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

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

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

Pony Pasture accipiter

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

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

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

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

This is where that bird was perched: 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

All best,


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

Posted in accipiters, Birds, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Rivers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ricotta frittata

14 January, 2018            Ricotta frittata

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

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

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

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

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

The frigid James River on a spectacular January morning

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

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

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

A shy doe near Charley’s Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week!

All best,


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

Business end of two CSX freight trains



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

bombogenesis and/or relentlessly pragmatic: Happy New Year!

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

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

Temporary sculpture exhibition

Even more temporary

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

Our 4+ mile hike route Saturday:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red-bellied woodpecker on my front feeder Thursday:

Brown thrasher in my backyard, same day

New Year’s Day Bluebird:


Male Northern Cardinal – the colors this week are astounding!

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

Pony Pasture Rapids during early January freeze, 2018:

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

My first Pony Pasture deer photograph of 2018.


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


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

Out and in with the old and new

31 December, 2017            Out and in with the old and new

When I sat down at my computer Christmas morning, I looked out the window and this was the first gift of the day: 

My favorite gift – you can’t buy this on Amazon

Who could ask for more? Later that day I walked into the backyard and there were six bluebirds on the two feeders, and four perched on the power line above their heads, waiting for a turn. I’m certain that’s the only time there’s ever been ten bluebirds in my yard at one time.

This is my last blog post of 2017 (since it’s my few hours awake in 2017), and I’m looking forward to more and better blogging in 2018.

Those bluebirds are a lovely reminder that, though the weather is frigid, Spring will appear again. 11:15 AM ET on Tuesday, March 20. But in the meantime, true story – I photographed these lilac buds in our backyard at around 4:30 this afternoon:

New Year’s Eve lilac bud – isn’t that remarkable?

I’ve lived in this house fifteen years (!) and those lilacs have budded reliably in the deepest, coldest part of winter – and burst into bloom every April. Another thing that’s happened reliably – it’s already happened this year – is a long-faced neighbor telling me they won’t survive the upcoming cold weather. They’ll bloom in April, right around tax time. 

Speaking of flowers (though not of flowers that smell like lilacs), I picked these up at the grocery store a day or two ago just to brighten up the place: 

If these were at Pony Pasture they’re probably be torn out as an invasive species but what can I say. December needs more brightness.

Speaking of Pony Pasture and natives, I was on the way back from the river Thursday afternoon when I saw a football in a tree. I rolled to a stop and snapped four pictures all in the same minute. Two of the bird sitting in the tree, this one, and one of it flying away: 

Bald Eagle ascends into a west wind on Williams Island Thursday afternoon:

I photographed a few different raptors (in addition to that eagle) this week, but none of the images were pleasing. This Red-tail on the power line tower near DS Freeman HS is adequate: 

Lots of birds soaking up sun when the opportunity presents itself

I apologize (yet again) for the quality of the next image, but it was such a great “catch” (though imperfect) I had to include it anyway. It’s quite difficult (for me) to photograph and often to even see Eastern Towhees (Pipilo erythrophthalmus). Wednesday afternoon I looked out my window and there were two on the ground! I got one click before one disappeared. There’s an obvious bird in the center and another one lower left. Maybe I’ll do better soon: 

Towhee visible center and partial Towhee visible lower left

I took that picture of the two Towhees at around 3:30 Wednesday afternoon. I’ve noticed going through my pictures from that day I photographed a Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) in nearly the same spot around 11:30 that morning. I guess these secretive birds are more visible with less cover (leaves) to hide in. Plus calories are getting scarce and they’re grateful – in their avian way – for reliable food: 

Brown Thrasher scooping up fallen bird seed

 I got another Red-tail the same day, but it was a dull picture. I caught a Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) pausing momentarily in a trailside tree at Deep Run Park Friday. This is also a bird I don’t see every day: 

Hermit thrush at Deep Run Park Friday:

 A picture from Pony Pasture around noon today – the start of our final river hike of 2017. Hopefully we’ll have the first river hike of 2018 tomorrow! 

I hope 2017 has been superb and 2018 is even better. See you next year! All best, 


Three handsome hikers on a COLD river! Happy New Year!





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

You can’t buy this on Amazon

24 December, 2017            You can’t buy this on Amazon

You can buy pictures on Amazon. But you can’t buy the experience of being on that river bank

I’m 56 years old and this will by my first Christmas without a living parent. Mom was enthusiastic and ebullient and feisty and celebratory a year ago this week. On January 4 of this year – it’s hard to believe 365 days have not passed – she died suddenly in her sleep.  In her own home and in her own bed – just the way she (and we) wanted it. I’ll add a few words at the end of this post, after the usual detritus.

This is what inspired this thought and title and blog post. I’ll address it a bit before I finish: 

Stationery my friend Sam made from a picture he took while hiking at Pony Pasture

Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I went to the river this morning. I was looking for footballs in trees, and we walked right under this nest. It’s a wasp nest or a hornet nest or I don’t know – if you know, please inform me. If I change it, I’ll credit you, but I’ve been slow on that lately. Here’s the nest from about 11:30 this morning:

[[Update from my friend Kim; she put this on facebook last night: “The bald-faced hornet, which is technically not a hornet, makes that nest. Short version, all hornets are wasps, and none are native to the US, though the giant ones called European hornets are found here now (the only true hornets found here.)” She went on to provide this helpful link from, of all people, Colonial Pest Control, IncWHAT MAKES THOSE BIG, PAPER NESTS IN TREES?]]

Winter riverbank hornet’s nest at Pony Pasture, in a maple tree

I saw a similar nest, only in better light, three years ago near the Williams Island dam. At that time I assumed it was a hornet’s nest; today I’m less certain. No one corrected me about it in 2014. If you’d like to see that 2014 nest, plus a couple of Pileated woodpeckers, a squirrel cowering beneath a hawk, and a short slow motion video of Turner bounding across our backyard, I invite you to visit (or revisit) Stirring up a hornet’s nest from November 16, 2014.

The weather in central Virginia has not been frightful this week; I’ve ridden my bicycle a time or two at West Creek. I saw and heard these killdeers shrieking and scrambling along the banks of the eastern lake at West Creek Tuesday afternoon:

Two noisy killdeers in the fading light at West Creek

Twenty-four hours later this Red-tail gazed down at the parking lot of the Westbury Apothecary. It could easily see the chimney of our house half a mile to the east:

Regal Red-tail in sharp relief against a flawless blue backdrop

When we see crowds of gulls on the river in winter, they’re often Ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis). The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says Ring-billed gulls are  “Comfortable around humans, they frequent parking lots, garbage dumps, beaches, and fields, sometimes by the hundreds.” We saw big flocks of Ring-billed Gulls, but we also saw this large gull alone on a mid-river rock. This is a Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus ):

Great Black-backed gull mid-stream at Pony Pasture this morning

This is what the Cornell Lab says about Great Black-backed Gulls: “The king of the Atlantic waterfront, the Great Black-backed Gull is the largest gull in the world, with a powerful build and a domineering attitude. They harry other birds to steal their food and even hunt adult birds such as grebes and puffins.” 

Evelyn was staying at Yuki’s house last night. She took this picture of the four of us just before we left for the river this morning:

Mackey, Turner, Yuki and me departing for the wilds of the James River Park. Photo by Evelyn! Thank you Evie! 

Merry Christmas tomorrow if that’s your thing. If it’s not, by all means have an excellent December 25 and an even better week. And come back here a week from today for the final blog post of 2017! Have a great week, 



You can’t buy this on Amazon

Mackey and Turner and I hike every week or so with a friend named Sam. Some weeks we hike at Pony Pasture, some weeks at Sunday Park in Brandermill. Sam’s in middle school but he already takes pictures any adult would be happy to get. I let him carry my camera while we were hiking at Pony Pasture in November. Sam took this picture:

Sam’s great Great Blue Heron photograph from November at Pony Pasture. And now my stationery!

It was a brilliant photograph and a gorgeous memory from an autumn afternoon spent hiking on the riverside. I emailed it to his parents. They had it made into stationery and he gave it to me for Christmas! I’m standing there in the parking lot thanking him and simultaneously thinking how much my parents would have loved to get these cards.

When Mom died last year, my siblings and I spoke afterward about our combined sense of grief and relief. It was completely unexpected – she was 100% herself when she went to sleep that evening – but it was just the way she wanted it. At home, in her own bed, with family around, and I suspect no real pain. And since it was the way she wanted it, it was the way we wanted it. But when Sam handed me those cards, with the image he’d captured of an excellent afternoon at the river, I thought in an instant how happy I would have been to send one to Mom. Dad would have liked it as much or more.

That’s the cool thing about gifts you can’t buy on Amazon – they’re priceless.


Posted in Birds, Dogs, Fun, James River, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Box of chocolates

17 December, 2017             Box of chocolates

“Momma always said life was like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna’ get.” – Forrest Gump, 1994

There’s never a bad time to see a bluebird

That’s an Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) in the top picture; I took that picture at 12:08 today at Pony Pasture. This next picture is the one that inspired the title of this post – I didn’t know what I was gonna’ get.

Immature – probably 1st year – Bald eagle. I didn’t know what I was gonna’ get.

We were leaving Pony Pasture at 1:00 this afternoon and I saw a “football in a tree” just upstream from the parking lot. I thought I “knew what I was gonna’ get” – I was positive it was an adult Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). I pulled over and put my flashing lights on and started snapping and I could see it was not an adult Bald Eagle. The light was not helpful and I guessed I was seeing an out of season osprey because… you never know what you’re gonna’ get. I came home and took a better look (on a bigger monitor) and googled it and it’s an immature Bald Eagle. I think this is the feathering for a first year Bald Eagle but I’m not positive. Since this is my first one ever. Feel free to comment on here or email if you’re more certain and are able to tell with that middling-quality photograph.

Speaking of first birds ever. I told Evelyn on Thursday that I’d seen my first ever Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) in the backyard. Then it came around to the front feeders – outside my office window – and I took this picture. And it was not black. I had no idea what it was so I posted it on the Birding Virginia Facebook page and asked for ID. Fortunately my friend Kim identified it thus: “Red-winged blackbird. Young male, I believe.” That’s first for me in my yard – I’d never seen a Red-winged Blackbird of any age here. You never know what you’re gonna’ get:

An immature male Red-winged blackbird, as it turned out

More often, of course, after a while, you do know what you’re gonna’ get, or at least you  have a pretty good guess. There’s not a 100% chance you’ll see a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) every time you visit Pony Pasture (they’re not Canada Geese), but they’re a regular visitor. I saw two today, one near the parking lot and one farther downstream. This was the former:  

Pony Pasture Great Blue Heron

This picture is not crisp, but I’m including it to show how close these birds are sometimes. It’s easy to see the  pair of Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) in the lower left corner. Just look diagonally opposite them in the upper right; it blends in well but it’s easy to see the Great Blue Heron in the opposite corner:

Mallard pair (lower left); Great Blue Heron (upper right)

When I get an accipiter – a Sharp-shinned Hawk or a Cooper’s Hawk – I am caught by surprise every time. Accipiters always move. They hunt mainly birds. I can predict buteos – a Red-tailed Hawk or a Red-shouldered Hawk – because they are creatures of habit. Buteos hunt mainly small mammals. But this accipiter – I’m not sure if it’s a Sharp-shinned or a Cooper’s – flew over my head and landed in a dogwood tree two blocks from my house on Wednesday. With a buteo you often have ten or fifteen minutes to get the image you want. With an accipiter you’re fortunate – in my experience – to get ten or fifteen seconds. I’m always grateful though:

Accipiter near Freeman HS Wednesday – possibly a Cooper’s, possibly a Sharp-shinned

I often do know what I’m gonna’ get – as do readers of this blog – when it comes to Red-tailed and Red-shouldered hawks. They may be featured more often than any other bird on this blog. This Red-shouldered hawk was perched in a poplar tree near the swamp on Patterson Avenue, just west of Pump Road at 9:30 Wednesday morning:

Red-shoulder, yellow poplar, blue sky – primary colors

Ten minutes later – less than ten minutes later – I was almost home and a Red-tailed hawk  was hunting from a power line tower across the street from DS Freeman HS:

Pretty hawk (Red-tailed) and sky, but the perch is inelegant

Not everything in life is like a box of chocolates – Mackey and Turner and Yuki know what they’re gonna’ get on Sunday mornings – a walk at Pony Pasture. I watched the segment of Forrest Gump when he’s telling the lady about life being like a box of chocolates. He said,  “I could eat about a million and a half of these.” I feel the same way about chocolate – of course – but I feel that way about dog walks at Pony Pasture too. I could take about a million and a half of these:

Yuki (white), Turner (brown), Mackey (none of the above)

Dash gets a little blog time, but not as much as Mackey and Turner and Yuki. It doesn’t bother him a bit. Here’s one of him on a chair in the living room and another lying on the carpet in front of the fire. On instagram I captioned the second picture #shameless:

The word “anxiety” is not in Dash’s vocabulary


I open many blog posts with a picture of the river; today I’ll close with one. Enjoy – and come back next week! All best,


Do you know when the river looks bad? I’ll tell you when: never


Posted in Bald eagles, Birds, cats, Dogs, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

 Must be present to win

10 December, 2017            Must be present to win

With nature photography, I’m told – and I know – you “must be present to win.” I didn’t show up  much this week – outdoors – so my offerings are thin. So it goes. The deer in Pony Pasture have been breeding – that’s what they do this time of year – and in the coming months, the pregnant females will slow down a bit. But I haven’t seen them recently. A couple of days last week were warm enough to ride my bike at West Creek, and there were large flocks of ducks on the two ponds out there. I saw a handful of Hooded mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) on the western lake, and one or two on the eastern. Here are two males:

Two male Hooded mergansers at West Creek

There was a huge flock of ducks on the western lake. I should be able to ID these but I’m unable. Or didn’t take the time. Email me or comment on here if you know what they are; I’ll correct it and credit you:

Isn’t that remarkable? That’s ~1/3 of the flock.

A squirrel from Deep Run:

Gray squirrel at Deep Run. Like all of the other birds and animals, they’re packing in the calories right now. Cold weather is upon us. 

And a picture first of Dash in his favorite place:

Dash could not care less about snow. Ice. Cold. That cat is 100% satisfied, 100% of the time.

Dash is followed – or preceded – or both – by Turner:

When it comes to “having a ball,” Turner takes it literally.

Dash is a 24/7/365 indoor cat, and he’s thrilled to have it that way. Turner is up for pretty much anything, but Mackey was outside Friday afternoon for about three minutes during a snow deluge. Mackey doesn’t complain – ever – but he was ready to take his turn in front of the fire:

You wouldn’t even call Mackey “long-suffering” – he just accepts it all. He is very Zen.

Ev was in Texas last weekend. She always buys thoughtful gifts, and she’s especially fond of the type that don’t sit around the house very long:

Evelyn is a master at choosing gifts that won’t be left lying around unused.

This was the river when we arrived this morning:

This is a safe, quiet, peaceful, comforting place. It’s like a secret how great it is in the winter. If you haven’t visited recently, by all means do!

And this was Yuki (left) and Mackey (center) and Turner (right) about an hour later, very focused on something in the woods. That I never was able to see. Or hear or smell:

It is a privilege to spend time with these boys

I’ve seen a lot of great blue herons this week, and red-shouldered hawks, and Juncos nearly everywhere I’ve traveled – they’re a signature winter songbird – but my pictures have been poor quality even by my standards, and that’s saying something. I’ll get some sooner or later. And I’ll get back here again next week! And I hope you do too! Have a great week,


Posted in Birds, Dogs, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment