The flowers haven’t bailed me out!

28 February, 2021 The flowers haven’t bailed me out! 

I keep hoping for a burst of color from the flowers but I’m getting ahead of myself. There are a handful of daffodils blooming – I’ll put one here – but no profusion yet. I keep hoping to have a colorful blog post full of shiny blooms but it’s still too early. And gloomy! It was gloomy when I photographed this handsome dude – see his wet feathers? – but I can’t look at a guy like this and think “gloomy”: 

I never feel blue when I look at a bluebird

That picture was from today – there has not been an ungloomy instant today in Richmond. There are at least two pair of bluebirds coming to my feeders – perhaps more. I saw two females at the same time Friday. Here is one of them: 

Female bluebird

This week I became aware of a course from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology called The Wonderful World of Owls. If you click on that link you get a free preview. The course was not free, but it had five lessons and twenty topics and they estimate three hours for completion. It has sixteen videos that are each around four or five minutes long. I learned a lot. Of course they had owls from all over the world, but owls are such an unusual group of birds, they share many similarities. One thing I learned is that owls mate for life and are monogamous, but they only stay together during breeding and nesting season. They live apart for the rest of the year. Since I took this picture on Thursday (2/25/2021) it must still be breeding season: 

Owl pair on a non-gloomy day

I stand corrected – by my own photography. It hasn’t been gloomy all week. Here are two pictures of the moon I took on Tuesday, 2/23/2021. The first one is from 5:16 PM 

Moon Tuesday at 5:16 PM

I have two apps that show moon data. Here is what they showed at that time:

 

Same day, 10:03 PM: 

Moon Tuesday at 10:03 PM:

I also stand corrected here – a flower at Pony Pasture did bail me out! It was far away in the woods but I got my lens on this daffodil, not far from where I often photograph deer: 

Daffodil glowing in the woods at Pony Pasture on Thursday, 2/25/2021

I also stand corrected here – this time re: gloominess. The bright red tail of this Red tailed hawk is in sharp contrast to the crisp blue February sky: 

Red tailed hawks are well named:

Here’s a picture of Dash on a chair in the living room Thursday morning: 

Dash is living right, and that’s all there is to it

I got a quick glimpse of a brown-headed nuthatch yesterday – a favorite songbird since I only became aware of its existence in the last year or so:

Brown headed nuthatch, what a treasure:

And a chickadee the day before: 

Chickadee:

Well, let me close of course with Mackey and Turner at the river Thursday. And have a great week!: 

They smile more when we walk:

All best, 

Jay

Stop the presses! There are, of course, no presses. But I’d considered an idea earlier then thrown it out then now (at 8:45 PM) decided to include it.

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It’s a pleasant sentiment, but if you live a while and get close to some people, you’ll learn there are days when this idea is trite. If I’m just being whiny, I just need to get over it. At this point in my life, more often than not, I can keep choosing joy every day. Sometimes you just can’t. Fortunately, human beings are mind-bogglingly resilient, and when we’re mentally healthy, we can choose joy again – evolution has selected us for it.

That quote appeared in my photos – I don’t know how it ended up in there, in the middle of all the dogs and river and receipts and flowers and birds and all that. But there it was. I must have done a screen shot.

I hadn’t thought of Henri Nouwen in years – possibly decades. But I was swamped with anger in the early years after my accident – you’d hardly even have recognized me – and I was grabbing every life ring that came along. I’d write it down if I thought it would help me keep my head above water. I handle most emotions pretty well, even negative ones, but I really, really, really do not do well with anger. I don’t know how I came across this – I just remember almost palpable relief – a physical sensation – when I read this. From my journal, around 1995:

“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly.  The hard truth is that all of us love poorly.  We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour —  unceasingly.  That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.”  – Henri Nouwen 

I didn’t plan this section – I conceived and wrote it from the first = = = = = to the last = = = = = practically without looking up from my computer. It came to mind. I’m looking forward to March! All best,

Jay

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These keep getting shorter and shorter!

21 February, 2021 These keep getting shorter and shorter!

I will be uncharacteristically brief. If I hadn’t had the always-wonderful experience of seeing an owl yesterday, I might have skipped this week. So an owl and a couple other items. 

Some of the recent ice storms had damaged the branch the owls normally favor. I was afraid they’d moved. I visited twice this week and no owls either time. I cannot recall the last time I visited on two consecutive days and saw zero owls. I was relieved yesterday when Mackey and Turner and I walked under the branch at 10:45 and saw this: 

Pony Pasture Barred Owl yesterday, between hoots

Just after we walked away it began hooting at its partner, who responded immediately – from very close by. We walked back to have another look but this is the only one we saw.

This picture (below) was right when we arrived, about fifteen or twenty minute before we got to the owl. I like this spot because it’s open and the light is good. But it’s right at the very beginning; Mackey and Turner don’t like to stop moving just a moment after we get out of the car. They shed their hangdog demeanor as soon as we start hiking: 

Mackey and Turner waiting impatiently to begin hiking yesterday

A pair or Red-tailed hawks have been perching on a Dominion power line tower near me regularly. I don’t know where their nest is but I suspect it will have eggs on it soon. I saw this pair (presumably) on this tower (definitely) on Thursday at 12:30. The sky was dreary and gray and in every way February-like. I drove past the same tower again yesterday at 12:30. Their backs were to the sun so the color is not lovely but they are a lovely pair of birds. Patterson Avenue is right behind them; you can see the west wind blowing their feathers from right to left: 

Pair of Red-tails with their backs to the sun near Patterson Avenue yesterday at 12:00

I’ve reviewed some previous years blog posts to see what’s happening in late February, early March. I’m surprised I’ve posted so few flower pictures recently. I expect they’ll be in the blog soon. 

Have a great week! 

All best, 

Jay

Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The joy of hiking 52 weeks/year

14 February, 2021 The joy of hiking 52 weeks/year 

Long time hikers understand a simple relationship in the park – the worse the weather, the fewer the people. If it’s really messy out, it’s like your own private park. When I arrived just before noon today there were four cars in the parking lot. If this was a pretty Sunday in May there wouldn’t even be four spaces

Tuesday was sloppy weather too. I left the dogs home (today too) but hiked ~1.5 miles in the park. On the first loop I saw a single Barred owl: 

Little did I know this owl’s partner would arrive in a few minutes

I’m looking at that picture on a big clear monitor. It’s very easy to see droplets of water on top of the owl’s head, and on the feathers on the side of its head near its right eye. 

I walked a few more minutes and came across a large crowd of deer. This one gazed at me for a while: 

I’m curious about what she’s thinking. Probably evaluating me as a threat.

I’m currently reading a book called The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human by Noah Strycker. It’s the next book (for the April meeting) of the Wildlife Center of Virginia Online Book Club. One of the things that book claims is to reveal “why birds do what they do… .” Possibly it’ll give me some insight into why deer do what they do. We’ll see.

On the return loop there was a double owl! A pair on the branch. I took a couple pictures but I used the light so poorly they didn’t come out well. Meanwhile – the birds on my feeder are never far away. And my shoes don’t get muddy! Here’s a handsome male bluebird from yesterday: 

Bluebird yesterday

I don’t have a million pictures today, so let me add one I took one minute after I took that bluebird picture. This cardinal was on the feeder at the same time as that bluebird: 

Cardinal a foot or two away

Soon I’ll get a male goldfinch and add the third primary color. But not today! 

I was thinking about those birds. It’s ~5:15 PM on Sunday and it’s getting dark and it’s going to stay that way for twelve hours. And it’s going to get cold. And those birds live out there. Every night. They really look so delicate but it must be an illusion.

Ah – one more picture. From my dogless hike at Pony Pasture this morning:

Hiking at Pony Pasture this morning

Have a great week, 

Jay

Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, cardinals, Endurance, Fun, ice, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), thoreau, whitetail deer, Wildlife Book Club, Wildlife Center of Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A little to show – not much to say

7 February, 2021 A little to show – not much to say 

That’s my theme this week. I went down Monday just to see if there’d be a Barred owl in February, and there was. But yesterday I went to the river (to beat the snow) and there were two Barred owls!: 

Always gratified to see 2 at once. Yesterday morning:

I had Mackey and Turner and Yuki with me. Mackey is getting pretty old and tired but seems to have gained enthusiasm for trips to the river. So I made a loop called the “Mackey Minimum” and it passes the owl branch and the deer’s favorite spot without a lot of walking. It was only a few minutes walk after we saw the owls that we came to a large herd of deer. I’d hoped to get some good pictures but the deer actually crossed the trail in front of us. You should try taking a picture and holding three dog leashes when that happens. This was a couple minutes before they crossed the trail: 

All light is flattering to deer – they’re just so elegant

Some nice birds landed on my feeder Tuesday. First a Catbird: 

Handsome catbirds even enjoy suet

Then a Pine Warbler: 

Everybody likes suet

A red-bellied woodpecker 

Maybe not woodpeckers. I’ll have to watch.

And of course a bluebird!: 

They always remind me of my dad, in the best possible way

I also so a Hooded merganser at Echo Lake in western Henrico: 

Hooded merganser on a floating log:

I saw a Great Blue Heron at Pony Pasture Monday when I saw my “first February owl”:

 

This Great Blue Heron is paying close attention to something:

When we were photographing the pair of owls yesterday, another owl lover came to watch them. I asked her to take our picture – thank you Laura! This was less than a leash-length from the tree where the owls were sitting: 

Thank you Laura!

See! Not much to say! Have a great week, all best, 

Jay

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The day before a snow day

31 January, 2021 The day before a snow day

If you live in Richmond, VA or the surrounding area, you’re aware today IS a snow day. Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I went to Pony Pasture yesterday to avoid it. Here they are shortly after we arrived at the park: 

Yuki, Turner and Mackey in the bright January sun yesterday morning

I was really (of course) hoping to see an owl and (of course) was rewarded: 

They like to hide behind those vines.

My true reason for hiking at Pony Pasture is just to have a hike near the river – that is its own reward. I first saw owls in this spot a year ago. I’ve hiked that trail since 1999. So the owls are just a bonus. 

Speaking of bonuses, I had a Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus) land on my feeder just before I put my blog post up last week. I took this picture but it was too late for the blog. So here’s a delayed image: 

Pine warbler a week ago today:

Yikes! I don’t have a million pictures today! Well, short blog post, no worries. I did get an interesting (IMO) image of a cormorant earlier this week. I called this picture “Sinatra” because of its remarkably bright blue eyes. Evelyn also pointed out its distinct feather markings. It almost looks like they’re painted on: 

If I gave names to wild animals, I’d call this one “Sinatra”

I saw a handful of Red-tails this week, including a nesting pair on a power line a couple blocks south of my house. But they were too shadowy to post here. When I’m doing raptor photography that I love, I settle down so much I’m practically in a trance. It’s like time stops. This one, I fumbled. But it was sunny and I didn’t get much else so here it goes: 

Red-tailed hawk behind a blurry power line

The following day (Thursday, January 28) the moon was just past full at 9:36 PM when Mackey and Turner and I got home from our walk. If you look closely on the right edge of the moon in this image you can see crater shadows. Fascinating: 

Moon Thursday evening (1/28) at 9:40 just moments past being full

There are a lot of great astronomy apps. I use two simple ones. This is a screen shot from World Clock

Fascinating moon data from World Clock:

This is a screen shot from Sun Surveyor

Additional fascinating moon data from Sun Surveyor:

I don’t know what next week will bring – except a new month! I hope it brings you back for a visit a week from today, on February 7, the first Sunday of the new month. 

Have a great week, 

Jay

Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, Dogs, Fun, James River, love, moon, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Familiarity bred LESS contempt” and “Drinking from a firehose”

24 January, 2021 “Familiarity bred LESS contempt” and “Drinking from a firehose” 

The videos are (IMO) GREAT today! Watch them! One of frolicking deer being closely observed by dogs, one of a Barred owl hooting, and its far off mate hooting in reply. 

Familiarity bred LESS contempt

Certainly you’ve heard the expression “familiarity breeds contempt.” With me and Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus), my lack of familiarity bred contempt. Until I took this picture this week: 

A cormorant eating a giant fish at Three Lakes Park:

I’d always dismissively categorized Cormorants as “river starlings.” I’d see them on the mid stream rocks at Pony Pasture, squabbling and pooping and giving the impression of (IMO) river starlings. I was at Three Lakes Park this week and saw one tangling with and ultimately swallowing this big fish in the middle of the lake. I’ve seen many thousands of cormorants since I began this blog nearly ten years ago. I don’t recall ever giving them a second glance before this encounter. 

Evelyn gave me a book today – seriously, I woke up and it was in my e book library. In my email a notice from Amazon said “You’ve received a gift from Evelyn!”. This is the book: What It’s Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing—What Birds Are Doing, and Why. When you open to the chapter on cormorants, this is the first sentence: “Cormorants are the most efficient marine predators in the world, catching more fish per unit of effort, on average, than any other animal.” – Sibley, David Allen. What It’s Like to Be a Bird (Sibley Guides) (p. 26). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

So my whole life I never knew that – I was unfamiliar – contemptuous – until I took that picture this week. I’m grateful my longstanding ignorance gives me continued opportunity for interpersonal growth. I also bought two other books, The Double-crested Cormorant:Plight of a Feathered Pariah by Linda R. Wires and The Double-Crested Cormorant: Symbol of Ecological Conflict by Dennis Wild (ed.). I am rapidly becoming less ignorant (and contemptuous) regarding cormorants. 

Hopefully becoming less ignorant in other categories too! So now (Part II), 

Drinking from a firehose

Hiking (and photographing) at Pony Pasture this morning was like drinking from a firehose. I started out (of course) with Mackey and Turner and Yuki. When I’m with these three at the river, all is calm, always. We just saw a lot of stuff. This was a minute or three before 9:00 this morning: 

Turner on the left, then Mackey, then Yuki

I’ve been trying since Halloween to get what I call “The Petting Zoo Trifecta.” We don’t pet any animals at Pony Pasture, but we see them so close and so predictably it’s like visiting a petting zoo. The first animals from the trifecta are Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola). They’re on the river from roughly Halloween through St. Patrick’s Day. If you only come to Pony Pasture on the Fourth of July, you’ll never see one. I was too excited about owl pictures to calm down and get a really nice bufflehead image. But this is a male (on the right) and a pair of females:  

Three of the thirty or forty Buffleheads I saw at Pony Pasture this morning

So we cruise along down the river and eventually take a little trail south and we’re standing under our favorite branch with one of our favorite owls perched on it. A Barred owl on that branch is the second animal in the “Petting Zoo Trifecta.” I took pictures, but the real Barred owl excitement didn’t happen until we’d looped back an hour later. So I’ll finish this blog post with the real Barred owl excitement. It happened near the end of the hike anyway. 

Sundays we keep walking south after the owls then cross the creek and loop back up hoping to see whitetail deer. But on the way I glimpsed a non-typical combination of size and shape and color. It looked like a big slab of clean granite (with no mud on it) which does not exist in that area of the park. I zoomed in and saw this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) hoping to catch more breakfast. I loved seeing the bird of course but I was also grateful to catch this reflection: 

Great Blue Heron reflecting at Pony Pasture this fine January morning

I see lots of Blue Herons at Pony Pasture, but not often enough to qualify for “Petting Zoo” status. Whitetail deer, on the other hand – we probably have too many. So they’re the third animal in the “Petting Zoo Trifecta.” I clicked the shutter on a deer for the first time at 10:02 today. I stayed for fifteen minutes – and they were still there. There were eight or ten. I’ll do a video in a minute; you can count. Here’s a still: 

You can see the head of another deer to the left of this one. The video has many.

This is a link to the video of the deer. It’s slightly over a minute long. Twice I pan back and get good video of the dogs watching the deer. Check it out: 

Mackey, Turner and Yuki watching deer frolic and gambol in the January sun at Pony Pasture 

I’ll include a Barred owl picture from yesterday. I went hiking with a friend who is a talented photographer. His are better than this; I should have asked if I could use a copy! But you get the idea. This is from yesterday: 

Pair of Barred owls on a branch at Pony Pasture yesterday

The Barred Owl video I took today is my favorite video I’ve ever taken, by a huge margin. Because I have photographed Barred owls for years and I have never been watching one (and hearing one) while it hooted. Today, I did. And I mean I was standing right there. It is no exaggeration to say I could have thrown my camera and hit this owl. It was probably twelve feet away. 

And when you watch this video – when you listen to this video – turn up the volume and listen closely. Don’t get your ears blown out – the owl you can see is really loud. It starts hooting right away. Then at around 6 or 7 seconds, you can hear the faint voice of a second, far off owl hooting back! The owl in front of me begins hooting again at about 16 seconds. Then its mate responds again at about 23 seconds! That made my year! So check this video out, and listen closely just after this bird’s really loud hoot: 

Two Barred Owls conversing at Pony Pasture on January 24, 2021 

I’ll wrap up with a still photo of that owl. I took this today on our first round. I tried (I’ve never done this before) turning my camera 90º when I took the picture. It’s hard to frame it. But here’s the one who is really loud in that video: 

Barred Owl at Pony Pasture this morning – pre-hoot

I got so wrapped up in The Petting Zoo Trifecta and of course those crazy owls, I nearly forgot this Pileated Woodpecker from earlier this week. This is a male. You can tell by the red spot where his upper and lower bill come together. You can also, in the top picture, see where he’s been gouging out the soft upper trunk of that big sycamore. You can see a really big gouge mark just behind his head: 

Pileated woodpecker hacking into a sycamore trunk

This is the same bird four minutes earlier on the other side of the tree. I like the sun shining through his red crest: 

Doesn’t it look like he has an internal power source? Like a battery?

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I’m wrapping it up for this week. But don’t miss those two videos! It would never have occurred to me in years past, but this is all clearly early courtship behavior. We’re mostly wired (or at least I’m wired) to associate animal courtship with Spring. And January is not Spring anywhere on this planet. But as of today (January 24) here in Richmond we have already added thirty minutes of daylight since the shortest day of the year about five weeks ago. That – increasing daylight – is what’s causing this activity. This is the very, very, very beginning. I’m fortunate to be here! There will be flowers blooming and warblers migrating and frogs croaking. The frequency will increase with each passing day between now and the first really sweltering day in early June. Don’t stay indoors! There’s too much to see! 

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Have a great day, 

Jay

Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, buffleheads, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pileated Woodpecker, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), thoreau, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wildlife in my tame life

17 January, 2021 Wildlife in my tame life 

Yesterday – for the first time in my life (if I recall correctly) a flock of striking Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) stopped by to use the birdbath. These two stopped on the edge for a moment; there were around ten total in the flock:

Pair of Cedar Waxwings on my birdbath, Saturday, 1/20/2021

A week ago today I saw this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) at Pony Pasture:

Great Blue Heron at Pony Pasture, 1/10/2021

I saw a pair of Barred owls (Strix varia) the week before last, but currently (at least for me) they’re only showing up one at a time. I took this picture at 9:30 this morning:

My life is tame; this Barred owl’s life will never be

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Wildlife in my tame life

Seeing those owls so regularly got me started thinking about “wildlife in my tame life.” Canada geese are ostensibly wild, but please. They’re wild in the sense that gray squirrels are wild. You might think of geese and squirrels as “WINO” or “Wild In Name Only.” Barred owls are not like that. They are really, really wild. I hear them in my neighborhood at night sometimes – I heard one last night walking the dogs, and I’m not even kidding. But they do not even faintly give the impression they belong in the company of human beings. They strike an appealing balance between wild animal standoffishness and a confident cuteness that says “come back as often as you like – it never bothers me.” They don’t even mind the dogs. They watch the dogs, but it seems like they’re just trying to learn something. 

Another thing about Barred owls is, sometimes you know they’re there – and you still can’t see them. I try to photograph it to give some appreciation of just how invisible they are but I normally fail, for obvious reasons. Maybe I’ll do two identical side by side pictures and circle the owl in red. Their camouflage looks like it was designed for Pony Pasture. The pattern of their breast feathers is identical to cottonwood bark. 

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There have also been a lot of birds on my feeders. The local Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) remain in their less-bright winter colors, but they’re another bird I’ll never tire of seeing:

I don’t think bluebirds really frown. They hunch up when it’s cold though.

I saw that bluebird Monday (1/11) afternoon. I’d gone to Pony Pasture in the morning and photographed the owl shown above. It was later that day I took the bluebird picture at home. It was the same day, and also at Pony Pasture, when I was fortunate to see this Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus): 

Female Pileated woodpecker from Pony Pasture Monday

It seems to me Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) have been late arriving in our area this winter. It was only males at first. The flocks are just now getting big at Pony Pasture. Here’s another picture I took this morning. Two males and a female on the water plus one lovely female flying:

One female bufflehead flying, two males and another female on the water – today at Pony Pasture

Mourning doves aren’t the only bird that scratches around below our feeders to fatten up on fallen seeds. This handsome male Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) gets seed the same way:

Eastern Towhee barely a wing’s length from a Mourning dove

I almost called this blog post “This time of year is for the BIRDS” because I’ve seen so many. It’ll get birdier and birdier for the next several months; I look forward to it every day. 

I’ve mentioned often the books we’re reading in the Wildlife Center of Virginia online book club. Our next meeting is on Groundhog Day (go figure) and I just finished our current fascinating book. It’s called Nature’s Best Hope – A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard by the enthusiastic and well informed Douglas W. Tallamy. Dr. Tallamy is encouraging us to make our yards more attractive to wildlife and restoring biodiversity. Have a look at his ideas on improving biodiversity at home on his website Homegrown National Park

I found a quote in the Nature’s Best Hope book that captures my continued attraction to the James River and Pony Pasture and Barred Owls, cedar waxwings, dogs, sycamore trees, dogwoods, butterflies, tadpoles, bluebirds, wind, clouds, all of it – “Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” — Rachel Carson  

Have a great week! Come back next week! All best, 

Jay 

Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, buffleheads, cedar waxwing, James River, love, newfaze, Pileated Woodpecker, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Wildlife Book Club, Wildlife Center of Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lit up like a Chinese pig shop”

3 January, 2021 “Lit up like a Chinese pig shop”

The original title for this blog post was “Bright start to 2021.” Go to the bottom of the post to read the story if you’re so inclined. It’s a really old one. 

Happy New Year Bluebird from Pony Pasture

I took that photograph Tuesday (12/29/2020) so it’s not an official 2021 picture. But I took it this week, and chose it for the first photograph on my blog in 2021. Bluebirds are just wild animals – they’re no different than rats or ticks or fleas or snakes – but that is an undeniably cheerful picture. 

My friend Marion joined me for a quick hike Tuesday – she was there when I took that picture. I’ve been absentee dog-sitting my friend’s dog Luna this week so Marion and I took her along for that walk. I “got” a double owl that day. I don’t love the image, but I’m keeping a record of when I see pairs of owls (plus I’m obsessed, in case you hadn’t noticed). Here is the owl pair: 

Still owl pairs sunning themselves in the final days of December.

I’ll include a picture of Luna hiking with my boys later in this post. But here’s a picture of her on a walk we took in our neighborhood this week: 

“Santa Luna” – sounds like the name of a city in southern California

Another old friend and I went to Three Lakes Park near the intersection of 95 and 295 Thursday. I hadn’t been in decades – I was happy to visit again. Pony Pasture has lots of cormorants, but they’re always out on rocks. This one was on a fake rock (I’m pretty sure that’s a fake rock) but it spread its wings and looked nice in the sun:  

Cormorant drying its wings in the pale December sun

When Marion and I were at Pony Pasture Tuesday, the sky was blue and infinite, but a wheeling, screeching, high flying flock of gulls wheeled over the parking lot to lend perspective. This looks almost wall-paperish, but the blue is peaceful and the flecks of gulls are graceful: 

I’ve flown enough to know they must be enjoying themselves

Marion and I saw a grebe during our hike as well. I used Merlin Bird ID to identify it, though I’ve had them in this blog before. This is a Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps):

Pied-billed grebe at Pony Pasture

I took Mackey and Turner and Luna to Pony Pasture yesterday, to avoid today’s rain and mud. Here they are a few minutes before noon: 

1 pretty girl, 2 handsome boys, 1 well maintained park, 1 incomparable river

I’ll close (before the story) with a quick “Happy New Year” picture from Luna. Have a great day, week, year and more. And come back next week! All best, 

Jay 

Luna says HAPPY NEW YEAR

I almost forgot – for those of you who may be heartbroken otherwise – to include my first Barred Owl of 2021. I went solo on New Year’s Day specifically to see if one would be there. I first photographed Barred Owls on this vine just after Thanksgiving in 2019. So this marks the third consecutive calendar year I’ve photographed one (or more) in this precise spot:

First owl of 2021 – I can tell it’s going to be a great year

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“Lit up like a Chinese pig shop”

Our mother’s parents were a bit younger and we spent lots of time with them when we were growing up. They were from Nebraska and they were quite midwestern and very Catholic. One of my siblings once described our parents as “Kennedy Democrats” and they raised us (as another sibling says) “on a long leash.” Mom’s parents weren’t 100% on board with that parenting style. Mom’s dad was the more Catholic (and the more Christian) of the two , but he was a kind and quiet and warm hearted and loving man, and I suspect he delighted inwardly. But his lovely wife said mom and dad were raising us “like wild Indians.” Mom had a sister (who went on to become a Catholic nun) and no other siblings. So I’m sure their house was generally quiet. And dad was an only child. 

We had three boys and two girls and our house was only rarely quiet. Our cabin was quiet a lot – because we were so rarely indoors. Kevin and Shane and I had two buddies our age who had a cabin near ours. They lived in Harrisonburg, only a half hour from the cabin. They were Michigan natives and theirs was a true blue collar family. Their names were Bob and Jeff. Their parents loved us and took great care of us, and cooked great popcorn, and their chimney didn’t draw well, so it always smelled like popcorn and sweat and mildew and woodsmoke in their tiny red cabin. Their father laughed easily and had, unforgettably, one blue eye and one brown. 

In the summer we swam in the river a little bit and fished a little bit. We ran around outside at night all year long. It’s now the Norfolk Southern railroad, but when we were young it was the Norfolk and Western railroad, and the tracks ran on a high, steep embankment behind their cabin. 

Those tracks were on a relatively steep grade. You couldn’t see the elevation change with your eyes; train track “hills” are not like road hills. But locomotives were underpowered back then, and they were hauling long, heavy coal trains. It wasn’t unusual for a train to have five locomotives on the front pulling up the hill, and another five on the back pushing. We’d hear them coming at night long before they arrived, and we’d race up the steep embankment to watch (and listen to and feel) them rumble past. 

Bob was the older of the two, and while you would never describe him as “staid,” he was significantly calmer than his younger brother. You wouldn’t call Jeff (not in the clinical sense anyway) “hyper,” but compared to Bob he always was. Compared to almost anyone I knew, come to think of it. 

So one night we were crouched in the shadows next to the railroad tracks and the front locomotive’s headlight swept over us as the train rumbled past and Jeff blurted out that we were “lit up like a Chinese pig shop.” I don’t think Jeff even knew what he was saying. He definitely didn’t attach any meaning to it. It was the non-sequitur to end all non-sequiturs. I was probably fifteen, so this was the mid-1970’s, and I guess Jeff was eleven. Or so. It was sort of a manic outburst. I don’t think he knew why he was saying it – any more than I know why it still comes to mind many decades later. 

Mom and dad always – 24/7/365 – encouraged us to be open-minded and accepting. You can’t “curate” a childhood to include experiences like that. Have an excellent week. I hope 2021 is your best year ever.  

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Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, Dogs, Fun, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, Shenandoah Valey, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Trains | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Since I don’t know where to begin…

27 December, 2020 Since I don’t know where to begin… 

I’ll begin with this picture Evelyn took of Dash on Tuesday: 

Dash with his head in the clouds – photo by Evelyn

Evelyn fixed a fantastic dinner Christmas day and our friend Ariel (Yuki’s owner) shared it with us. Yuki came too! We should have gotten a picture but alas. 

My friends Sue and Marcia and a few others get together every year for Christmas but we couldn’t make it happen due to the pandemic. But Sue is the most talented and prolific baker I know and she always brings lots of treats to our Christmas gathering. This year she dropped them off at our house! Evelyn and I have been eating them for delicious dessert ever since. 

Dash and Ev stayed at the house this morning. Mackey and Turner and I picked up our old friend Luna and took her to the river. A very kind person named Mike took our picture. Thank you Mike! 

The chemistry is a little different when Yuki is on sabbatical

I wanted to make this the opening image because I loved it so much. The owls I normally see were not in the spot where I normally see them. We had a nice hike then headed back up the creek. I saw a “football in a tree” at the edge of the creek – and it was an owl! But its back was to us, and it was in shadow. We hiked back down the creek and up the other side until I just knew we were directly across from the owl. But it was invisible. I finally found it. Then I’d look away to see a cardinal or something and look back – it would disappear again. You can see why: 

That is seriously how camouflage is designed to work

Tuesday was a nice day and Mackey was a little lame so I snuck out and took a little hike at the river myself. It was a pretty day. My favorite picture from that day was this Cedar Waxwing: 

There has never been a disheveled Cedar Waxwing

I hadn’t seen a deer in a while. I was grateful to see this pretty girl Tuesday: 

Peaceful doe at the river Tuesday

I saw a Hermit thrush Tuesday also: 

Hermit thrushes don’t disturb anything

I haven’t been flying much lately but yesterday my instructor Joel was free and I reserved a plane. We met at Hanover airport at 11:00 and I preflighted the plane and we flew to Ocean City, MD. Here’s our plane tied down at that airport: 

Our plane tied down in the December sunlight at Ocean City, MD airport

I’d put a picture of the crab cake sandwich here – the chunks of crab were cartoonishly large – but it is a distinctly unphotogenic food. IMO. Go out some time and get one yourself! We went to Waterman’s Seafood Company – go get one yourself! It comes with my strongest recommendation. 

We flew home west (toward the setting sun) and it’s difficult to take what I regard as a good picture. Looking forward, anyway. But I was on the pilot’s side (left side, just like in a car) and I asked Joel if he’d take the controls for a couple of minutes so I could snap a picture. We were at 4,500 feet going around a hundred knots when I took this picture a bit before 4:00 PM yesterday: 

Pilot’s side view (facing south) on our home flight – just before 4:00 PM yesterday

Finishing up in a rush again! The final Sunday of 2020! See you next year! 

All best, 

Jay

Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, cats, cedar waxwing, Dogs, Fun, James River, kofp, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Tecnam, thoreau, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A bluebird bailed me out!

20 December, 2020 A bluebird bailed me out! 

I was thin on blog material this week (as will become evident when you whisk through this post) but I saw this lovely bluebird at the river yesterday. You may be an exception, but I’ll bet you’re not – almost everybody smiles when they see bluebirds. I’ve put up really junky (IMO) pictures of bluebirds from my feeder and people just flock to them (in a manner of speaking). So I was grateful when this one stopped on a branch at Pony Pasture yesterday long enough for me to click my shutter: 

He’ll turn your frown upside down

I actually photographed this owl about ninety minutes before the bluebird. But I wanted the bluebird on top of this post. I love bluebirds – they remind me of my dad, and they make me smile even apart from that. But I only ever glimpse bluebirds, or watch them flit. It’s much easier to breathe and think and relax and be mindful when owl watching: 

Barred owl – my favorite Pony Pasture sight when I’m not looking at the river or dogs

Here are two more lovely animals I photographed yesterday morning at the river. Yuki (our big white German Shepherd buddy) is healthy and cheerful (Evelyn walked him with his owner yesterday) but on sabbatical. Don’t tell Yuki, but these two are my real favorites: 

Mackey and Turner saying “For the love of Dog can we please just hike already?”

Also while we were hiking yesterday we saw this ice formed on the rings of a fallen rotting log. 

Winter ephemeral at Pony Pasture

It’s funny – in the Spring at the river there are a group of plants referred to specifically as “ephemerals,” meaning something that “lasts a short time”. That’s in the dictionary. Those little ice patterns are really ephemeral. 

I’m kind of just plunking down in front of this computer and dashing this off – and a week from today will be the final Sunday of 2020! 

I should have taken a picture of the river today. Maybe next week. I hear (often) about how difficult 2020 has been. It has been, and 2021 will bring more of the same. An almost infinite number of excellent things also happened in 2020, and 2021 will bring more of the same. The reason I opened this paragraph with a sentence about the river is, it always flows the same. 2020, 1920, 2030, it’ll keep going by. No president, new president, pandemic, new babies, it’s all good. 

Have a great week, see you in seven days, 

Jay 

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