woods. The ripe consistency is of a REAL ripe peach. Super soft. The flavor, as you will discover, is indescribable. But it’s a soft flavor, banana style, not even a hint of tartness or acidity. Ultra juicy, and the skin is so soft it seems like a falling chickadee feather would poke a hole in it. Part of the beauty is, their shelf life and season is ultra short. So either you taste it or you don’t, and the world moves on. That may be what I love most. Enjoy!” 

Also, though – if you don’t like picking things up from the ground and eating them, certainly don’t do it. And don’t take them out of the park – that spoils them.

Few (close to zero) of my hawk pictures are memorable. But every time I photograph one, it gives me a moment of calm, lucid meditation – my head is entirely clear. It’s like taking a calm breath with a lot of oxygen in it. Here’s one I saw this week: 

Hopefully this isn’t an “obligatory” Red-tail. I just feel peaceful when I see them.

Here’s a cute picture of Dash from this week. He’s a bird watcher too, but not in this picture: 

King Dash

Another quote from Annie Dillard: “’I don’t do housework. Life is too short. If you want to take a year off to write a book, you have to take that year, or the year will take you by the hair and pull you toward the grave.’ – Annie Dillard” 

Evelyn and I had lunch with a friend this week. I noticed two things at his house. Outside, next to his driveway, there were a few small tree trunks with holes made by yellow-bellied sapsuckers: 

Tell-tale sign you’ve been visited by a yellow-bellied sapsucker. A while ago.

Inside I glanced down and saw the spectrum projected on a cabinet wall through a crystal hanging in his kitchen window. I realized that little rainbow was just like a pawpaw – it has a very brief “life” – and either you see it or you don’t, and the world moves on. With pawpaws and with rainbows, nothing awful happens if you miss them. They’ll be back. But don’t miss them. Your life will be better: 

Like a snowflake, only larger and warmer and more colorful

I think that’s all I have! I hope you get so see something awesome this week. There are a lot of opportunities. Have a great week!

All best,

Jay

 

 

 

Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Insects, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Hula girl” – this time, it’s personal

11 August, 2019            “Hula girl” – this time, it’s personal

I pass a little plastic solar powered hula girl on a sunny (most days) windowsill once each week. I wrote a brief essay about it and sent it to Evelyn and my four siblings. It was moderately well received. I’d been thinking of another story, but maybe next week. Ev said “You should use this on your blog. It’s more personal than what you normally use.” I liked the way it felt when I wrote it, so I’ll include it at the end of this. After the usual flurry of pictures. 

I took this picture of Mackey and Turner at the river this morning. With my phone! We were farther down the river than normal. Look at Mackey shining! He is a handsome, elegant, graceful boy. Turner is too, of course, but he arrives at the destination of handsome elegant grace by a much different path than Mackey. In a manner of speaking: 

That is unimprovable. How could you make it better? It is entirely w/o flaw.

The river this morning: 

Paradise on the James

Here’s Tiger Swallowtail from the river Tuesday: 

Pony Pasture male swallowtail

Sometimes when I go out and look at a rose in our backyard in the morning it just stops me in my tracks. Which, as I think about that sensation, is odd. Because I am not particularly young, and I have seen a lot, lot, lot of roses. And one freshly bloomed red rose doesn’t look significantly different from another. But every time I see one is like the first time: 

The bloom is on the rose

This big female Red-tailed hawk hasn’t seen as many roses as I have, but she’s seen a lot. If there was a mouse or a chipmunk crouching under it, she’d look right through the rose. Or anyway, that’s what I’m guessing. I don’t know what evolutionary advantage it would offer an alpha raptor to spend time looking at a rose. On the cross at Discovery United Methodist Church:  

She looks stunning in that light. I’ll bet she’s not daydreaming.

A hibiscus within a short branch length of the rose. There’s nothing subtle or mysterious or hesitant about a hibiscus. Very welcoming. Flowers to the best of my knowledge do not have emotions. But it’s difficult not to look at this and feel cheerful: 

This flower is not dour

I was stopped at a light on the way to the river Tuesday when I turned right and took this picture of Turner (dog is my copilot) in the passenger seat. Turner sleeps, although Evelyn is certain sometimes he sleeps with his eyes open. But Turner for the most part goes through life with this expression on his face:

Turner’s go-to expression – appropriate for any occasion:

I’ll close with a picture of Dash from Friday. I already posted this on social media so some people have seen it. I’m not even sure what is so appealing about this image, but something is. He’s not trying to hide anything (unless it’s under that box) but his gaze is (IMO) inscrutable. But it’s also welcoming and maybe even confiding. Trusting – I think that’s the adjective I’m groping for. It’s a calming (to me) look: 

Dash’s expression: inscrutable but trusting

Have a great week! And hopefully you’ll enjoy my little “hula girl” blurb. This story’s been chasing around in my mind for a long time. I’m glad I finally typed it. I hope you enjoy it! And I hope you come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay 

 

This is the way I sent the “Hula girl” musing to my family, edited slightly here: 

= = = = = = = = = = =

Hula girl

August, 2019

See that little plastic solar powered hula girl right there? Back to the camera? Green plastic grass skirt? She’s a brunette? 

Hula girl

Hula girl

Sorry about the quality of the picture. I was taking it with one hand while pushing a friend’s wheelchair with the other. Plus I was trying to be discreet, i.e. act like I wasn’t taking a picture when I obviously was, because that’s in the glass walled pastry shop at Whole Foods on Broad Street and a bunch of the cooks were in there and they all know my friend and me and I didn’t want them to think I was more of a weirdo than they already do. But they’ve all got crazy tatts and piercings and wild dye jobs and wilder haircuts, and when they’re out on break they always talk with my friend and me and they’re open minded and welcoming. They have a solar powered hula dancer in their pastry kitchen. Just to give you an idea of what sort of folks they are. 

But that hula girl’s plastic grass skirt covered rear end and the little solar panel it’s fortunately not shading face the sun rising way down Broad Street, and the sun shining on the solar panel makes her shake her little green plastic grass covered booty.  

At Mom’s house when she died – and probably before that for a really long time – Mom had some crazy little solar powered plastic thing like that in her bedroom window, a chicken or a pig or a duck or something – one of you might remember. And when she died, I have this recollection of that thing, I always, always, always think of it. Every single Wednesday morning when I’m in there with my buddy and that little plastic person is doing her hula dance, I always think of it. 

I sat down on the floor at some point right after Mom died, and I was with Mackey and Turner. I don’t know why I sat on the floor; that’s not one of my things. They had soft carpet so it’s not like the hardwood here. And I was thinking that the night before, Mom and all of us had been alive, and now it was just Mackey and Turner and me plus that little solar thing in the window, which was obviously not alive, but was solar powered and just bobbing or swaying or craning its neck or whatever it was doing, and I also saw a stink bug crawling on the rug. It was alive too. Mom wasn’t, but we all were. 

It’s been way more than two years since that happened, closer to three, but I still think of it every Wednesday morning. It’s never sad or melancholy. It’s for the most part emotionless. It’s not painful or unwelcome but it’s always struck me as odd. But in no way unwelcome. Mom and/or Dad would appreciate it. I know I do.  

= = = = = = = = = = =

Posted in Rivers | 4 Comments

If this isn’t nice…  

4 August, 2019            If this isn’t nice…  

…I don’t know what is.” – Kurt Vonnegut – courtesy of Andrew 

“If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” – Kurt Vonnegut – courtesy of Andrew

The quote is courtesy of Andrew. The flower is courtesy of Evelyn. The monarch butterfly is courtesy of the flower.

Evelyn’s been planting flowers and shrubs and trees around our home to attract birds and other pollinators. Wikipedia quotes the USDA saying the Monarch butterfly (above) “may be the most familiar North American butterfly, and is considered an iconic pollinator species.” Before Tuesday morning (7/30) I’d never seen a Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) in our yard. Thanks to Evelyn’s effort, that changed. And thanks to my friend Andrew sending me this quote, I noticed when I looked at the butterfly I was happy, and I exclaimed or murmured or thought (really I just thought) “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” Thank you Evelyn! And Andrew! And Kurt Vonnegut! And butterfly! 

It was a week ago today Andrew emailed me this quote. But I was caught up in the petty nonsense I sometimes allow to crowd out what’s important in my life and I didn’t take time to look at it. I finally opened it up, not long after I took the Monarch butterfly pictures off my camera and put them on the computer. The quote Andrew sent read “Please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”  KURT VONNEGUT. I read it just as I was looking at the Monarch butterfly.  

And I smiled that daydreamy little way a person sometimes smiles when they’re alone and maybe (hypothetically) thinks “that certainly was timely.”  

I had more opportunities to exclaim or murmur or think that phrase as the week progressed. One came the following morning when I saw this gangly young mockingbird: 

Slender young mockingbird

I saw a goldfinch drinking from a puddle at Deep Run park this week. I’d hoped for a better picture but I wasn’t close enough and it was too shady. But look closely. See a faint blur above the goldfinch to its left? It was a large dragonfly darting in and out and hovering around and (it appeared from my human POV) to be making the goldfinch anxious. Or agitated or distracted or irritated; something. The goldfinch twitched every time the dragonfly whirred close. A dragonfly must be huge to a goldfinch. And that buzzing noise – I can’t imagine what that sounded like at that distance. The goldfinch was drinking; I have a picture of it taking a drink. But as long as that dragonfly was buzzing around it was clear the goldfinch couldn’t relax. I see such odd, unpredictable, peculiar things when I observe closely (sometimes): 

Goldfinch in foreground, big blurry dragonfly in the upper left

Of course more often I see ordinary, predictable, everyday scenes. Red-tails are the most reliable local raptor. And they hunt from highly visible perches, and I get used to seeing them in certain spots. If you’re in western Henrico County, VA and you drive either north or south on Parham Road at the corner of Ridge Road in daylight, you can look up and see this cross on the top of the Grove Avenue Baptist Church. There’s not a Red-tail up there every minute of every day, but it’s a real high percentage spot. If it’s your lucky day you might even see two at once. This male was up there Wednesday morning around 11:00 when I was on my way home from swimming. He looks real scruffy because he’s molting: 

Molting male red-tail

Red-tails live in Richmond fifty-two weeks a year. But the ospreys – or at least the Stony Point ospreys – will head south soon. South as in (I think) to Venezuela. They’ll leave this month or next. They return in March. I’ve written this before, but ospreys eat fish – and nothing else. They’ll starve quick if the water ices over. So they’ll head out before long. 

I’m not sure how many are on this nest. Evelyn says she’s seen three, which is not out of the question. During the time I was there, I only saw two (on the nest) but there may have been more. There was a parent sitting on the edge of the tower. More than likely the other parent was fishing. You can see the parent perched out to the right. You can also see what was clearly the dominant offspring with its back to the camera. You can see the white head of a more timid (which in this case means weaker) offspring toward the right edge of the nest. The behavior of these birds seemed out of balance to me. That big one on the nest was super-agitated and the small one never moved. Neither did the bird I think was a parent. I read a gruesome eyewitness story a year or two ago where the oldest osprey nestlings ganged up and killed one that had been born small and late, and it’s an image I’ve been unable to banish from my mind. Survival of the fittest is almost inevitably a gruesome business. Hopefully this is just their normal day-to-day behavior: 

Two offspring on the nest, one adult on the right

Here’s another picture of the dominant bird on the nest: 

This osprey was not peaceful or placid. You can see the white head of the other one on the lower right. 

So anyway, that’s what the top of the food chain looks like. Mackey and Turner and I had a little hike at Bryan Park yesterday and I pointed my camera into the creek for the other end of the food chain: 

Bottom of the food chain.

Flowers are in the food chain too. It would be difficult (for me) to draw a clear line from a dry land flower to an osprey but I’m sure they’re linked together somehow. This is another lovely Rose of Sharon from our backyard: 

Backyard Rose of Sharon. If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is. 

And this is one of Ev’s hibiscuses from the backyard. I waited a little too late to get this picture; it’s already wilting a little. They are so fast! I should set up my iphone out there and have it do a time-lapse sequence of a hibiscus blooming. I’ll bet start to finish it doesn’t take eight hours. There is nothing subtle about a hibiscus: 

Hibiscus in our backyard 3:50 this afternoon. At noon the petals weren’t curling up.

Almost left this off – Ev was in the Fan yesterday afternoon and saw this: 

 

Have a great week! 

All best, 

Jay 

Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, hyacinths, Insects, James River, mockingbirds, ospreys, People, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Spiders | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Walking into spider webs/screening phone calls 

28 July, 2019            Walking into spider webs/screening phone calls 

Evelyn and I were over in Bonair Monday evening and came back across the Huguenot Bridge toward the Virginia Eye Institute and Starbucks. Evelyn pointed out this impressive buck sauntering along the shoulder of Huguenot Road across from Starbucks. He’s still in velvet. He looks pretty young – he’s not real muscular or confident looking. Six points minimum but maybe more. The light was poor but this came out okay: 

Whitetail buck, as photographed from Starbucks parking lot:

I also (of course) got a reasonable Red-tail Wednesday. She was in the Westhampton Memorial and Cremation Park. I’m not seeing a ton of raptors these days so I welcomed this image: 

Big female red-tail waking up, waiting for prey to wake up

I drive east on Patterson Avenue every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at a reasonable hour. I work with a person with a disability in the really early morning in the far west end those days. I come home down Patterson and always look at a tree in the swamp directly across the street from St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church. I’ve seen Bald Eagles, ospreys, countless red-tailed hawks, and a number of Red-shouldered hawks. But Friday, for the first time ever, I saw a Turkey Vulture – warming its wings as it faced the rising sun: 

Carrion eater greets the morning sun

I saw a nice young skink later that day at Deep Run. This is a youngster as you can tell from the blue tail. It was also tiny. Just a miniature skink. I tried to put my pen down for scale but this little being was moving real, real quick in that bright morning sun: 

Shiny tiny skink with bright blue tail

My friends were out of town for a couple days and I took their dogs to the river Saturday. I regret now I could have staged two identical pictures; they would have looked neat together. But these are close. I took this picture of Lola and Luna yesterday at 9:13 AM. I took the picture of Mackey and Turner precisely twenty-four hours and thirty-two minutes later at 9:45 this morning. Our river is without peer, anywhere: 

Luna (left) and Lola yesterday morning

Turner (left) and Mackey today

Nothing about this video or the words to this song really relates to this post – it could be regarded as a throwaway pop song, and that wouldn’t necessarily be incorrect. But it’s a 1987 song by David Lee Roth called “Just Like Paradise”. And the chorus is only two simple lines and I repeat it constantly in my head when I’m at the river with dogs:

“This must be just like livin’ in paradise
And I don’t want to go home”

For the Wildlife Center of Virginia Wildlife Book Club this month we’re reading Spiders: Learning to Love Them by Lynne Kelly. That’s where (tangentially) I got the title for this post. I’ve been thinking a lot about spiders and there are a lot of webs around Pony Pasture this time of year. I wonder if that’s why the WCV picked this book – because it’s spiderweb time. They are hard to photograph! I’m not even a quarter of the way through yet, and so far I’ve learned much more about spiders than about the webs themselves. But you don’t have to know anything about gardenias to know they’re beautiful – they’re just beautiful. I don’t have to learn anything extra about this to appreciate its beauty – it’s perfect the way it is: 

I know it’s not a rose. But it is spectacular. It’s not even a miracle – any more than a rose is. But still.

The title of this blog post, for no particular reason, is adapted from a 1995 song by the band No Doubt. The song is called Spiderwebs and it’s about tangled up relationships. And screening phone calls, which some of us may recall was a thing you did back in the 1990’s. Before phones got “smart.”

Speaking of things that can be appreciated equally with knowledge or in its absence, look what Evelyn convinced to bloom in our yard Wednesday: 

Spiderwebs, the river, roses – all the same. Perfect the way they are – they cannot be improved.

That rose reminds me of a quote I saw recently – I’ll put it in here in a moment. I read a lot, lot, lot of books by a Vietnamese buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. He’s 92 now but he had a really bad stroke about five years ago and I’m pretty sure he’s not talking. Though he looks healthy. His best lessons (IMO) are numerous and so simple any child can easily understand them. It occurred to me as I typed that that sometimes they’re so simple an adult can’t understand them. But he doesn’t call for elaborate explanations of roses: 

-Thich Nhat Hanh

Enjoy the miracle this week! 

All best, 

 

Jay 

Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Spiders, whitetail deer, Wildlife Book Club, Wildlife Center of Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Some things in life can be improved… 

21 July, 2019            Some things in life can be improved… 

…but this weekend wasn’t one of them! Evelyn’s birthday was this weekend and her sister Jackie came down from NJ to help us celebrate. Evelyn and Jackie and Ariel and I went out to The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing for dinner last night and took this 4x selfie: 

Me, Ariel, Evelyn and Jackie, Rocketts Landing yesterday evening just after dinner

Yuki didn’t join us on our walk this morning, but aside from that glaring omission, our hike at the river this morning could not be improved. Look at Mackey and Turner on a rock just as we arrived at Pony Pasture this morning: 

Mackey and Turner watching the river flow toward the ocean this fine July morning at Pony Pasture

Since this weekend was the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon, Ev suggested I include my “blue moon” picture from August of 2015: 

Plane passes in front of a “Blue moon” – August, 2015

If you’d like to see the rest of that blog post, it’s from August 2, 2015 and the title is “Serendipity – once in a blue moon.” 

For a little moon shot history in our family, one of my brothers was born the same date (not the same year) Apollo 11 launched from Cape Canaveral and another of my brothers was born the same day (different year) that Neil Armstrong stepped off the ladder from the lunar module to the moon’s surface. I was a young boy, but I clearly remember watching it on our first color television in the knotty pine paneled basement of the house where I grew up in Silver Spring, MD. A.k.a. “The house with the good basement.” 

I learned two new things about Neil Armstrong while researching this blog post. He had a son then a daughter then another son. But, sadly, his daughter died from a brain tumor when she was only three years old. The second thing I learned was his family’s request when he died during heart surgery at eighty-two years old. His family released a statement that said “For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.” Sometimes I’m so happy to stumble across stuff like this when I’m doing my blog posts. It’ll be too cloudy to see the moon tonight but I’ll think about that next time I see the moon. Maybe I’ll get another moon picture up here next week. 

I saw this squirrel stretched out trying to beat the heat Monday at Deep Run: 

This is how squirrels cool off when it’s hot. It jumped up and ran off a moment later.

That was Monday. I was in the same spot – right where this squirrel was – on Friday and I looked down about ten feet at the tangled forest floor. I was looking for snakes – they’re currently hiding from me – and saw a box turtle! Mammals are unfond of hot weather, and it’s amazing how often I see birds panting. I mean, birds panting – who would have imagined? I wouldn’t have, anyway. But I’ve photographed a Red-tailed hawk panting after carrying a dead rabbit up to a high perch on a July day – panting like nobody’s business. And I’ve photographed ospreys panting on their nest many times. I photographed crows panting (not a great picture) earlier this week, and just today I had starlings panting on my feeders. But anyway, reptiles I presume enjoy the heat. Skinks are sure fast moving and a challenge to photograph when it’s hot. This Woodland Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) was munching a mushroom on the ground about ten feet below us. I walked down and walked over to it for this imperfect image. It was so hot – and not a breath of wind:

Box turtle gobbling up a mushroom

I recently finished a book called Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss by Margaret Renkl. It has a lot, lot, lot of short, crisp, informative essays about all manner of subjects. One is called “Things I knew when I was six” followed by “Things I didn’t know when I was six.” There’s a chapter called “To the bluebirds” and one called “In Which My Grandmother Tells the story of Her Brother’s Death.” In a chapter called “Encroachers,” she talks about starlings, and writes “the starlings don’t belong here,” because they’re non-native (they’re European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)), an invasive species. She says that “they are aliens here.” But she goes on to write that “The alien does not know it’s an alien.” She goes on to describe the undeniably sad death of a starling in her yard and say “I can only pity it.” I’m looking at starlings on my feeder this minute – as I type this sentence. I think a lot about that “the alien doesn’t know it’s an alien.” I am a caucasian human male in North America – the most destructive invasive species in the history of invasive species. Comparing the destruction my species has done to the destruction starlings have done is like comparing the sun to a candle. I don’t love having starlings on these feeders. But I also don’t love feeling like a hypocrite. One morning when there’s one out there in pretty light I’ll get a nice picture.  

Too much rumination and not enough photography this week! 

Today I had a bluebird, a cardinal and a goldfinch on my feeder at the same time – primary colors! I didn’t get any brilliant pictures (I rarely, rarely do – I just take a lot) but here’s a goldfinch. Male goldfinches are always cheerful (IMO) to look at. If goldfinches were invasive species, I wonder if people would be so judgmental. It’s difficult for a starling to look cute. It’s difficult for a goldfinch not to: 

I think if goldfinches were invasive species you would possibly hear less grumbling

I got one other picture the same day as that goldfinch picture that came out pretty well. It’s not framed just right but it captures (IMO) the essence of a male Northern Cardinal:

BRIGHT! The second of three primary colors I saw on my bird feeder today

For some reason – I don’t recall why – I stumbled across this old picture of my dogs Ivory and Nicky in Montana in 1999. Twenty years ago! This spot is called “The Rims” and it’s a prominent and startling and lovely and imposing and unique feature at the edge of town. We spent a lot of time hiking up there that summer: 

Ivory (left) and Nicky (black and difficult to see) on the Rims in Billings, MT, twenty years ago this month!

It’s been a great and busy weekend. I was so happy that Jackie joined us for Evelyn’s birthday – I hope she comes back soon! And I hope you do too! 

Have a great week, 

Jay

Posted in Birds, box turtle, cardinals, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, moon, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Turtles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Light work

14 July, 2019            Light work

The light made photography effortless again this week; I’m always grateful. But I get lazy! I also can never decide which picture I like best. My favorite photography subjects, raptors, have been all over town this week. I even got some ospreys I hadn’t gotten in some time. My memory card runneth over with pictures of Red-tails from this week. It’s tough (for me) to pick a favorite, but I got real close to this one in good light so I’m going to go with it. This is at the very western edge of Westhampton Memorial and Cremation Park, 10000 Patterson Avenue in Henrico: 

Notice the blue eyes? I think this is a first year Red-tail.

Eleven minutes earlier (precisely) I’d been standing at the end of the driveway at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, 10627 Patterson Avenue in Henrico – just up the street. I don’t know if the hawk caught the squirrel of if the squirrel got hit by a car and the hawk grabbed it. However it came about that hawk was clutching this squirrel, it’s safe to say all of that squirrel has become part of that hawk: 

Red tailed hawk with gray squirrel about to become breakfast

Squirrels will never be safe from cars, but they’ll always be safe from ospreys. If it doesn’t have scales and gills, ospreys aren’t interested. I was over in BonAir early (-ish) Tuesday morning and on my way home saw an osprey on a familiar nest near Fulton Bank in Stony Point. I was parked at 9030 Stony Point Parkway to take this picture: 

Fighter pilots were warned to “Check 6” or look at the 6 o’clock position (behind them) for unexpected attacks. That’s probably not why this osprey is checking 6.

The last image I took there was at 8:16. Then I drove north across the Willy Bridge and eight minutes later (8:24) snapped my first picture of two ospreys on a nest across Parham from West End Assembly of God. Evelyn was by there earlier today and saw three on the nest at the same time. But they’re all big now. When I visited, probably one bird was out hunting. Or, more properly, since they’re ospreys, fishing. Here’s a picture I took of a pair: 

A pair of ospreys near West End Assembly of God, but Evelyn tells me she’s seen more on that nest

Yuki’s taking a little summer break so Mackey and Turner and I are going to the river on the early side to avoid the heat. We arrived at the intersection of River Road and Huguenot Road and this doe and fawn were ambling across the parking lot near BB&T and headed across Huguenot Road toward Schwarzchild jeweler (6000 River Road). I took five  pictures in under two minutes. Both deer got around the guard rail and into the woods. They’re safe in there; it probably takes them ~2 minutes to cross the train tracks and get to the river’s edge. I snapped this picture with my phone (in the parking lot) when I first caught a glimpse: 

See that little deer? On the grass? Directly in front of the bank door? Boy this is an excellent time to be alive.

Here’s the first picture with my real camera, to give some idea of the setting. This was a petite doe, presumably the mother: 

Sauntering and/or ambling toward the road:

A moment later, she and a passing cyclist paused to consider their great good fortune at crossing paths this fine Sunday morning:  

Probably the biker was happier than the deer. But this was not traumatic for the deer:

In the next image, her offspring has joined her at the edge of the road to get its nerves up to cross: 

Parent and offspring about to have a road crossing safety lesson. It went well. I watched until they were all the way across and in the woods. 

I would totally think twice about crossing that street too, even if my mother was there to make sure it was safe: 

It was a pleasant morning and the traffic was light, but I suspect this fawn was a little anxious.

They both disappeared into the brush: 

Mother and youngster make it across the street and head for the river

That was a nice, nice, nice way to start a Sunday morning. 

I’m just going to wrap up with a couple pictures of shadows in our living room. When the dogs were at the groomers Tuesday – I am not making this up – the sun shone through our living room window through the leaves of this lush philodendron. I regret not photographing the sun on the leaves: 

Philodendron in living room

The sun shining through the leaves made this cool dog shadow, since Turner and Mackey were not around to keep us company:

Dog shadow through philodendron leaves

Dog shadow closeup. I don’t think this ever happens when Mackey and Turner are home.

Have an excellent week! Come back next week! All best, 

Jay 

Oops! Almost left a picture off. The river is getting its colorful summer look, blue water reflecting a blue sky with bright green plants and a bit of muddy granite to add balance:  

All of it – us, the churches, ospreys, deer, everything – all here because of this river. I’m happy every time I look at it.

 

Posted in Birds, Fun, James River, love, ospreys, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Starbucks, Trains, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Where to start? Embarrassment of riches

7 July, 2019            Where to start? Embarrassment of riches

I didn’t know where to start this week – too much fun stuff. I was parked at a gas station  near a busy intersection Tuesday morning when I heard a bird singing louder than the traffic. The gas pumps were next to my passenger’s side door. I took this picture out of the open driver’s side window, resting against the steering wheel: 

Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) Isn’t this a fun picture?

Mackey and Turner and I went hiking with our friend Sam Tuesday afternoon and Sam took this excellent picture of the Virginia State Insect, a Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio glaucus). Great job Sam! (This took a lot of patience – butterflies don’t sit still very long): 

Tiger Swallowtail – the Virginia State Insect – excellent picture taken by Sam. Nice work Sam!

There’s going to be another northern water snake a ways down this post, by the way. They’re still going strong at Deep Run Park in western Henrico. 

I should also mention Sam and I were hiking back when Mackey and Turner suddenly, simultaneously, became fascinated with something in the woods to our left. We saw the telltale brown patch of fur on one of Pony Pasture’s large herd of resident whitetail deer. Mackey and Turner were polite (probably too hot to run after deer) so they contained their excitement. Sam and I passed the camera back and forth and each took a handful of pictures. The deer was in a real tangly spot, so this was the best one we came up with: 

Pony Pasture whitetail just a few minutes down the trail from Sam’s butterfly!

A break in the rain allowed me time to take a nice bike ride Saturday at Deep Run, so I was coming east on Patterson Avenue just before noon instead of my normal time of around 9:30 AM. Sure enough there was a raptor on the dead tree across Patterson Avenue from St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church, 10627 Patterson Avenue. There was a very nice lady there working outdoors in the heat, doing some gardening and weeding and sprucing things up. Very dedicated! We talked a bit about the hawks and ospreys that frequent that area. 

The bird in the tree was a young male Red-shouldered hawk. I’d seen birds drying their wings before in the sun, but I don’t think this guy had gotten wet. I am convinced he was letting the breeze cool him off. I’ve never seen a Red-shoulder or a Red-tail sit in this position: 

Red shouldered hawk probably cooling off on the edge of Patterson Avenue

On the Fourth of July Mackey and Turner and I took a quick hike around 10:00 AM. I finally got a picture of a Prothonotary warbler! I’ve been hearing them a lot this  year but not yet been able to point my lens at one. There are a few things I’d improve about this picture if I had it to do over again, but one of my favorite things about wildlife photography is you don’t get to it over again – you have to get it right the first time! It makes the experience very immediate. This is what I came away with: 

Prothonotary warbler with an insect in the canopy at Pony Pasture on the Fourth of July

Evelyn’s roses are stunning – continually. These were on our windowsill twenty-four hours before I took this picture, so they’d faded a bit. But still: 

Evelyn’s stunning roses, classic rose look, classic rose smell

Think I’m going to leave it at that for this first week of the second half of 2019. I hope you had an excellent Fourth of July and your summer is off to a great start. See you next week (I hope!), 

Jay 

PS If anyone is interested, this is my 400th blog post. My first was on 2 March, 2011, a trim 62 words with no pictures. It’s interesting (to me, anyway) that my thoughts and feelings today reflect precisely what I wrote in those seven brief sentences. It was called Rivers are always different and always perfect 

Out of the four hundred posts I’ve done, the top three most viewed were all about ironmans I was doing in those years (2011, 2012, 2013). My #1 most viewed post of all time was Owl pajamas, candy corn, a beautiful day – Beach2Battleship 2013. It doesn’t have great pictures but the race recap is pretty fun. I’ve loved endurance athletics for my whole life, and they’re what’s helped me recover from my accident and brought me whatever success I’ve had. My next triathlon is in August at Quantico. I can hardly wait! 

PPS Perhaps you’ve noticed, I didn’t put a snake picture in here. There were so many of them this week – they’re really out in force. But I don’t think I’ll get lots of complaints that I didn’t include one. Maybe next week.

Posted in Birds, Flowers, Fun, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes, triathlons, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments