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 earthsky.org, 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

Slim Pickens

28 January, 2018            Slim Pickens

Change of pace (remember, pickings are slim this week). I was looking for something else and found this picture from March of 2009 at Pony Pasture. It’s a long time from now to March:

Roux in the background, Ivory in the center, Mackey in the foreground, Pony Pasture, March, 2009

It was only a matter of time (almost seven years) before I had such a dull week I chose to fall back on that title. Possibly everyone who reads this blog understands that title but it’s a reference to the “slim pickings” I had to choose from this week. But I spelled it as the name of the late “rodeo performer and film and television actor” Slim Pickens, born Louis Burton Lindley Jr. (thanks Wikipedia) in 1919, died 1983. That link is to his obituary in the NYT; he was a character. I first saw him in Blazing Saddles with my Dad and maybe Katie; I suspect it was my first “R” rated movie. It was 1974 so I was thirteen. Here’s an excerpt  from that review: “What I found amazing was that, in one of our better theatres, a civilised-looking audience laughed loudest and longest at a scene in which a bunch of cowboys sit around a campfire eating beans,” declared a horrified John Simon. “One after another, they raise their backsides a bit and break wind, each a bit louder than his predecessor. If this is what makes audiences happiest, all future for the cinema is gone with the wind.” “Gone with the wind” when writing about a fart joke in a movie review – you just can’t top that. So if you haven’t seen it, by all means do.

A red-tail perched on the power line across from our house Monday morning and I was able to get a raptor picture for the fourth consecutive week. This won’t end up on a magazine cover, but I’m just taking data:

4th consecutive weeks of a raptor-a-week. Red tailed hawk on power line near DS Freeman HS 

I did get another raptor picture (several other raptor pictures) this week, but notably in my opinion (IMO), I got another accipiter rather than the buteos I normally see. This is another shot that won’t end up on a magazine cover, but I’m still learning these birds. Again I’m uncertain whether this is a Cooper’s Hawk or a Sharp-shinned Hawk (those are the only two choices). And this image is inadequate (IMO) to make that determination:

I’m amazed I got another accipiter. I hope I see more.

This is a good time to follow up on last week’s accipiter image. Here it is again:

Pony Pasture accipiter

Here’s the blog post if you’d like to see it again full-sized: “I can’t complain but sometimes I still do”. I posted the picture on a Facebook page called simply “Hawk ID.” People put pictures up there all the time, but questions over the difference between a Cooper’s Hawk and a Sharp-shinned Hawk are constant. One frustrated wildlife rehabilitator once commented that she had held them in her hand and still couldn’t tell the difference. There were several comments about this picture and the consensus was “immature Cooper’s Hawk.” Here are a few excerpts:

  • Blocky head, forward set eye, fine neat streaking, tubular center weighted shape and graduated tail feathers point to immature Cooper’s Hawk.
  • All the hallmarks for Cooper’s Hawk are here. Large, square-backed head, fine tear-drop breast streaking, graduated tail feathers, stout legs & toes, in juv. Plumage.
  • A first winter bird by the breast coloration, the graduated tail feathers and the blocky head with a natural slope to beak make this a Coopers Hawk. Judging by size is not a reliable way to determine gender.

Some have asked about the progress of my flying lessons, but unfortunately my lessons have gone as far as they’ll go. I flew a total of twenty hours with an instructor including seventy landings and was getting close to soloing when I got the response from the FAA for my medical evaluation, viz:

FAA’s final decision on my pilot’s license:

It’s a result of long-term restrictions from injuries sustained in my 1988 accident. The injuries didn’t prevent me from finishing my BS and MS at VCU and they didn’t prevent me from eleven Ironman finishes. But they do prevent me from scuba diving – I learned that decades ago but scuba was never a thing for me. And now I learn they prevent me from earning a pilot’s license. It’s a First World Problem – my sister suggested I instead focus my energy on a solo trans-Atlantic sailing trip. And my brother suggested hiring his daughter as a sailing instructor, since she has more experience than I do and “accepts payment in gummy bears.” 

Speaking of my family, one of my siblings was working on family pictures this weekend and found this and posted it on Facebook. I suspect this is from 1970, give or take a year:

We’re still close! All these decades later! It is a good fortune beyond compare.

I have more good luck in my life than any one person really deserves, but being part of that family is worth more than the rest of it combined.  

Mourning dove in my front yard Wednesday:

Front yard mourning dove in January:

I’m on another Facebook page called “Nature Lovers of Virginia.” A person named Michael  posted a picture of a bluebird and wrote “Bluebirds never fail to make me feel happy–there is just something about their attitude and their colors.” I know just what he means – I never feel blue when I look at a bluebird. I saw dozens at Pony Pasture this week but could never make the light work for a good image. This one perched on one of my feeders yesterday morning:

“Bluebirds never fail to make me feel happy” – commenter on a “Nature Lovers of Virginia” Facebook page

I was never able to photograph a large bunch together, but mallards are flocking up in broad shallow spots around Pony Pasture. It’s easy to stand in one place and see thirty mallards at once. They’re normally “dabbling” in the shallows then and it’s not often  sunny. As an aside, if you’re interested, the binomial name of mallards is “Anas platyrhynchos.” “Anas” is the genus and in Wikipedia it says “Anas is a genus of dabbling ducks. It includes the pintails, most teals, and the mallard and its close relatives.” This pair was calm on a midstream rock – not dabbling:

Pair of midstream mallards at Pony Pasture, captured in a non-dabbling moment

Everything is pairing off now – the raptors have been getting things ready for some time. Pileated woodpeckers too. After reading a lot, I began to notice some pre-nesting and pre-courtship behaviors in December – which I never knew was the case. The cycle lasts 365 days, and I’d always thought nesting behaviors began in Spring. It’ll be another month or two before they’re occurring at that frantic pace that makes them impossible to overlook. It won’t be long before we have the windows open and we’ll hear the “dawn chorus” every morning. But not this week!

All best,


Posted in accipiters, Birds, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

 “I can’t complain but sometimes I still do”

21 January, 2018            “I can’t complain but sometimes I still do”

That line is from Joe Walsh’s 1978 song Life’s Been Good from the album But Seriously, Folks. An accipiter – either a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) or a Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) landed above us on a branch at the river this morning. This is the image I got:

Pony Pasture accipiter

I was “complaining” (the voice inside my head was complaining) that I cut off the tail in that picture. Instead of being grateful I got it at all, which I’m thrilled – that is always a difficult bird for me – I was complaining (in my head again). The line (in the song) that follows the line I used for the title of this post is “Life’s been good to me so far.” Speaking of life being good to me (and to many others), this was the river this morning, half an hour before I photographed that accipiter: 

Our incomparable James River this morning, about 5 casual minutes’ hike from the main parking lot:

I have a vague goal – I’ve possibly mentioned – of photographing a minimum of one raptor per week in 2018. Just to see if I can do it. All in the City of Richmond/Henrico County area. Today (Sunday, 21 January, 2018) wraps up the third week and I’m three for three. On Monday (1/15) I photographed two Red-shouldered Hawks plus a Red-tailed hawk, plus I passed up two other nice Red-shoulders – they were everywhere Monday. It’ll be interesting to see if I can get a raptor each week for fifty-two consecutive weeks.

Red-shouldered Hawk Monday afternoon (see below for location):

This is where that bird was perched: 

The hawk is perched in the top of a tree near the center of this image – it’s a dot:

You have to look closely at this picture – it’s tiny – but you can see where that hawk is sitting. It’s only about the size of the “8” next to the word “Riverside” on the green sign. It’s on a branch precisely in the center of the picture, just below the top. Imagine if a football was in the top of one of those trees. That’s what you’re looking for. But don’t drive yourself crazy – if I didn’t know it was there, I might not be able to find it. 

I’ve been trying to get a good Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis ) picture for Evelyn and I’ve been mostly unsuccessful (but I can’t complain). I went back through my pictures this week and found this one from Thursday – I can’t believe this was only three days ago – in our front yard. Today Evelyn and my niece Cappy and our friend Ariel and I had lunch outside. Pardon this digression but a week ago I posted a picture of Mackey and Turner and me standing on the frozen James River. Remarkable. Anyway, I wish the bird’s face had been in sun rather than shadow but so it goes. Sorry you can’t see the dark eyes that give its name. This one has a seed in its mouth:

Dark-eyed Junco. Astounding I took that picture 3 days ago, and we ate lunch outside today.


I stumbled into an indistinct (moderately) image of two Great black-backed Gulls (Larus marinus), described by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as “The king of the Atlantic waterfront.” I’m not in love with this image, but it has interesting features. First, you can see the size of “The king of the Atlantic waterfront” relative to the average sized Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis ) – it’s enormous. Another interesting feature is the opportunity to compare the two Great black-backed Gulls – there’s an adult (left) and an immature (right). I’m not certain how to age the immatures; that picture quality is too poor to determine. But they have a distinct “juvenile” color pattern and an equally distinct “first winter” color pattern. I’m not sure which this is. Have a look:

1 Mature & 1 immature Great Black-backed gulls, + innumerable Ring-billed gulls

I’m going to put this blog post to be then put my self to bed at a reasonable hour. Have an excellent week!

All best,


PS If anyone cares to enlighten me about that accipiter, I’d love to know more. A, is it a Cooper’s Hawk or a Sharp-shinned Hawk and why. B, is it a male or a female and why. I’ve photographed female Cooper’s Hawks; they’re too huge to be anything else. I’ve photographed male Sharp-shinned Hawks; they’re too petite to be anything else. But there’s a size overlap between male Cooper’s Hawks (medium-sized) and female Sharp-shinned Hawks (medium-sized) and I can’t distinguish breed by size. This bird was approximately the size of a crow – in between. Please enlighten me if you know more. And have a great week!  

Posted in accipiters, Birds, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Rivers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Ricotta frittata

14 January, 2018            Ricotta frittata

All my years of loving both food and talking, often at the same time, I’d never crossed paths with a “ricotta frittata” – before yesterday, that is. It’s a real thing, I’m not even kidding. Evelyn and I ate yesterday for the second time (today was the third) at Galley Market in Stratford Hills shopping center. What I refer to as “ricotta frittata” is in truth a “ricotta, spinach and sausage frittata” but I wasn’t about to pass up that title for a blog post. It was as much fun to eat as it was to say. It’s almost as much fun (almost) as saying “bufflehead.”    

I don’t have a ton of great content for this post (title is Exhibit A) but I spotted a Pileated Woodpecker in decent light this morning at Pony Pasture. I didn’t get the picture I’d hoped (I almost never do) but this isn’t awful. It’s a bit difficult to tell (the image is regrettably not crisp) but you can tell this is a male since he has a red stripe just behind his beak. Females look just like this except no red streak. Both genders have that remarkable red crest:  

My first Pileated woodpecker encounter of 2018. Watch this space for improved quality images.

I am interested in the excavating that bird is doing. I’d always thought they only went in rotten wood, but that looks fresh. This was around twenty-five feet high. I got a reasonably good (not terribly shaky) fifteen second video of him working on that spot. Have a look if you’re inclined: 

It was 25º when we got to the river today, and that’s cold. It’s warmer than it has been, but it was frigid. This was the river a bit before noon today:

The frigid James River on a spectacular January morning

Monday afternoon my friend Sam and I went for a hike and it was a comparatively balmy 45º. But if you’re a Richmonder you’ll recall that was the tail end of several days of single-digit low temperatures. Sam took this picture at 12:45:

Thanks Sam! There was no danger of breakage – it could have supported a truck. But it was slippery!

When we got away from the river, there was a small herd of whitetail does close to Charlie’s Bridge. It’s still overgrown back there; this was the clearest image I could get:

A shy doe near Charley’s Bridge

I’ve gotten pictures of either Red-tailed or Red-shouldered hawks nearly every day this week, but none have been great. It’s been a challenge to get good light, and I have not lived up to it. Here’s a little Red-shouldered Hawk in Glen Allen, peering out at me from the tentative buds on a Red Maple:

Shadowy Red-shouldered hawk in a maple tree in Glen Allen Monday morning

This time of year, you will be rewarded for looking at “footballs in trees” – but often by squirrel nests. You’ll tune them out quickly, their sides are rough, unlike raptors. But I was hiking with another buddy of mine at Deep Run Park in western Henrico Friday and saw a different sort of “football”:

Bald-faced hornet’s nest in a sweet gum tree, Deep Run Park, western Henrico, VA

That, as my friend Kim taught me a few weeks ago, is the nest of a Bald-faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata). That link is to the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences  Department of Entomology page. They note that the Bald-faced Hornet “…is not a ‘true’ hornet – it is a yellow jacket.” Which some people also call a wasp, it’s all quite confusing, but it’s fun to learn. And to find those footballs. If you want to see one in slightly better light, and in Pony Pasture, revisit this post from Christmas Eve of 2017, You can’t buy this on Amazon

I’ll close with an imprecise picture of Mackey and Yuki at the river this morning. Turner doesn’t mind the cold even a little bit, but he is steadfastly unfond of any water for any use that is not related to drinking. It was, as noted earlier, 25º degrees, and Mackey had just cracked through about a quarter-inch of ice. The water was only four inches deep so all that happened was wet feet. I watched him closely for signs of distress, but in less than a minute he was sprinting down the edge of the river behind Yuki, bounding falling logs and tearing through the undergrowth. He couldn’t have cared less. I think it made him run faster.

These dogs love cold weather – they are 100% invigorated, 100% of the time.

Have a great week!

All best,


PS Almost forgot – went to Tredegar Iron Works with another train loving buddy on Wednesday around lunch and got a rare (for me) “double” on CSX freight trains. The train on the left was all coal; that lead locomotive (#3438) is a GE AT44AH (4,400 HP). The train on the right was covered hoppers, so probably corn or grain or something like that. Locomotive #435 was a GE AC4400, also 4,400 HP): 

Business end of two CSX freight trains



Posted in Birds, buffleheads, Dogs, Fun, ice, James River, Pileated Woodpecker, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Rivers, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

bombogenesis and/or relentlessly pragmatic: Happy New Year!

7 January, 2018            bombogenesis and/or relentlessly pragmatic: Happy New Year!

Bone white and ice blue – sycamore against a January sky at Pony Pasture

Temporary sculpture exhibition

Even more temporary

I took all three of those pictures while Mackey and Turner and I did our first ever four mile hike at Pony Pasture – yesterday. We got to the river before noon and we were having so much fun we hiked until almost two. This is the route we took – lots of photo-op stops:

Our 4+ mile hike route Saturday:

If you haven’t been to Pony Pasture recently, you owe yourself a visit. There are no mosquitoes and there is no mud. That middle picture of the top three – the one of the scalloped surface of the river ice – just watching that happen is worth the visit. In this brittle cold weather, there is one smell at the river, and it is fresh. It smells like regular air only with extra oxygen. And the sight is the same way it always is, which is to say always changing. The frozen surface of the water looks like sculpture, constantly added to and chipped away at by puffs of wind, by swirls of water, by shifting temperature. The plates of ice are enormous and they heave and bend, and on quiet mornings (this morning) it sounds like muffled rifle shots or the sporadic thud of distant cannons.  

During the four years Mom was alive and Dad wasn’t, if I thought of either of them, I thought of them separately. Mom died a year ago this past Thursday, January 4. Now I think of them together more often. I had grand visions for my first blog post of 2018 (this one) but reality didn’t support my grandiosity, and I thought of my Mom’s relentless (in my opinion) pragmatism. When you’re one of five siblings talking about your parents, it’s always “in my opinion” because we have different perspectives.

“Bombogenesis” is a nod to Dad’s and my shared love of both meteorology and the English language. Did you hear about it this week? Bombogenesis I mean, not Dad’s and my shared love of meteorology, etc. This is an article from the NYT on Wednesday, January 3 calledWhat Is a ‘Bomb Cyclone,’ or Bombogenesis?”. If you’re disinclined to click on that link, this is the second sentence of the article: “What makes a storm a “bomb” is how fast the atmospheric pressure falls; falling atmospheric pressure is a characteristic of all storms.” Here in Richmond we didn’t have (I’m reasonably certain) a true “bomb cyclone” – we were too far away – but we had a fast fall in our atmospheric pressure. This is my barograph printout from last week. See the steady and steepening drop from 10:00 Tuesday morning through 6:00 Thursday morning?

Richmond air pressure, Sunday through Sunday, first week of January, 2018

It was my intention (this is where pragmatism, or lack thereof, comes in) to be well organized in this post with the first birds of 2018. But they were overwhelming. Due to the cold and my feeders, I am moderately certain every bluebird in Henrico County came to my house. Plus Downy woodpeckers, Brown-headed nuthatches, White-breasted nuthatches, Carolina wrens, Ruby-crowned kinglets, Tufted titmice, Cardinals, brown thrashers, chickadees, sparrows, towhees, finches, crows, starlings, bluejays, I don’t know how many others. I’ve left some out. I was idealistic going into this; I was well organized and if you could have seen what I had in my head, you would have been really impressed – I’m here to tell you. My relentlessly pragmatic mother would have observed this somewhat haphazard final product and said “well, you did the best you could.” So what the heck.

On Monday (January 1, 2018, the first day of the New Year) I’d visited all my usual haunts and seen precisely zero raptors. I went to the Y and swam in the afternoon and detoured down Riverside Drive before heading home. Hoping to catch one raptor before darkness fell. I was rewarded with this handsome fellow (pretty certain this is the male) at the western tip of Williams Island at 4:00:

Bald eagle on Williams Island – 1/1/2018 – my first raptor of the year

This was my last raptor – of the week – and my first red-shouldered hawk of the week. It was facing south and sunning itself in a tree on the southeast tip of the Huguenot Bridge at 11:00 this morning:

My first Red-shouldered hawk of 2018, 11:00 this morning near the Huguenot Bridge

Red-bellied woodpecker on my front feeder Thursday:

Brown thrasher in my backyard, same day

New Year’s Day Bluebird:


Male Northern Cardinal – the colors this week are astounding!

I’m going to wrap this up – I have so many pictures this week. I’ve been on the river a lot – more than usual, believe it or not – and I took lots of pictures of the river. If you lined up the pictures side by side, you’d see differences in the ice and what have you, but they’re all variations on this theme:

Pony Pasture Rapids during early January freeze, 2018:

I almost forgot – I got so caught up with the river and all the birds. The whitetail deer in Pony Pasture are settling into what I think are their deep winter routines. I predict they’ll be spending their middays in the little fenced patch of woods and underbrush a bit south of Charlie’s Bridge. I haven’t seen any in the wide open yet, but I’m beginning to catch glimpses. Here’s one from this week:

My first Pony Pasture deer photograph of 2018.


These are all the birds I photographed this week. I’ll put in a few but there are too many: Bald eagle, Red tailed hawk, Red shouldered hawk, Ring billed gull, Carolina wren, Carolina chickadee, Eastern bluebird, Bluejay, Brown thrasher, Northern cardinal, White headed nuthatch, Brown headed nuthatch, Hairy woodpecker, Downy woodpecker, Red bellied woodpecker, Ruby crowned kinglet, House sparrow, House finch, Tufted titmouse, Bufflehead, Canada goose, Goldfinch, American crow, mockingbird, Red-bellied woodpecker. I’m not even sure if that’s all of them. 


Posted in Bald eagles, Birds, Blue Jays, buffleheads, cardinals, Carolina wren, Dogs, Downy woodpecker, Fun, ice, James River, mockingbirds, moon, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-bellied woodpeckers, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Snakes, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment