The opposite of complaining

15 April, 2018        The opposite of complaining

“I’m not complaining

Just the opposite, my friend”Paul Simon, The Werewolf, 2016

Evelyn and I got up at 5:00 Friday morning, her for an early train and me for work. The windows were open and I was standing at the stove stirring oatmeal, listening to the neighborhood birds singing together, louder and more beautiful as dawn lightened the sky behind the trees. It is a magnificent, magnificent symphony – nothing man-made comes close. Birders call it “the dawn chorus.” I call it breathtaking and beautiful. So I’m stirring and thinking of Paul Simon and “I’m not complaining – just the opposite my friend” – and Evelyn walked into the kitchen. I said “What is the opposite of complaining?”

The swift, certain tone of her reply suggested she’d been waiting for me to ask that precise question. “That,” she said, gesturing to the exuberant riot of predawn birdsong swelling in our yard and in our neighborhood and filling our kitchen. I could only smile. I’d been pondering “the opposite of complaining” since I first heard that song two years ago. Evelyn and our yard full of birds answered my question in an instant.

I almost forgot! I got a so-so picture of a snake at Pony Pasture yesterday. Snake-o-phobes, be warned – I’ll put it last. There are two “black snakes” that are equally common at Pony Pasture, and I didn’t get a good enough look at this one to tell which it was. If someone ID’s it, let me know and I’ll credit you. The two “black snakes” we have at Pony Pasture are the Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) and the Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis). If you see a black snake at Pony Pasture, it’s one of those. They are harmless, non poisonous constrictors, and they’re not especially large. They help keep the rodent population at a manageable level.

This cardinal wasn’t from my yard – this was from Pony Pasture at 11:30 this morning – but there are many like this (and females) on my feeders every day. And I guarantee this guy provides a strong thread of the sound tapestry that is “the opposite of complaining”:

Pony Pasture Cardinal, Sunday morning:

The most exciting news of all – more exciting even than the opposite of complaining – is I have a brand new niece! Teagan Ann was born early Friday afternoon in Blacksburg and she’s healthy and gorgeous and I’m told is calm and easygoing. She certainly looks healthy and peaceful and she actually looks kind. She’s not even 72 hours old as I type these words but she has a benign, accepting gaze that is already making the world – my world, anyway – a better place. I haven’t seen pictures of her when she’s hungry or needs a diaper change, but the pictures I’ve seen of her so far could go in the dictionary as “the opposite of complaining.”

Another bird from the river this morning that has a lovely song but is not in my yard – or at least I’ve never seen one. This is a Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus):

Hermit Thrush Saturday morning at Pony Pasture

This bird was probably part of the Dawn Chorus. This is a fraction of what “the opposite of complaining” looks like:

Eastern Towhee – a loud and melodious chorister

This guy too:

Chipping Sparrow chipping away at fallen bird seed

 Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)

When I say this “guy,” I’m putting photographs of males. The Dawn Chorus is close to 100% males. It’s advertising mating and nesting and food and availability and territory – when you hear all those birds singing on a Spring morning, you’re hearing males.

Our front dogwood is about a fifteen foot flight from our bird feeders. I’m sure they perch out here while they serenade us in the morning:

Dogwood in our front yard, and staging area for feeder-bound birds

Evelyn has almost as many varieties of daffodils in our yard as we do songbirds. Look at these little white beauties:

Who knew daffodils could be this spectacular?

There were conventional purple lilacs in this yard when I moved here, but they’ve struggled. Perhaps these white lilacs have taken all the good energy; they get bigger (and smell better) with each passing year:

Can a flower be the opposite of complaining? If so, it looks and smells like this

I also went flying Tuesday! Only for a little over an hour, but it was a great flight – I’m glad to be back in the sky. The opposite of complaining! I’m learning in a Cessna 172, the most-produced airplane in history, and I love every minute of it. Just before I began my preflight on Tuesday afternoon:

Just before my one hour flight Tuesday afternoon. It was spectacular.

Can’t let a week go by without a picture of one of Pony Pasture’s graceful deer. This was Thursday morning at 11:30:

I don’t think deer are able to look clumsy. They only ever look like this.

Can’t leave out my only raptor for this week – another osprey. I am astounded how few Red-tails and Red-shoulders I’m seeing. Osprey from Tuesday afternoon:

Fulton Bank osprey

I got a “new” (to me) flower at the river this morning. I’d seen it before but misidentified it. Through the magic of the internet I emailed the picture to Ev and she’d identified it before I even got home. This is a Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum):

Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum)

I also got a decent picture of a mockingbird when I was at Hollywood Cemetery this week. I hope it’s not irreverent to note that the granite tombstones blend well with the mockingbird’s muted colors. Their song is anything but muted; I’m sure they’re a huge contributor to the opposite of complaining:

They sing – they don’t complain. But I don’t know why they tilt their heads.

I watched that bird for several minutes and it cocked its head like that a number of times. I’ve never seen that before and I’m not sure what was going on. Raptors “snake” their heads from side to side to help gauge distance. But I don’t know why this passerine was doing it. Maybe the same reason. 

Anyway, if you want to hear the opposite of complaining, wake up an hour before sunrise tomorrow and open your windows. Better yet, go outdoors. And feast your ears on the opposite of complaining. I cannot think of a better way to begin a week. I hope yours is outstanding! And you come back next week! All best, 

Jay

PS Almost left out my Black Snake picture – here it is, sticking its head out of a tree: 

[[This just in, as of Sunday evening, Monday morning, from my herpetologist friend Kim and from another person on Facebook named King Sandy – they both say it’s an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)]]

Black snake getting above it all at Pony Pasture Saturday morning

 

Posted in Birds, cardinals, Cessna 172, daffodils, Flowers, Fun, James River, mockingbirds, ospreys, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes, whitetail deer | 2 Comments

Flying over the hoods of cars 

8 April, 2018            Flying over the hoods of cars 

30th anniversary – 5 April, 2018 – thanks for the picture, John! 

I spoke with many friends who urged me to take up flying again, even though I can’t get a license. On 5 April, 1988 I went “flying over the hood of a car” when I was hit while riding my bicycle. Thirty years later – to the day – I began flying lessons again at Hanover County Airport- KOFP- Richmond Virginia (Ashland). So, on 5 April, 2018 I “flew over the hood of a car” (several) again, but this time it was by choice – and I was about 2,000 feet over the hoods. If you want to fly over the hoods of cars, I heartily endorse the 2018 version. Vastly superior. My instructor, John Doyon, took that picture just after we landed. Thank you for the excellent lesson and for taking the picture! 

There’s a picture of me from thirty years earlier on this blog but it’s not pretty. You can click on the More about me link at the top of this page if you want to see it and read a tiny bit. I don’t have to look at the 4/5/1988 picture of me to feel grateful, but it’s always a great reminder.

There was a timely post on the instagram page for l’arche USA this week. It’s a picture with a quotation:

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” – Henri Nouwen

On Wednesday, 4 April, Ev treated me to dinner at L’opossum to celebrate the anniversary of my accident – and I didn’t get a picture! I “only” got the pleasure of Evelyn’s company and a stomach full of delicious food! Oops.

This just in – Ev got a picture!: 

L’opossum, accident anniversary eve, 2018

In less touching news, I only got one reasonable picture of a raptor this week, and it was an osprey. This is across from the West End Assembly of God on Parham Road Wednesday afternoon:

Osprey across from West End Assembly of God on Parham Rd

I’m just putting these crummy osprey pictures because they’re the only raptors I’m getting! I was sure I’d be able to get a Red-tail or Red-shouldered hawk each week but they’re MIA, or at least photographically (for me) right now. I glimpse them flying from time to time or hear them but no pics. Yet. 

The day of the thirtieth anniversary of my accident (Thursday, 4/5/2018) was spectacular. The first thing I did to celebrate (of course) was go to the river with Mackey and Turner. I’m grateful every time I see this view:

Any day I can see this is a good day – no exceptions.

This one too:

The park is a Riot of Redbuds

A pawpaw the same day:

Pawpaws are so unassuming. Until the fruit ripen at the end of the summer. Then they take over.

A book I read in my early teens made a tremendous impression on me that lasts even today. It’s a tame adolescent age outdoor adventure involving dogs and hunting and rivers and I read it over and over and over and over. It’s called Where the Red Fern Grows and was written by Wilson Rawls in 1961. Mr. Rawls sets the stage at the start of the book with the words, “…In the spring the aromatic scent of wild flowers, redbuds, pawpaws, and dogwoods, drifting on the wind currents, spread over the valley and around our home.” The book finishes with, “I’d like to walk again on trails I walked in my boyhood days. Once again I’d like to face a mountain breeze and smell the wonderful scent of the redbuds, and pawpaws, and the dogwoods. With my hands I’d like to caress the cool white bark of a sycamore.” When I first read it, we were living inside the Beltway in Maryland and we’d just bought the cabin. I knew what a dogwood was but I’d never even heard of a redbud or a pawpaw. Now they’re an integral part of my daily life. And dogwoods were our Dad’s favorite tree. I remember at the cabin when we were young, Dad having us pull honeysuckle off of dogwoods. This was around 1975 and I suspect the phrase “invasive species removal” had never been uttered. Dad was forty at that time – forty – and we were all out there doing invasive species removal at the cabin. Anyway. I’m daydreaming.

Mackey and Turner’s first green salad of 2018:

Mackey and Turner enjoying the first greens of 2018. Who knew dogs were grazers?

For my flying lesson Thursday we flew toward King’s Dominion then turned west toward my brother Kevin’s house. My instructor took the controls for a few minutes while I snapped a couple of pictures. Here’s an image of north central Hanover County from around 2,000 feet on Thursday, April 5, 2018:

Hanover County from 2,000 feet:

I had snow on the hood of my car this morning – it’s April 8 – I’m not even kidding – it looked like this:

Snow on my car this morning. It’s April!

So it’s reassuring to see the riot of daffodils Evie has bursting the seams of our yard. And in our house. I could do an entire blog post of just daffodil pictures. Here’s just one from outside:

This is just one – I should do a pano – they’re everywhere in our yard. Multiple varieties.

And a little arrangement Ev made indoors:

Brightening our yard and our house!

Plus I can’t leave out our white lilac buds – they’ll be in full bloom by next week:

About to be full, fragrant, delightful white lilac blossoms

It all comes at once this time of year. Our dogwood peeking out:

Dogwood blossoms – same thing every year, brand new every year – sort of like the river in slow motion.

There are deer at the river every time I visit now. Here are a couple I saw this morning – though there were four in the vicinity:

Delicate deer in the April woods at Pony Pasture

If you’re hiking with dogs, it’s easy to see deer. Just trust that’s what your dog’s gaze is riveted on. I’m standing behind Yuki in this picture, looking where he’s looking. Just trust they’re in this picture, and look closely. Draw an imaginary line vertically from each of Yuki’s ears. See the two deer? There’s one on each side at the top of the image, indistinct in the shadows. They’re masters of disguise!: 

Yuki’s ears are pointed directly at 2 deer – they’re at the top of the image – look closely:

I got a cute Chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina) on my feeder this week – this may be the first time I’ve photographed one. I had to look it up!:

Chipping sparrow drops in

Enough for this week – hopefully not too much! All best, come back next week, have a great day, 

Jay 

 

Posted in Birds, Cessna 172, daffodils, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, l'opossum, ospreys, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Short (definitely!) and sweet (hopefully!)

1 April, 2018            Short (definitely!) and sweet (hopefully!)

I hope you had a wonderful Easter and a spectacular April Fool’s Day today. I drove to MD and back today and had dinner with my sister and her family and just got back so I’m going to put up a few pictures and go to bed!

I see deer at Pony Pasture nearly every day now. This one was gazing placidly at the dogs and me Saturday near noon:

They’ve actually begun walking toward us!

Just FYI, the deer are walking nonchalantly toward all four of us. Mackey is lying down on the left, Turner in the middle, Yuki in the rear. They’re all on leashes. I guess the deer know it: 

The deer ignore these guys (and ignore me) 100% of the time

The deer aren’t the only things to see at Pony Pasture now. Look at this trout lily – there were dozens. They are “ephemeral” both in name and by their nature. Get there quick if you want to see them! This was yesterday midday, almost within sight of those deer:

Truly ephemeral Trout Lilies on the creek bank at Pony Pasture Saturday

These redbuds were gleaming about three minutes walk before the trout lilies (which were about three minutes walk before the deer):

Redbuds along the creek at Pony Pasture – another of my favorite Spring trees

Speaking of ephemeral, the first things we saw at the river were these buffleheads sitting (as they always do) out in midstream on the river. They will leave any day now – it’s possible they’ve left since I took that picture – and won’t return until the first frost in the Fall. Yesterday:

Buffleheads – for the last time in the Spring of 2018? We’ll see.

Anyway, first it was buffleheads then redbuds then trout lilies then deer – here is a still image of two of the deer grooming one another: 

Mutual grooming at Pony Pasture

I also captured a reasonable (if shaky) 15 second video of the two of them grooming. Have a look:

These turtles are from Deep Run and not Pony Pasture; I took this Friday:

Deep Run turtles sunning

Ev has our daffodils bursting out all over the yard. I took this picture next to our front stoop the same day I photographed the turtles:

Almost too bright to photograph!

I can’t (of course) let a week go without a raptor picture. My friend Sam got this great image at Brandermill Monday (3/26):  

Another great image – nice job Sam!

Sam left a couple of hours later and I walked back to the car and the same bird was sitting in the same tree – this time with a fresh-caught fish:

The same (or similar looking) osprey with a recently deceased fish

I’ll close with the most recent image of the week – I snapped this at my sister’s house in Maryland when we arrived today. That’s Penny greeting Mackey. She is well named since she was the smallest denomination dog in attendance. But sweet:  

Penny giving Mackey the traditional canine Easter greeting

Have a great week! Come back next week!

All best,

Jay

Posted in Birds, buffleheads, daffodils, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, ospreys, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Turtles, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cuernavaca, la eterna primavera

25 March, 2018            Cuernavaca, la eterna primavera

The deer are getting busy at Pony Pasture. I’ve photographed them two days in a row.

Cuernavaca is a place my Mom visited every year in Mexico. “La eterna primavera” means “the eternal Spring” in Spanish; it’s early Spring in Richmond and I saw three deer yesterday at Pony Pasture and another today. When I see a deer I tie up the dogs’ leashes and begin taking pictures. In case I lose sight of the deer, I just have to look where the dogs are looking:

rapt attention / raptors / enraptured

As I mentioned last week, ospreys reappearing in Richmond is a sure sign of early Spring. My friend Sam and I were hiking at Brandermill earlier this week and we caught one of a pair of ospreys perched on the edge of the lake:

1/2 of an osprey pair on the edge of Brandermill Lake

Sam and I saw squirrels near the same spot; I saw more at Pony Pasture this week. Here’s one from Pony Pasture:

Sunlit squirrel at Pony Pasture

I took a fifteen second video of the squirrel at Brandermill. Squirrels probably do this all the time, but in all these years I never knew. At around seven seconds into the video, the squirrel bends down and grasps the branch with its front paws and begins scraping its chin back and forth on the branch. I don’t know if it has an itch or crumbs on its jaw or why it does this. It is (in my opinion) an endearing gesture:

That osprey up there, by the way, is the only raptor I got this week – unless you count this indistinct female Red-tail preening herself near my house early Thursday afternoon. A male that I assume was her mate flew by about five minutes later but I didn’t have my camera:

Female Red-tail preening in a tree near my house Thursday afternoon

There hasn’t been a great deal of raptor activity this week. Except for that picture, I’ve mostly seen male Red-tails this week, and only glimpses. The snow and messy weather made them harder to see this week, but my intuition says the females are primarily on the nests right now and the males are bringing food. I’m not sure if the eggs have hatched yet  or what the precise timetable is in this area. But the action is slowly building.

It’s getting a bit warmer – but we’ll continue to have fires for a while. Mackey had taken up the coveted spot in front of the woodstove and Dash wanted it. The three of them quibble about who gets to lie there. But generally the first one on it gets to stay. Dash is testing hat theory:

Dash and Mackey negotiating about who gets to lie in front of the fire

Robins here in the mid-Atlantic region are always associated with Spring, but you could take a picture of a robin in Richmond 365 days a year and probably not even leave your yard. But it seems like this time of year, for every robin you would normally see, you see ten. They are everywhere. It’s Sunday evening (March 25, 2018) as I type this sentence, it’s 7:30 PM, and I can hear robins twittering outside my window as I type. I’m told it’s mostly males at the moment. It’s difficult to distinguish gender in robins. Unless you see one lay an egg. This one was from Deep Run on Friday. This non-typical posture I’m sure is significant but I don’t know what it signifies:  

Oddly postured robin

I was driving Friday afternoon beside a swampy little spot near Cheswick Park known as Shaaf Pond (there is no pond in evidence); one vulture was picking apart the remains of an animal beside the road – possibly a young deer. This vulture was waiting its turn or keeping a lookout – it wasn’t eating while the other one was, at any rate. This is high mating season though, so this may have had courtship implications:

Turkey vulture in Henrico County

This first part of the blog came to a sudden halt; my thinking wasn’t as linear as it needs to be. So to end this first part I’m including a daffodil Ev cut from our yard. Dad’s favorite color in the center, surrounded by Mom’s favorite color: 

Evelyn’s flowers from the yard:

And since I’m on the subject of closing a not-very-colorful blog post with a bit more color, here is a pair of bluebirds from yesterday: 

Bluebirds on the feeder

And have a great week! And come back next week! The first Sunday in April! Easter! All best, 

Jay  

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T-shirts are like memories, because they fade, but unlike memories because memories last forever

My old Cuernavaca shirts are wearing out. “La eterna primavera” is Spanish for “Eternal Spring.” Mom used to bring them home from Cuernavaca every year. It’s likely I would have never heard of Cuernavaca if I hadn’t been raised by Mom and Dad. We’re wrapping up Mom’s estate now, thanks to both the hard work and easygoing natures of my two brothers and two sisters. It was a shock when Dad died in late 2012, but after a year or so of grieving, Mom remained very much herself. As we all did. It’s been about fifteen months since Mom died – as suddenly and with as little fanfare as Dad did four years earlier. Grief ebbs and flows (in my experience) and at this point I go for long periods without thinking about what life was like when they were around. But I took those shirts out of the wash not long ago and watched the way they disintegrate a bit each year. They remind me of the experience of loss I feel about Mom and Dad. Those shirts have a finite life though – they’ll be 100% out of my life in another year or two. Fortunately the experience of being Mom and Dad’s son is my very literal DNA and it’ll outlast all of my clothing. 

I was checking through emails and found this one from Mom in July of 2012. She was in Cuernavaca when she sent it: [[Hi, Jay, Yesterday Shane found Claudia’s email address […]  Evelyn would be interested, I think. This is the first time I’ve googled. Love, Mom]] “This is the first time I’ve googled.” I’m smiling when I read that. She gloated regularly about her computer illiteracy – she took more than a little bit of pride in it – but after Dad died, she thought e-mail was the greatest thing since sliced bread. She never met a stranger. 

A high school friend of my Mom’s wrote in the guest book from Mom’s memorial service “Rarely have I known anyone as energetic or enthusiastic as she was!” “Energetic and enthusiastic” – I’m grateful that’s in my DNA. “La eterna primavera” – I can see why Mom was drawn to Cuernavaca.

I looked back through old blog posts before writing this; I’ve already used this story three times, all in relation to Dad. But I’m relating it for a fourth time here, in relation to Mom. Her father James or “Jimmy” died in 1979 or 1980, early in my ill-fated first career at VCU. I was talking to one of his old-guy buddies at the funeral and the guy said – I can still hear this – “We’ll miss old Jimmy, darn his hide.” It was such a warm, sweet, honest, little-old-guy thing to say. It was so sincere. I still miss old Jude, darn her hide.   

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Posted in Birds, daffodils, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, hyacinths, international travel, James River, koans, ospreys, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, robin, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

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

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

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

Northern Flicker in the snow

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

1st Parham Road osprey of 2018:

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

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

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

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

Red-shouldered hawks seem comfortable on low perches

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

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

Sharp looking bird, inelegant background

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

Hyacinth gleaming and fragrant beside our driveway this morning

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

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

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

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

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

In the swamp in secluded recesses,

A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary the thrush

The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,

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

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

Hermit thrush at Pony Pasture this morning

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

Have an excellent week! Come back next week!

All best,

Jay

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

I’ve been upstaged!

11 March, 2018            I’ve been upstaged!

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

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

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

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

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

James River at Pony Pasture – my Safe Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All best,

Jay

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

Squirrel lovers, avert your gaze

4 March, 2018            Squirrel lovers, avert your gaze

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

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

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

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

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

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

A deer in the center, two more on the right

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

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

Daffodils still glowing beside the trail at Pony Pasture this morning

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

First redbuds of 2018

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

Carolina Wren on my fencepost

Here’s a Downy Woodpecker from Pony Pasture yesterday:

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

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

Very alive Red-tail with a very dead squirrel:

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

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

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

Chipmunk with its cheeks stuffed with bird seed

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

Jay

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

Female Pileated Woodpecker at Pony Pasture this morning

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Trust the process

Subtitle – everything is ephemeral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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