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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Kindness multiplier – I saw it happen

13 December, 2020 Kindness multiplier – I saw it happen 

It was like I’d put a random act of kindness on the table, and another person said “I’ll see your random act of kindness – and raise you a random act of kindness.” It’s sort of a boring story, but it’s also sort of an encouraging story, and I’ll put it at the end of this post. After the “usual” stuff. 

This first picture was taken by yet another kind-hearted stranger – and I forgot to ask their first name! One of these days I’ll remember to do that. People were so kind today – it was a joy to be there. Whoever you were, thank you: 

Thank you stranger!

Whoever took that picture this morning, if you ever see us again, please say hello! And tell me your first name! And thank you!

If a week goes by and I see an owl at Pony Pasture, you’ll see it in this blog. I just looked back on my blog. The first Barred Owl picture on my blog was on May 15, 2011! That post even has pictures of my mom and of my wonderful old dog Ivory! Check it out at Flora – and some fauna 

Anyway, that’s not the point. This blog post is #469 since I started back in early 2011. This Spring will mark the ten year anniversary of this blog. I have photographed Barred Owls hundreds of times. And when I photographed one today (I photographed one Tuesday too), I got the same thrill I get every time I see one. It just does not fail. This is from Tuesday: 

100% smile worthy – from Tuesday

I just realized I took a picture a moment after that to demonstrate owl camouflage. Here’s the identical picture, taken practically the same minute, not using a zoom lens. You just don’t glance up and notice these birds – ever:

If someone hadn’t told me it was there (over a year ago) I’d have never known

This bluebird was from Tuesday. I never tire of bluebirds either, but my experience of photographing songbirds (passerines) bears no resemblance to my experience of photographing owls and hawks and eagles and ospreys (raptors). Bluebirds are just trying to get something to eat, just like every other creature in those woods, but they don’t kill mammals or other birds. It’s an illusion, but they look peaceful: 

It’s always a good day to see a bluebird

I got some “double” red-tails on Wednesday morning, but they had their backs to me and the light wasn’t good anyway. A couple hours later, one had flown off but the other turned around to face the sun: 

Red-tail soaking up the sun on a cold December morning

I think I’m going to wrap it up! I can hear my editor yawning. Have a great week! Read this little blurb and come back next week. All best,

Jay

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Raising the stakes on kindness

I have no shortage of things to smile about. It’s one of those instances where gratitude becomes self-fulfilling. But this morning after our hike at Pony Pasture, Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I were headed back west (upstream) on Riverside Drive. A young couple was walking up the north side (closer to the river) of the road. They were pushing a stroller and walking a dog – personally I think it’s easier walking a pack of dogs. At least dogs keep pulling forward. 

I could see a car coming toward us on the other side, so I pulled over and stopped so I wouldn’t crowd the little family to the side. Everybody does that. It’s a random act of kindness but we don’t acknowledge it as such; it’s just what you do. Anyway, the car coming toward us on the other side saw what was going on (the driver did). So they stopped. And they flashed their lights at me! Saying (unmistakably) – “No, we’ll stop for a minute and let you proceed up the road.” I refer you back to the first sentence of this section, “I have no shortage of things to smile about.” Because I’d made myself feel good by giving the young couple a break, then the folks in this other car made themselves feel good by giving me a break because I was giving the young couple a break! 

As I break it down and type it I can see it’s sort of boring and sort of petty and sort of minor and generally inconsequential. But I went away feeling good. And I’m sure the folks who flashed their lights at me went away feeling good. And that couple with their infant and their dog, I’m sure they were feeling good. It was sunny and warm and the river looked blue and shiny and life giving and it was difficult (IMO) to imagine a better place to be. If next week is half as good, it’ll be a huge success. I hope yours is too. 

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Recognizing individuals

6 December, 2020 Recognizing individuals

“Every scientific study is improved if you can recognize individuals”

“‘Every scientific study is improved if you can recognize individuals,’ she (Marie Auger-Méthé) said.” – Narwhals: Arctic Whales in a Melting World, Todd McLeish 

I can’t tell these owls apart – yet. I’ll learn to. 

I’ve mentioned in previous posts I’m a member of the Wildlife Center of Virginia Online Book Club. Our next meeting is Tuesday evening (day after tomorrow) at 7:00 PM and we’re reading the narwhal book. I loved every single page – one of my favorite books in recent memory. I learned a ton. A lot of things jumped out at me, but that line in particular. I always look at those owls as identical even though they’re not. Scientifically is my favorite way of looking at nature, and I know I need to be able to distinguish between those two lovely animals. Soon enough. 

Every time I start one of these blog posts late (it’s late) I wince and say “next week I need to start earlier!” But alas. Here I am. This pretty little bluebird dropped in on my front feeder Tuesday: 

Bluebird in bright sun

This was the moon Monday evening at 9:45. Both apps I use (World Clock and Sun Surveyor) identified it as 99.5% full. World Clock called that “waning gibbous” (just past full) and Sun Surveyor still called it “full.” Looking up at it in the sky you would have said it was full, but technically (and mathematically) it wasn’t: 

Moments-past-full moon Monday evening:

Here’s World Clock (first): 

Followed by Sun Surveyor: 

I saw a Red-shouldered hawk at Bryan Park this week. It was passing through and didn’t “pose” and give me an easy look. But it’s nice to see them in the woods from time to time: 

I never tire of raptors. That intensity is unmatched.

My friend Tim brings me the excellent firewood that heats our home – and this week he brought us eggs! He also cuts grass in the summer and cleans gutters (yay) and is an excellent family man. He’s been bringing me firewood for many years. I’m still cutting my own grass though – so far. Thanks again for the firewood and eggs Tim!: 

Firewood and fresh eggs – thanks Tim!

Our local Red-tails are still paired up. I got this picture Friday when I was almost home. That’s the female on the right and the male on the left. The breeze is out of the south, blowing his head feathers backwards – that’s the white spot. Both of their bodies are oriented toward the breeze so all they have to do is spread their wings and jump and they’ll be airborne. They won’t even need to flap their wings. I can’t tell but it looks like there’s a blood spot on the left side of the female’s (the right hand bird’s) breast. I wonder if she killed something recently: 

Red-tail pair a block from my house

I usually (IIRC) see my first buffleheads of the season around Halloween. I’ve been watching for them this year but didn’t see them until today. They are synonymous with winter on the falls for the James: 

Buffleheads bobbing along in a mild flood this morning

The river was around twelve feet deep when we were hiking today; often it’s at five or six feet or lower. We came around a corner and the trail was under ~3” of water for a hundred feet or more, so we had to go “overland” or “bushwhacking” – it was a jungle out there! 

Lots of surprise detours this morning:

A kind stranger took this picture exactly 60 minutes earlier, in a much more accessible section of the park. I need to start asking these kind photographers for their first names! They are always so friendly. You could not ask for three better ambassadors than Mackey, Turner and Yuki:  

The river’s edge came to us this fine December morning

Have a great week! Come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay

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Birds – unfeathered and feathered, and more

29 November, 2020 Birds – unfeathered and feathered, and more 

The subject of “birds” comes up during Thanksgiving week. I saw this “bird” (unfeathered) when my instructor Joel and I flew to Delaware Coastal Airport (KGED):  

Me with “Panchito”, a WWII era B-25 Mitchell medium bomber

That’s a B-25J Mitchell medium bomber. B-25’s were made famous when sixteen launched from an aircraft carrier in early 1942 to bomb Tokyo – only four months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I asked Joel how a plane that big could take off from something as small as an aircraft carrier. He basically said the aircraft carrier goes “20 knots into a 10 knot headwind, you have a thirty knot wind going over the wings before you even start the engine.” It’s just remarkable – it doesn’t even look real. 

As soon as I got home I began reading Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo by Ted Lawson, a pilot from the mission. Not to spoil it, but he watched one of his crewmates saw off his femur after he crash landed. And he wrote about that experience. And when you come home with one of your legs amputated at the femur, it’s hard to dispute his story. This is a remarkable, remarkable story – I am still flabbergasted. He was twenty-five years old when that happened. Twenty-five. He lived until he was seventy-five. Only about the first quarter of the book has any flying in it. The rest is their survival after crashing on a beach in China. 

We flew this Tecnam P92 Eaglet from Hanover to Maryland (first) then Delaware then back to Maryland then back to Hanover. I took this picture just before I preflighted it: 

Tecnam P92 Eaglet Joel and I flew to MD and DE Tuesday afternoon

For a moment’s perspective – that Tecnam has a four cylinder, 100 hp engine. The B-25 at the top of this post – it landed right behind us – has two engines and they each have fourteen cylinders and 1,700 horsepower. Each engine! What a treat it was to see that plane. 

This was the sunset we saw near Virginia’s Eastern Shore when we were flying back on Tuesday: 

Sunset near the Eastern Shore while we flew back. Probably ~4,500′.

Of course I saw owls this week. Evelyn and Mackey and Turner and I hiked at Pony Pasture on Thanksgiving – and we saw our first pair of owls for the season! I took this picture around 11:00 Thanksgiving morning: 

First owl pair I saw this season. I hope to see more! Check out the talons on the right hand owl.

A few minutes earlier, Ev and Mackey and Turner and I were on the edge of the river. I decided I’d see how far I could stretch my arms to get a selfie of the four of us. Note the dog hair on my arm – Turner likes to leave little reminders he’s been around: 

Thanksgiving river selfie with Evelyn and Mackey and Turner

The white squirrel returned – or returned to visibility – at Deep Run this week. I took this picture one day – I can’t recall when: 

Deep Run white squirrel

I also saw this Great Blue Heron at Pony Pasture on Thanksgiving when Ev and I were there with Mackey and Turner: 

Pony Pasture Great Blue Heron Thanksgiving morning

My brother Kevin and his wife Jenny and their family hosted a pandemic sized (small number of people, big distance apart) socially distant Thanksgiving in their barn Thursday. One of my many talented nieces (Wren?) took this group picture: 

In 2021 we’ll take of our masks and show our true selves

I’m running out of gas (energy, anyway). I’ll close with a robin I saw this morning. Wait – I’ll close with Mackey and Turner and Yuki from this river this morning, after a robin picture. Robin from this morning: 

Caught a robin at Pony Pasture in the sun for a moment:
Mackey, Yuki and Turner gleaming in the sun on the riverbank this morning

Have a great week! 

All best, 

Jay

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Red-shoulder over my shoulder – thank you Ray!

22 November, 2021 Red-shoulder over my shoulder – thank you Ray! 

My friend Ray and I were hiking at Bryan Park one lovely morning this week. We sat down at a picnic table to catch our breath – and a Red-shouldered hawk was perched almost over my shoulder! I’d never been so close to one before! Ray took this picture: 

Red-shoulder over my shoulder – thank you Ray!

Amazing! Then he handed the camera to me and I turned around and got this image: 

The most accommodating Red-tailed hawk I’ve ever encountered

The trees are not entirely bare yet, but there’s a lot of light getting through. I saw this Mockingbird Monday while I was riding my bicycle at West Creek: 

I got close and the light was nice – the two elements that make pleasing images

The dogs and I missed our Sunday hike last week (11/15/2020) because the river was still flooded. It had gone down a lot and dried out some by Tuesday so Mackey and Turner and I took a quick jaunt Tuesday morning. We saw and photographed an owl (that was why I went) but I got a better one today. I was surprised to see a butterfly still fluttering around in mid-November, but this beauty stopped long enough for me to grab a quick shot: 

Butterfly (I think) but I’m not certain what type. May be a moth.

Barred owls are much too wild to take for granted. But I see them often in the same spot, and I am filled with the same rush of delight each time I look up and see one. I saw one at 9:15 this morning, then hiked for half an hour and came back – still there. 100% delightful 100% of the time: 

There is never a bad day to see an owl

Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I had a pleasant hike this morning – especially since we saw the owl twice! I was hoping to see Buffleheads but I haven’t gotten a good image yet. We were headed back up the riverbank around 10:00 when we came across a group of middle-school aged boys racing up and down and over the logs and through the underbrush. One looked a little more confident and outgoing than the others. I stood with the dogs around me and held out my phone and said “Would you mind taking our picture?” And he replied confidently “You know I can!” as he reached out for the phone. These dogs are like magnets. I regret I did not ask his first name so I could credit him here. But thank you whoever you were! 

“You know I can” said the confident photographer when I asked him to take our picture. He sure could!

Yuki found a turtle creeping through the wintercreeper just before we got back to the parking lot: 

I would have walked right past this turtle if Yuki hadn’t seen it. It stuck its head out of the shell to check us out.

We also still have pretty roses in our yard, though they’re beginning to look dry. But November 22! I took this picture a little bit after 2:00 this afternoon: 

Mid-November backyard rose

Bluebirds are not bright blue in autumn, but this one was cute sitting on one of my feeders at 2:00 this afternoon. I like it with the reds and greens in the background. Colors will continue to fade as the daylight shortens, but bluebirds are always a treat. And I’m looking forward to next week’s blog post! I hope you are too! Have a great week, all best, 

Jay 

Bluebird, Red Maple, evergreens, November

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Furtive Great Blue Heron

15 November, 2020 Furtive Great Blue Heron

Furtive Great Blue Heron

Some birds around here are sneaky. You can hear yellow billed cuckoos or eastern towhees all day long and never lay eyes on one. Great blue herons – at least before today – are not sneaky birds. But the flooded James River sent Mackey and Turner and Yuki and me over to Bryan Park this morning, and I suppose this heron was not used to our unsubtle approach. It slunk into that dense thicket – in the direction of water – as we approached. In my experience they’re showy and leggy and if they don’t like the company they either wade into deeper water or flap those big wings and fly away. But this one was furtive. A first in my experience.  

I was going to call this blog post “Old friends and new.” Great blue herons are so un-subtle, I see them every week. But we had our first ever Pine siskins (Spinus pinus) appear on our feeders Thursday. Very exciting! We had a lot – easily a dozen, possibly more. This is the only decent image I got – they caught me off guard: 

First pine siskin I’ve ever laid eyes on. Yay!

If you’re in Richmond, you’re aware our big river is much bigger than normal. A normal day when we’re hiking the river is around four or five feet deep. It crested around midnight last night solidly over eighteen feet. Which means the entire trails and parking lot were under two feet of water or more. So we went to Bryan Park: 

Fun in the sun at Bryan Park

There was still a gardenia blooming on Cary Street Tuesday afternoon! 

Blooming gardenia on November 10! Crazy!

Pine siskins weren’t (obviously) the only birds on our feeders this week. We have lots of goldfinches, and the bluebird dropped in – always a treat: 

Bluebirds returning more frequently:

I should have gotten them to pose for this picture – they were sweet together. But Yuki was over here for a little while after our hike today. They touched noses and were very kind to one another and interested in what the other had to communicate. Or so it appeared: 

Meeting of the minds:

Speaking of mid-November flowers, I photographed this rosebud in our backyard this afternoon. The forecast is for a hard frost Wednesday and Thursday morning but we’ll see: 

Rose – photographed today!

I’m looking forward to getting back on the riverbank! 

Have a great week, 

Jay

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These birds LOVE Evelyn’s flowers!

8 November, 2020 These birds LOVE Evelyn’s flowers! 

Or in this case, beautyberries: 

Red-breasted nuthatch on a beautyberry in our front yard! Thank you Evelyn!

I took that picture a little after 3:00 Monday afternoon. It’s a good thing I did – I haven’t gotten tons of other images this week!

That gorgeous little bird is a Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis), the first I’ve ever seen! I’ve seen White-breasted nuthatches since I knew what a nuthatch was, e.g. the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. They’re outside my window all the time. I began to see Brown-headed nuthatches here last  year or the year before. The first time I ever knew such a bird existed. When I clicked on the picture at the top of this page on Monday afternoon, it was another nuthatch first for me! And what a treat! 

Speaking of treats. This week’s post is going to be short, and I hope sweet. To that end, I saw a blooming gardenia on Tuesday! It’s a little faded, but that was the time of day – I guarantee if I’d been there around noon it would have been glorious. And it still smelled glorious! I had no idea a gardenia could bloom in November: 

A gardenia! In November! A but rough because it was 5:00 PM, but wow. November!

I saw a male Pileated Woodpecker working industriously (he gave that impression, anyway) in a big sycamore at Pony Pasture this morning. I couldn’t talk the light into shining just the way I wanted, but he’s a good looking guy on a good looking tree. You can tell he’s a male by the red patch just behind his bill, directly below his eye. Females have an unbroken black line there: 

Male pileated woodpecker, I suspect young. He had that adolescent vibe.

Yuki was off visiting some other region of our fair state this morning; it was just Mackey and Turner and me (and that woodpecker, and a few other people and dogs and birds) at Pony Pasture this morning. Yuki’s loss – he missed a pretty morning!: 

Good looking boys on a good looking morning

Our gardenias have slowed down with the short autumn days, but Ev still has these gorgeous pansies blooming. I took this picture this afternoon: 

BRIGHT purple November pansy – from today!

Just on the other side of the stoop – I can almost take these two pictures without moving – she’s growing “violas.” Members of the violet family I’m pretty sure. But very bright! Violas: 

Violas – could those possibly be any more cheerful?

The moon was still clear in the sky when we were on our way back from the river. This is a “waning crescent” moon – it’s getting smaller. Always if it’s light on the left like this, it’s a waning moon. It looked pretty in the sky:

Moon before noon:

Here’s some info about it: 

Info about that moon from a great app called “Sun Surveyor.” That moon will disappear in about a week, rain or shine

Aha – another picture I took today. When Mackey and Turner and I were coming home from the river. I know I post a lot of pictures of hawks, but this one is a beautiful example of how “Red-tailed hawks” got their name. This is a male. I took this at 10:50 this morning: 

“How the Red-tail got its name”

Stretched this blog post out too much! I have to get to bed! 

Have a great week, 

Jay

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