“They don’t call it Habitat for nothing.” – my sister Katie

16 January, 2022 “They don’t call it Habitat for nothing.” – my sister Katie

Thank you Laura! Turner staying up (I think he has sore hips), Yuki resting after our long hike this morning:

That’s not (technically) the picture that inspired this blog post title. Though it may as well be. This is the picture that inspired this blog post title: 

The ornaments on my Christmas tree are never this beautiful:

In the first week of 2022 I was hiking at Pony Pasture and caught that lovely bluebird in the sun. He was one of a flock of thirty or more. Two days later I was walking past the same trail intersection and took this picture: 

Same trail intersection, 48 hrs later. THAT’S why they call it “habitat.”

Our dad’s name was Mike; “flabbergasted” is a strong word but I was a bit flabbergasted to realize November will mark ten years since he’s been gone. Ten years! But if I live a hundred more years, if I see a bluebird, I’ll still think of dad. There’s nothing melancholy about it; bluebirds and melancholy are mutually exclusive. But dad loved bluebirds. He probably loved dogwoods as much, which is one of the reasons I’m drawn to dogwoods as well. But dogwoods rarely catch you off guard or interrupt your thoughts; bluebirds do. I’ll elaborate a little but let me put in some more pictures. 

My relentless photographs of Barred owls in the same spot – in the same habitat – merits inclusion here. Remember the first five letters of “habitat” are “habit,” and Barred owls have made a habit of perching on the same branch for four years. Even though I’m dialed in on the reasons, I am still amazed. If there are none tomorrow and I never see them again, I will still be amazed. If you haven’t noticed, I really like being amazed. My last blog post (!) was December 19, 2021! This is my first blog post this year! I’ve seen Barred owls – on the same branch – same habitat – every time I’ve visited since New Year’s Day. This branch has never been empty. Wild. A 2022 Barred owl in the unmatched habitat of Pony Pasture. Look closely; there’s snow in the background. This picture is from January 4th: 

Barred owl on that same crazy branch. Since 2019! Remarkable. See the snow behind it?

I digressed after my mention of dad (and of Katie) near the top of this post. Katie is part naturalist and part linguist. Dad and mom were each naturalists and linguists. They didn’t actively encourage those values in my siblings and me – they were just part of our upbringing. Part of our habitat, it occurs to me. Some of my siblings are stronger in each area, plus in other areas, but we can all identify most birds and plants and animals where we live. Possibly where you live too. I suspect all five of us have bird feeders at our houses. I can’t say for sure. This adult male Pine warbler (Setophaga pinus) visited my feeder on 12/21/2021, two days after my last blog post. First day of winter:
 

Adult male Pine Warbler with a piece of suet in his mouth, first day of winter, 2021 (12/21)

I took Latin in high school too. I think my sister Katie did too, and perhaps other siblings of mine. But the only Latin I can read in the Pine warbler’s Latin name is the word “pinus” because it’s the root word of “pine.” Notice how the word “root” is related to trees? Maybe I should branch out a little? Perhaps you’re thinking I should leave this subject alone? Maybe I’m just having fun needling my readers? I didn’t know what bird that was. There were other ways of figuring it out, but I “cheated” and used Merlin Bird ID

I take pictures of birds – as you’re aware. With Merlin, you have an app and you choose the picture you want to identify. Then it asks the date and the location where you took the picture. Those are two key pieces of information. According to Avibase – The World Bird Database, there are “…about 10,000 species and 22,000 subspecies of birds…”. If you narrow that from the entire world for a year to Richmond in January you cut it to maybe a hundred. 

If you use the non-photo ID, the third question it asks (after date and location) is one of seven sizes. The smallest is “sparrow-sized or smaller” and the largest is “goose-sized or larger.” So now you have three key ID points. Next they offer nine colors and ask you to pick between one and three. Colors are the fourth ID point. After color it’s “Was the bird…?” and it offers six more choices, ranging between “eating at a feeder” and “soaring or flying.” Then it offers you a list of birds that fit those parameters. 

If you’re interested (this may be boring but IMO it’s not), that list of choices is called an “algorithm.” When I google algorithm the most succinct definition is at the top (generated by an algorithm, of course). It says “a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.” If you know date, location, size, color and activity you eliminate many thousands of birds. It’s easy to pick your bird. 

My boredom algorithm says I need to post a picture so here is a pair. I texted these to friends and family with the subject “good fences make good neighbors.” There’s a little overgrown fence in the woods in Pony Pasture. There were seven deer relaxing on one side and Turner and Yuki were watching them. This doe was watching her watchers: 

She was in a herd of seven. Here she’s watching Turner and Yuki:

Yuki and Turner observing closely. Their leashes are tied around the fence: 

Turner and Yuki watching the doe and her six companions:

It’s also (I nearly didn’t notice it) becoming the time when raptors pair up. It’s past that time really; they’re nesting. I took this picture on December 22. That’s about three weeks ago. Also not coincidentally it’s roughly the first full day of winter. The days had just begun to lengthen. A pair of Red-tailed hawks perched on the cross at Discovery United Methodist Church in western Henrico County, VA: 

Pair of red-tailed hawks basking in the early winter sun. Male is on the left; he’s a bit smaller:

Also not my most amazing photo ever but I whipped around and snapped an image of this Great Blue Heron (recently) as it was taking flight at Echo Lake, a few miles from that church. If you really squinch up your eyes just right and look on the water in the upper right of the image you can see a male mallard with a female a few feet behind him. Mallards are pairing off everywhere

Great Blue Heron flying at Echo Lake; mallard pair swimming in upper right:

Also this is the center of a flock of buffleheads that stretched for a few more feet upstream and downstream. I count seventeen birds here; there were at least two dozen total. So twelve (or more) pairs. I took this picture at 10:10. I took owl pictures at 10:20 and I photographed the second bluebird on this post at 10:30. That was a nice morning!: 

The center of a long Bufflehead flock at Pony Pasture on January 9th:

I haven’t used a moon image in a while (IIRC) so here’s one. I took this on the same day (January 7, 2022) that I saw the bluebird closest to the top of this post and an owl and buffleheads. I also saw a little herd of deer near the parking lot around 12:15. I’m going to include a little deer image (an image of a little deer) I took just before I got in the car. Then the moon shots: 

Young whitetail frolicking along the edge of the parking lot at Pony Pasture on January 7:

Now the moon: 

I took this moon picture exactly six hours after I photographed that little deer:

Information about that moon at the time I took the photograph: 

Six hours after the buffleheads, owls and bluebirds:

Have a first class week! Come back soon! All best, 

Jay

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Life lives on lives/more than I could swallow

19 December, 2021 Life lives on lives/more than I could swallow

Cormorant at Three Lakes Park with an enormous catfish in its mouth

I was hiking with a friend at Three Lakes Park in Henrico County last week when I saw this Double-crested Cormorant (Nannopterum auritum) trying to get this catfish in position to swallow. I presume. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says that cormorants “are experts at diving to catch small fish.” That particular cormorant didn’t get the memo about “small” fish. 

Here’s another picture of the same cormorant with the same fish: 

Same cormorant, same day. same incredible catfish

I watched for some time; I never saw the cormorant consume the fish. It’s the beginning of mating season. It’s possible that was an extravagant display of fishing prowess in hopes of attracting a comely female cormorant. But I am far from an expert on cormorant behavior. 

I’m not an expert on Red-tailed hawk behavior either, but I was gratified to see this pair perched on the cross at Grove Avenue Baptist Church: 

Pair of Red-tailed hawks getting an early start on nesting season – Grove Avenue Baptist Church

The light is nice now and a lot of leaves are down. I saw this Red-shouldered hawk at Bryan Park:

Red-shouldered hawk on a sunny mid-December morning at Bryan Park:

We’re getting a few hard cold snaps now – the shortest day of the year is the day after tomorrow (Tuesday, 12/21/2021). About ten days ago it was bitter cold in the morning and I was fortunate to see this bluebird facing the rising sun with his feathers puffed out to stay warm: 

Puffed out facing the sun on a cold December morning

A white squirrel almost within sight of that bluebird. Fur is pretty warm but the squirrel is not toasting in the sun: 

White (not albino) squirrel gobbling up an acorn to stay warm:

Two years ago I helped out with horseback riding with Friendship Circle of Virginia. We skipped it last year because of the pandemic but we were masked up and at it again this year. They had a mask inspector make sure we had enough masks: 

Inspecting masks for safety’s sake:

My sisters have been dedicated horseback riders their entire lives. My involvement with horseback riding extends to walking along beside horses to make sure unsteady people don’t fall off. This pretty girl’s name was Buttercup. No one fell off of her while I walked alongside!: 

Buttercup had been standing out in the cold rain before coming inside to help out. She was a sweetheart!

I spent about half the time walking alongside Buttercup and the other half alongside Cloud. They were easygoing, tolerant horses. Winston Churchill once said “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a person.” I started working with people with disabilities on horseback really, really early in my career – twenty-five years ago or more. I’ve walked with dozens and dozens of people on horseback, and many of the people are entirely non verbal and have little or no muscle control. But literally one hundred percent – every person I’ve ever done this with – relaxes when they’re riding. Maybe because the horses are warm, or because they’re peaceful, or because it gets people out of wheelchairs and up above everybody else – I don’t know what it is. But people always calm down when they’re riding. I spent more time with Cloud than I did with Buttercup; no one fell off of her either: 

I spent more time walking with Cloud than any other horse; I wish I’d gotten a picture of her at work:

Here’s the banner for Friendship Circle, hanging up outside the barn: 

Friendship Circle banner today at Mesa Vista Farm:

Wait! I almost signed off without a picture of perhaps the most charming hostess of the entire event. This was the diminutive and graceful Tinker Bell. If you squint, you can just barely see her gossamer wings. The wikipedia entry says that “Her speech consists of the sounds of a tinkling bell, which is understandable only to those familiar with the language of the fairies.” If you can see her wings in this picture, you would have been able to understand her speech:

Tinker Bell – see her little wings? You should have heard what she was saying. So kind!

Have a great week! Come back next week! I just realized – Saturday is Christmas! Merry Christmas if you’re of that persuasion. If not, have an outstanding December 25th! All best, 

Jay  

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Finally got to fly again (and more)

5 December, 2021 Finally got to fly again (and more)

I flew most of the day Tuesday. Viruses don’t affect a plane’s ability to fly, but my schedule was disrupted by the pandemic so I took a break. I finally called out to my old friends at Heart of Virginia Aviation in Hanover (KOFP) and set up some time with a plane and an instructor. I was fortunate to fly with an excellent instructor named Dwayne; I’m looking forward to flying with him again. He took this picture of me at Frederick Municipal Airport (FDK), about fifty miles west of Baltimore: 

Stopped for lunch in Frederick, MD, picture courtesy of my flight instructor Dwayne Gill

My plan was to land in four states that day; Maryland was the last one unless you count going home to Hanover. We had a few glitches getting in the air at Hanover that morning. We started out in a Tecnam P92 Eaglet which is really, really light. There was a strong, gusty wind blowing straight across the runway – anathema for really light planes. But fortunately we had the opportunity to switch from a light plane to a heavier one. When I began flying in 2017 I flew in a Cessna 172 and one was available so away we went. That’s me standing in front of it in that picture. Our first stop (our second state) was around a hundred miles north at KMRB in Martinsburg, WV. We just landed then taxied around and took off again. From Martinsburg, WV we headed to our third airport and state, W05 in Gettysburg, PA. The runway in Martinsburg was a relatively massive 8,800 feet. Gettysburg was our shortest runway of the day at 3,100 feet. Hanover (where I fly from) is 5,200 feet. Not a lot happens at Gettysburg airport. We did a U-turn at the end of the runway, taxied back up to the top, did another U-turn, took off and left. 

To backtrack a few airports, just before we got into the Martinsburg airport airspace we flew over the twisty Shenandoah River: 

Shenandoah River meandering beneath my left wing strut in WV:

I should have put all these in order, but I didn’t. After we took off from Gettysburg we flew to our fourth state, Frederick, MD. That’s where we took the picture of me with the plane – the picture that opens this blog post. The folks at the Frederick airport lent us a car (almost all small airports do this) and went out for lunch at a nice little place called Belle’s Sports Bar and Grill. For some reason I erred and had a cheeseburger (I love cheeseburgers); I was foolish to pass up a crabcake when I was in Maryland. I’ll go back again and I won’t make the same mistake twice. 

I have seen wildlife since my last blog post. I thought Buffleheads showed up closer to Halloween; I’ve been watching for them for some time. I finally saw a little flock when I was hiking on November 26, a.k.a. the day after Thanksgiving, a.k.a. Black Friday. This little male was causing a little commotion mid stream. He may be taking off or landing but he also may be strutting his stuff for the females on the water just ahead of and behind him: 

I think he was showing off. But he may have just been happy. They’re not mutually exclusive.

I don’t know what this bluebird was doing; possibly cocking his handsome little head to avoid the glare of the sun: 

Bluebird getting a new perspective

I see a lot of Great Blue Herons in Richmond – they’re all around if you pay attention. Unless I’m fortunate enough to see one with a fish or a frog or a crayfish in its mouth (that’s rare for me) my pictures are disappointingly similar. I liked this one gazing through the branches. Looking at the lens of my camera; 

Great Blue Heron peering through the branches

I rarely rarely rarely see Cooper’s hawks. I love seeing them but they are among the most elusive local raptors. In my decades of hawk watching I have never seen one on a high perch. That territory has been (in my experience) the sole province of Red-tailed hawks. But I looked up on a tower near our house just after lunch on Thursday and saw a long tail hanging down. That is the giveaway clue of a Cooper’s hawk – they’re the only local raptor  that has a long tail. I zoomed in too much on this one (I was overenthusiastic) and lost a little image quality. But it’s a Cooper’s hawk. They’re fantastic birds: 

All my decades of hawk watching, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a Cooper’s Hawk on a high perch

I almost forgot! Turner and Yuki and I had a close encounter with a female Pileated woodpecker at Pony Pasture this morning. I photographed her for eleven delightful minutes before we walked away; she was still tap tap tapping away looking for insects. I always share pictures I like with my family. One of my siblings said that was a “nice clear picture.” I said (you can take this to the bank if you’re doing outdoor photography) “short distance + bright light = 100% success.” You can’t always control for those two variables but if you get them both, you get a good picture, every single time: 

One of the most accommodating Pileated woodpeckers I’ve ever encountered

Yikes – I almost left off one of my favorite pictures. Yuki’s owner lives near us; she has a son who lives in Utah. He knows a lot about reptiles and amphibians – infinitely more than I do. He went hiking with Turner and Yuki and me a week ago today. Although for some reason it feels like a century ago. Anyway, he knows how to find reptiles and amphibians. He spotted a promising looking rotten log (it’s possible you never even knew such a thing existed) and rolled it over to reveal this Marbled Salamander: 

Thank you Hunter! Marbled salamander at Pony Pasture

As always, I’m running way too late. The sun was just setting as I walked out of Hanover airport to go home Tuesday. 

Goodnight from Hanover Airport!

Have a great week! All best, 

Jay

Posted in accipiters, Birds, Bryan Park, buffleheads, Cessna 172, Cooper's Hawk, Endurance, Fun, James River, kofp, love, newfaze, People, Pileated Woodpecker, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), sunsets, Tecnam | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Slacking off never pays

21 November, 2021 Slacking off never pays

Somebody probably told me that in kindergarten or first grade, second grade at the latest. I’ve been told that in some form or other for the past half century-ish. You can teach an old dog new tricks, but I still haven’t learned that slacking off never pays. Here is a selection of the pictures that have piled up in the six weeks (!) since my most “recent” blog post. 

I almost called this post “mostly birds” since as you will learn that would be an equally appropriate title. In six weeks I build up a massive pile of pictures. I have a million favorites. Somehow in late October I went to Pony Pasture on a Friday, though I don’t recall why. I’d just gotten on the trail when I saw a person pointing their cell phone at the creek. I waited politely until they’d moved on then strolled down to see if the object of their interest was still visible. Imagine my delight when I saw this Red-tailed Hawk perched above the pipeline crossing the creek: 

Red-tailed hawk waiting for breakfast to wander by at Pony Pasture

A couple of days earlier this mockingbird posed in the bright sun at Echo Lake Park: 

Mockingbird basking in the morning sun at Echo Lake

To get away from birds (for a moment) I was surprised to see a small buck at Pony Pasture in late October. I was so certain I was looking at a doe, I didn’t even work hard on the pictures. I didn’t realize it was a buck until I got home and saw its antlers. You can see how well it blends in. This was really close to the parking lot. He could definitely see car windshields reflecting sunlight from where he was standing. I’ve seen (years ago) one truly enormous buck in Pony Pasture. There is zero percent chance a buck like that would get out in the open like this so close to the parking lot. Unless it was like one o’clock in the morning. This guy had a little harem of small does with him. He reminded me of a cocky fifteen year old boy squiring his girlfriend around the mall. Hopefully this little dude has some good years ahead of him: 

See his little antlers there?

I took this picture of Turner the same day. I took the picture of Turner at 10:53. I took the picture of the buck at 11:09. In all my years of photography and tens of thousands of shots I have almost literally never used my flash. But I used it that morning and was gratified with the results. I hope you are too: 

Turner was born eager. He hasn’t lost it.

One of the things I love best about Turner is his unrelenting enthusiasm. Turner wakes up looking forward to every single thing that’s going to happen that day, and he goes to sleep looking forward to sleeping. He thinks everything in the world is just the most awesome thing he’s ever seen. He was a little bit lost for a while when Mackey died – probably picking up on Evelyn’s and my grief – but he gradually came out of it. He is always full of wonder. Notice that combining those two words equals “wonderful.” We’re lucky to have him around.

We hiked around a while and we were clear on the other side of the park, headed upstream (west) toward the parking lot. There was a mother deer grazing on the side with two youngsters gamboling around on the side of the trail. The mother vanished into the woods like smoke. The youngsters couldn’t take their eyes off Turner. I had the sense then and I still have it that they would have liked to chase each other around – to frolic – and in another setting it would have worked fine. Not on a pretty autumn Sunday at a busy urban park though. Look at this face though. Such a punim! And look closely – stretch the picture if you’re on a phone. This is a very young buck. See those two little bumps in front of his ears? Mommy will probably be telling him to hit the road soon:  

Turner was standing directly in front of me. This little buck was locked on him. In a fun way.

This picture is junky enough that if it was any other bird I wouldn’t use it. But it’s a Bald Eagle! I still wouldn’t use it if it was out in the wild somewhere in a place I’d expect to find Bald Eagles. This may not make sense if you’re not from Richmond but this bird was ten feet from the road at the corner of Gaskins Road and Ridgefield Parkway. Thousands of cars pass that intersection every day. And this was a few minutes before 10:00 AM on a weekday morning – not exactly prime wildlife viewing time. I would never have glanced in its direction but crows were having a fit and this time of year that invariably means raptor (or housecat). So I turned my camera and there it was. I’ll bet Bald Eagles and Cardinals are two of the most easily recognized birds in the United States: 

Bald Eagle in the heart of a busy suburb. I am so grateful.

I took this picture in the parking lot a few minutes earlier: 

Squirrel the color of an eagle’s head

I’ll do a quick segue away from birds and mammals for a moment. I’m not colorblind but autumn leaves are just not something I find thrilling. But I’ve taken two pictures of leaves purely because of their color since my most recent blog post. Alone (IMO) these pictures aren’t worth a great deal. But (again, IMO) they look cool together: 

Colorful November leaves #1
Colorful November leaves #2

An almost inviolable rule of animal (including bird) photography is “if you can’t photograph the eyes, don’t waste your time.” But this enormous female Cooper’s Hawk swooped over the hood of my car and landed on a branch next to my across-the-street neighbor’s driveway, peering at his bird feeder. Birds don’t drool (that I’m aware of) but if they did, Cooper’s Hawks would drool when they looked at a busy bird feeder. She was so big and so close I had to get this shot: 

Everybody has a hungry hawk:

I also saw an Eastern Phoebe this week at Bryan Park: 

Phoebe at Bryan Park

Wait – I almost left out a crucial (to me) bird. Kingfishers are really, really (for me) hard to photograph. They’re even hard to see, and I hardly ever see them stop. They fly, fly, fly. In almost all birds (think cardinals), if there is an appearance difference between genders, the male is the better looking of the two. Everything in this blog is strictly my opinion, but male Kingfishers are much more muted and less colorful than females. This guy stopped in the shade long enough for me to snap a few images:

Male Belted Kingfisher on a branch

I have other pictures but maybe I’ll get another post up a week from today. Maybe not, but I’m happy with this one. I hope you are! Have an excellent week! All best, 

Jay

Posted in accipiters, Bald eagles, Birds, Bryan Park, Cooper's Hawk, Dogs, Fun, James River, love, mockingbirds, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The pictures were piling up

10 October, 2021 The pictures were piling up

Plus I was being lazy. Four weeks ago today was my most recent blog post! Awful. Anyway, I’ve gotten a handful of pictures I enjoy. I hope you do too! When this much time goes by it’s difficult for me to pick out a favorite. But I was happy to see this bumblebee right in our front yard two weeks ago today. I know very little about bumblebees but I know I love this picture: 

That picture’s worth a blog post in itself. In our front yard a week or two ago.

This picture is not technically lovely, but I was so amazed and gratified to see it I just had to include it here. I saw this the week before I saw the bumblebee. This was from Three Lakes Park in northeastern Henrico County: 

Two Bald Eagles at one time! On a weekday morning! In Richmond, VA!

When I was young(-er), Bald Eagles were endangered. DDT is unbeatable as a synthetic insecticide. It kills mosquitoes so thoroughly it practically eradicates malaria in areas where it’s used. But it makes egg shells so weak that they break when they’re being incubated. Bald Eagles almost went extinct until we got rid of DDT here in the States. I will never not be amazed to see a Bald Eagle. And to see a pair is just amazing and stunning and remarkable and rewarding and I am beyond thrilled. Bald Eagles eat lots of fish (though they’re equally satisfied with road kill) and Three Lakes Park provides plenty of opportunities to fish. The tower they’re perched on is at a radio station on Wilkinson Road, just a couple of  hundred feet from the water’s edge at Three Lakes. There’s an even bigger lake in a neighborhood just on the other side of Wilkinson Road, and the Chickahominy River is just a few wing flaps to the east. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) says that “the Chickahominy River provides the angler with tidal river fishing at its finest.” 

I hardly ever saw whitetail deer when I was growing up either, but I didn’t live near Pony Pasture. I took this picture earlier this month. “Intense” and “serene” are (IMO) dissimilar adjectives, but they both seem describe her accurately: 

“Intense” and “serene” in the same animal at the same time – amazing

On the same day I saw the Bald Eagles (in the same park) I saw this Great Egret hunting from a branch over the water. It was only when I looked closely at the picture later I noticed the turtle a few feet to its left on the same branch: 

Great egret on the right, turtle on the left

Late summer at Pony Pasture remains colorful. This Silvery Checkerspot is from the third week in September: 

Silvery checkerspot

Turner and I had a nice walk down there this morning. We met a kind lady named Hunter and her polite and energetic daughter August and their enormous and well-mannered Bernese Mountain dog Patron (second syllable rhymes with “bone”) just as we got to the water’s edge. Hunter graciously agreed to take our picture: 

Thank you Hunter and August and Patron!

The sun was warming the bricks on the wall beside our driveway last week and this skink decided it was a good place to warm up: 

Skink sunning itself on our driveway wall, safely out of reach of Dash

A skink made it into the house recently; if Dash hadn’t been on the lookout it might have escaped alive. Now Dash likes to wait by the front door to see if any more crawl in. But he’s unable to resist the smell of cardboard: 

It’s safe to say there are no skinks in that box

I almost forgot a new (to me) flower Evelyn’s been growing. Possibly you’ve eaten “ginger snaps” or “gingerbread cookies” or had a bubbly glass of “ginger ale.” Evelyn grows ginger – yes, it’s the same ginger – in our yard! I’d never even imagined it as a flowering plant but there you go. And the smell is beyond compare. But you’ll just have to feast your eyes. Or grow your own!: 

Elegant, fragrant, graceful ginger flowers – grown by Evelyn in our backyard!

I’ve mentioned Surrounding Counties in a previous blog post – Oxtail kolache from back in May. Their real specialty (in my opinion) is providing warm-hearted and friendly service in  an excellent easygoing spot for coffee and food and other delicious treats. But what truly sets them apart is their kolaches. If you’re unaware (I was unaware), wikipedia describes kolaches as “a type of sweet pastry that holds a portion of fruit surrounded by puffy dough.” They sometimes have sweet kolaches at Surrounding Counties but more often – much more often – they have savory kolaches. Pulled pork, sausage egg and cheese, chili egg and cheese, and many more, plus what seems like an infinite variety of vegan and vegetarian options. They’re wildly creative and when I visited recently I was even able to get one wearing glasses! And it was delicious! Like looking in a mirror: 

Kolache from Surrounding Counties – like looking in a mirror!

I hope to get a post up next week but I’ve become a little unreliable in that regard. We’ll see! Meanwhile, enjoy this one. And have a great week! 

All best, 

Jay

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Back on track – at least for today 

12 September, 2021 Back on track – at least for today 

Back on track – at least for today 

Photo by Evelyn who told me “That dog would follow you into a burning building.”

Two days later Evelyn and I each went to work in the morning. That afternoon we came home and loaded Mackey in the car and the three of us drove up to our vet’s office. Behind their office is a grassy, shady space surrounded by the building on one side and woods on the other sides, and they brought a blanket out for Mackey and Evelyn and the vet and me to sit on. It was the right thing and the best thing and I know my parents would understand that I felt even worse than when they died. 

Another thing my parents would understand is the world does not come to a standstill to accommodate our personal grief. There is no better example than the river. It just flows and flows, no matter what else happens. Turner and I still go down there. It took a while though. This was our first trip back, three weeks to the day after Mackey died: 

Our first trip to the river in the post-Mackey era

Another thing mom and dad understood was you don’t sit around and hope you’ll finally begin to feel better. Like most excellent things, feeling better takes energy and effort. Walking with Turner at the river is an outstanding way to wake up. Fortunately I was registered for and more or less trained for a short triathlon. I rode up to Luray, Virginia in August with my friend Pat and his wife Megan and the three of us completed the Luray Sprint Triathlon. Megan got an award in her age group! Crazy. I didn’t photograph it (I finished almost an hour after her!) but it was awesome. As usual I got a finisher’s medal, shown here. My first triathlon was at William and Mary – in 1987! So this finisher’s medal commemorates my thirty-four years as a triathlete! I just sorted the race results of the Luray race by age. There were sixty-seven finishers who hadn’t been alive as long as I’ve done triathlons! And this was a small race! I loved it. Here’s my awesome finisher’s medal: 

Finisher’s medal from the Luray Sprint Triathlon – 8/22/2021

This is not every medal from every triathlon I’ve finished since 1987 (!), but this is a lot of them: 

34 years of finisher’s medals. I train and race so I can eat ice cream.

I’ve gotten – as you may imagine – more than a handful of pictures I enjoy since my last blog post. I normally don’t have a favorite picture after one week between blog posts and I really don’t have one this time. But a few weeks back I saw this Five-lined skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) with what appears to be  an inchworm in its mouth; it’s a nice picture. Unless of course you’re the inchworm: 

Five-lined skink having fresh inchworm for breakfast

I took a reasonable picture of a Green heron (Butorides virescens) around a month ago: 

Green heron (Butorides virescens)

I also haven’t seen a million toads this year but I got a reasonable image the same day I photographed that heron. This is a Fowler’s toad (Anaxyrus fowleri): 

Fowler’s toad. The only way you can see these guys is if they hop.

I nearly forgot – I got a surprise picture Thursday evening – in our backyard! Turner and I were getting ready for our evening walk when he sprinted to the back garden. I suspect this Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) climbed (as quickly as possible) one of our back trees to reach the top of this fence: 

Opossum glaring down at Turner (and me) from our back fence. Evelyn held the flashlight.

The bags of seed I buy are labeled “bird” seed and the containers I pour them into are called “bird” feeders. But these little chipmunks (Tamias striatus) are (or anyway pretend to be) illiterate and they love to eat it. I’d just parked in front of the house and this one was eyeballing the feeders, probably making sure our neighbor’s cat wasn’t skulking around: 

Chipmunk doing surveillance on our bird feeders

There are a lot, lot, lot of butterflies around this time of year. I saw this pair (and a whole lot more) of Silvery Checkerspots (Chlosyne nycteis) when Turner and I were hiking at Pony Pasture this morning: 

Silvery checkerspots at the river this morning

Also speaking of butterflies (indirectly), we have Monarch Butterfly caterpillars in our front and backyard garden. Monarch butterflies begin their lives as eggs; I didn’t see the eggs this year. Caterpillar (shown here) is the second stage of their life cycle. If they’re lucky (and if we’re lucky) they’ll form a pupa (chrysalis). A few formed on our front bushes last October. Some of them didn’t develop past that stage – nothing came out of the chrysalis. But a few reached the final stage and we “fledged” at least a couple of butterflies, the fourth and final stage. I hope we end up in a few weeks with actual butterflies, but at the moment we have caterpillars. They’re pretty!: 

Monarch butterfly caterpillar devouring our front milkweed

Evelyn and I visited the Uptown Community Garden at 2201 Parkwood Avenue last weekend. It backs up to the Downtown Expressway between Addison Street and Shields Avenue. The sign says “No Pesticides or Herbicides Allowed” and there are butterflies (and flowers and vegetables) everywhere. We don’t use pesticides or herbicides either, but we don’t have quite their population of butterflies. Here is a Monarch we saw there: 

Stunning Monarch butterfly at Richmond Community Garden

We saw a Black Swallowtail a few plants over the same day. I have tentatively identified this as a male; I am open to correction if someone points it out. Whichever gender it is, this is a nice looking insect: 

Black Swallowtail a few flowers away from that Monarch at Richmond Community Garden

I’ll close with one more flying creature, though considerably larger and less colorful than the last two. This is a Great Egret (Ardea alba) and it is no less attractive. It’s graceful in a manner that (IMO) is difficult for insects to achieve: 

Great egret

I changed my mind about closing! I will instead close with another magnificent hibiscus that Ev has growing in our backyard. True story – I have the most enormous iPhone ever manufactured by Apple, but it does not begin to cover one of these blooms. They are just enormous. I hope to put up another blog post next week. Meanwhile, enjoy this one! All best, 

Jay 

Cartoonishly huge and bright hibiscus in our backyard
Posted in Fowler's toad, green heron, opossum, Rivers, skink | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Dust bath at the borrow pit

18 July, 2021 Dust bath at the borrow pit

I often hike at Three Lakes Park in Henrico County, near where interstate 95 North intersects 295. It’s east of 95 and slightly south of 295. It’s roughly 1.5 miles east of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. The biggest lake (#1) is 7 acres and #3 is 5 acres. #2 is the nature center lake and is closed to fishing. It appears to be 4 or 5 acres. 

I read that “The three lakes are actually old borrow pits dug during the construction of I-64.” I didn’t know what a “borrow pit” was so I googled it. I read that “A borrow pit is a term used in construction for a hole, pit or excavation that has been dug for the purposes of removing gravel, clay and sand used in a construction project such as when building an overpass or embankment.” Fascinating. I don’t learn something new every day, but pretty often. 

The temperature Thursday (when I visited the park with a friend) topped out at 94º and the humidity was approximately sweltering. My buddy and I sat down for a break in a shaded picnic shelter. A small bird popped out of the woods and perched on a branch ten feet away. I didn’t know right away what it was but I knew it wasn’t a “regular” so I snapped this picture. It’s an Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe): 

Phoebe on a branch:

I was grateful for that image; that’s a very pretty picture. That’s one of the little treats about being a photographer. You can be hot and sweaty and uncomfortable, and as soon as a picture like that appears, all your discomfort vanishes as if it never existed. I knew I’d gotten a good image too, so my discomfort stayed vanished for a while. Anyway, I’d barely taken my finger off the shutter button – my camera says I took both pictures in the same minute – when the phoebe hopped off the branch and started taking a dust bath! 

Same phoebe after it hopped off the branch to take a dust bath

A website called The Spruce says that “Dust baths, also called dusting, dirt baths, or sand bathing, are part of a bird’s preening and plumage maintenance that keeps feathers in top condition.” That was a fun little sequence to watch.  

Evelyn’s flowers evolve each week to grace our yard throughout the season – even when it’s hot. This is one of the many hibiscus following the sun around each morning. They’re enormous; I couldn’t resist adding a quarter for scale:

Massive Hibiscus with a quarter for scale.

Wednesday was Bastille Day, similar to our Fourth of July. The Red-tail gazed down on it all from the cell phone tower at the Westbury Apothecary: 

Bastille Day Red-tailed hawk at the Westbury Apothecary

The same day I saw the phoebe at Three Lakes Park I saw a Great Blue Heron stalking along the third lake: 

Great Blue Heron stalking the middle lake at Three Lakes Park

Evelyn and I drove out to RAY’S ITALIAN WATER ICE & FROZEN CUSTARD. This is a true story – we got ice cream with rainbow sprinkles – and looked up in the sky and saw this: 

Rainbow at Ray’s Italian Water Ice:

I said to myself/thought to myself “OMG!” – and had to snap this picture before it melted (and before I ate any more): 

Which came first – the rainbow or the rainbow sprinkles?

I’ll close another blog post with Dash. He was snoozing on the living room windowsill yesterday morning around 10:00. Notice my sunflower slowly growing behind him. I put that seed in the ground on April 21. It’s ~6.5’ tall as I type these words. It’s not bursting with good health, but it may get another foot or two (or more) taller. It’s a fun experiment. Always a great day to take a picture of Dash! 

Dash turning sunlight into a nap while the sunflower turns it into leaves

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

Jay

Posted in Birds, cats, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, love, People, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sushi before it’s sushi

11 July, 2021 Sushi before it’s sushi   

Sushi before it’s sushi

I was at Deep Run recently and this hungry Great Blue Heron snagged a large fish. The heron was juggling it around trying to get it down its throat. This may be a catfish. I used to catch them years ago. They have sharp, stiff bony spikes they can extend just in front of their gills. I now see the survival value of those spikes. I didn’t stay around long enough to see if the heron swallowed the fish, but I’m sure it did. 

Switching from wild birds and fish to domestic flowers, these are a few of the roses Evelyn nurtures in our yard. I think of this line often but only learned (Sunday afternoon around 4:15) its origin. A poet named John Keats wrote a poem in 1818 called Endymion. The first line is “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever”: 

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever” – John Keats

I’ve been at this house more than fifteen years; those roses were old when I moved in. Thank goodness Evelyn keeps them up! There were no zinnias when I arrived – I didn’t even know what a zinnia was. True story – I just got up from my computer and walked in the other room to ask Evelyn what kind of flowers they are. These are a combination of the miracle of photosynthesis and Evelyn’s miraculous ability to brighten our yard: 

One of Evelyn’s myriad zinnias. That color would have made my dad swoon.

I laid out an outline for this post before I wrote it, but it’s rearranging itself on the fly. This  sunset isn’t precisely zinnia colored, but you can see why I thought of it while I looked at zinnia pictures. This is from the parking lot of Kroger on Ridge Road! I normally refer to these sunsets (you can take this picture any evening there’s not a solid overcast) unimaginatively as “Kroger sunsets.” Now I need to call them the much more pleasant  “zinnia sunsets”: 

“Kroger” or “zinnia” sunset. This would have made both my parents swoon.

Okay – let me get a few more animals in here. I swam earlier this week and when I went back to my car (Tuckahoe YMCA, 9211 Patterson Ave., Henrico, VA 23229) this rabbit was casually nibbling clover. It wasn’t sweltering that day – good for relaxing in the grass while dining:

Cottontail rabbit at the Tuckahoe YMCA

Speaking of the YMCA. I recently (within the past thirty days) became aware of a book called A Sporting Chance: How Paralympics Founder Ludwig Guttmann Saved Lives with Sports by Lori Alexander. It is inconceivable how I’ve experienced my decades of life, education and career and never heard the name “Ludwig Guttman” until this month. It’s sort of a teenage/young adult book, but it’s terrific. I learned a lot! Here’s a picture of the cover: 

“A Sporting Chance” by Lori Alexander

Ms. Alexander opened the book with a quotation that resonated with me: “Anyone who lives a sedentary life and does not exercise… even if he eats good foods and takes care of himself according to proper medical principles – all his days will be painful ones and his strength will wane. – Maimonides, Jewish philosopher and physician (1135 – 1204)

I still can’t get over the fact that I’ve never heard of Ludwig Guttman. These sorts of digressions turn short blog posts into long ones. I’d heard of Maimonides before, but could have told you precisely zero about him. The digressions get long because I start reading up on new subjects. But I learn a lot. I skimmed the wikipedia entry about Maimonides. As much as I enjoyed the quotation in the book, I found one I enjoyed as much or more. I think astrology is a scam. There’s a section in his wikipedia entry called “Skepticism of astrology.” A man asked him about astrology and Maimonides responded (according to wikipedia) “…that man should believe only what can be supported either by rational proof, by the evidence of the senses, or by trustworthy authority. He affirms that he had studied astrology, and that it does not deserve to be described as a science. He ridicules the concept that the fate of a man could be dependent upon the constellations; he argues that such a theory would rob life of purpose, and would make man a slave of destiny.” Brilliant. No wonder I liked him. 

I haven’t put a Redtail on my blog recently. This one was on the cell phone tower next to the Westbury Apothecary: 

Red (tail), White (cloud) and Blue (sky)

One more animal, then some flowers. I hiked a Pony Pasture yesterday (left Mackey and Turner at home 😦 ) but I did glimpse a handful of deer. It’s dark in there (and shady and cool) with the trees all leafed out so it’s hard (for me) to get good pictures. But this fawn’s mother crossed the path in front of me. I got my camera up and my lens cap off in time to photograph this youngster. I learned that these spots stay visible until they’re around three or four months old. They’re born in Spring so (from what I read) they lose their spots around October. Learn something new every day, or hopefully anyway.                                            

Fawn following its mother at Pony Pasture this week

Rose of Sharon grows in our yard and in our area. It’s invasive; they don’t belong in central Virginia. Many of these invasive plants were originally introduced for their showy blooms and easy cultivation. Rose of Sharon is a type of hibiscus and it’s possible we could root it out and replace it with a native hibiscus. But all home landscapers have priority lists, and replacing this doesn’t rank very high. This year (yesterday!) was the first time I’ve ever photographed a quad bloom on a Rose of Sharon: 

Rose of Sharon – a pretty invasive

Our birds – probably encouraged by our chipmunks – planted this cheerful sunflower directly under our front bird feeder. These are short – it’s not even as tall as my waist. I’m growing one on the other side of the front walk that is already at eye level on me. It may get up as high as the gutter on our house. But it doesn’t yet have (possibly never will) a bloom. It’s my first sunflower experiment. We’ll see how it goes. Hopefully I’ll be as successful as our birds:

It’s difficult to look at this and not smile

 Okay, once again, let me assure you I am not making this up. So I’m editing that picture – which I took on the Fourth of July – and I look out my window, grab my camera and snap this picture:

Goldfinch eating a seed from a sunflower it might have planted

Okay, I’m not even kidding. There’s a very high percentage chance that sunflower was “planted” by a bird – possibly a goldfinch, possibly this goldfinch. And now the goldfinch is here, eating the seeds! Maybe this is how human beings got the idea for agriculture! Things are suddenly becoming clear.

Earlier this week I was visiting a friend who lives nearby. The lawns and the trees are larger in their neighborhood. But I was still surprised as I raised my hand to knock on their door to look to my left and see this creature scoping out their bird feeder: 

Fox looking at me while I look at it. Bird feeder is between us. Took this with my phone.

This is what I get for skipping my blog post last week – I have “too many” pictures, although that’s not a real thing. But I was hiking at Bryan Park two weeks ago and saw these two  Purple Martins on one of the three houses: 

I think the one on the left is the purple martin equivalent of a hungry teenager

I have a picture of Dash that I describe in my notes as “Too cute not to use.” You may or may not concur: 

Dash squeezed himself into a cardboard box that held 4 bags of Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Organic Oatmeal

No use overdoing it by a little bit – I might as well overdo it by a lot. I see squirrels ~365 days a year. But I almost never see them doing this. This one was sunning itself at Deep Run: 

I thought I’d disturbed its rest. Until it turned around to get “done” on the other side.

Evelyn and I were commenting over breakfast – again, not making this up – that we hadn’t seen many butterflies this year. I was typing this blog post (daydreaming while I typed) and looked out my office window and saw this:

First monarch I’ve seen on our property in 2021

What a perfect way to wrap up a blog post that really needs wrapping up!

Have an excellent week! 

All best, 

Jay

Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, cats, Dogs, Emerson, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, Insects, James River, koans, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels, sunsets, thoreau, walden, whitetail deer, Wildlife Book Club | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A calming reminder”

27 June, 2021 “A calming reminder”

“The lives of many animals are constrained by the schemes of men, but the determination in these lives, their traditional pattern of movement, are a calming reminder of a more fundamental order.” – Barry Lopez – as quoted in Karsten Heuer’s Walking the Big Wild: From Yellowstone to the Yukon on the Grizzly Bear’s Trail 

Woodland Box Turtle crossing the trail at Pony Pasture this morning

I photographed that shiny Woodland Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) just after a brief early summer rain at Pony Pasture this morning. I never saw its eyes but it was healthy and energetic and I put it on the other side of the trail (in the direction it was facing) and it scuttled off into the undergrowth. 

Fern in the sun

Ferns often hide in the shade but this one had its “moment in the sun” when I was passing this week and I caught that  snapshot. 

I was in the same patch of woods a few moments later when this lovely butterfly drifted past and settled obligingly on a nearby leaf. Is it “cheating” to use Google Lens to identify butterflies? “Cheating” is a strong word. According to Google Lens, this is a “Red-spotted Purple” (Limenitis arthemis), sometimes a.ka. “White admiral”: 

Red-spotted purple butterfly

Mackey’s old bones protest when we go for long walks, so I let him stay here in the A/C  while Turner and I went to the river. Even the protests of Mackey’s old bones are “a calming reminder of a more fundamental order,” although a reminder I admit I am not fond of. But it is what it is. Here are Mackey and Turner enjoying the A/C and one another’s company in my office a few minutes ago: 

Mackey and Turner holding things down at the office just now

When it comes to a “calming reminder of a more fundamental order,” you can’t improve on a flowing river. That river’s been doing the same thing the same way since before the great-grandparents of anyone you’ve ever known were born, and it’ll keep doing it when no one will remember any of us. That is calming for me. If Turner thinks about any of this meaningless drivel while we’re hiking (or any other time), he doesn’t dwell on it. He was just happy to be there. So was I! 

Turner is nobody’s idea of a “calming reminder,” but the river is

I just realized I had a slightly (only slightly) more vigorous picture of Mackey. He’s on his bed (he likes it there) but he’s more engaged:

“Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” as our mother was fond of saying

Turner and I saw a skink near the water’s edge this morning. The tails on five-lined skinks are selected by evolution to detach if a predator grabs it. The rest of the skink goes on its merry way, ideally to pass its genes on to more skinks with detachable tails. This one lost its tail somewhere along the line: 

A skink that lost its tail but escaped with its life

I went on the back porch a few minutes ago (it’s Sunday afternoon) to ask Evelyn a question and she said there was a bunny in the backyard. I took a few shots trying to get (as always) that one that was just right. The search continues. But if you look closely you can see the clover in its mouth: 

Cottontail rabbit with a mouthful of clover

Speaking of brown mammals – not Turner and not that rabbit – Turner and I spent some quality time near this big doe at the river this morning. She knew we were there but kept grazing on the side of the trail. The deer in the park are wise to the ways of hikers and dogs. They’re probably wise to the ways of coyotes too, or the ones passing along their genes are. If you look closely you can see her left front leg is raised; she’s either moving or preparing to move. But she was calm and deliberate the entire time we were in the vicinity: 

Deer about to cross the trail at Pony Pasture this morning

There is irony in the fact that my last blog post was called Two weeks is too long – and that was three weeks ago! I’ve gotten a few pictures I enjoyed during that three week period. I parked my car under a Red-tailed hawk a few weeks ago. I opened my sunroof and took this picture: 

Red-tailed hawk on a branch just above my sunroof

I was hiking in another local park sometime in the past three weeks and there were lots of bluebirds fledging. Here’s a youngster blending into the bark on a hickory tree: 

Recently fledged bluebird clinging to hickory bark

Also, here’s another bird that’s blue – but it’s a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias): 

Great blue heron wading (and waiting) for its breakfast

I think I’m going to wrap it up for this day and this week and this month. I also think I’m going to put up a blog post next week. We’ll see. A week from today is July 4th, Independence Day 2021. I’m not a “theme” person, but a good theme for Fourth of July 2021 is “Remember the ‘U’ in ‘USA’.” 

Wait! This just in! Equal time for Dash. He just jumped up on the back of the chair. Dash is 17 and he’s skinny and when the A/C is on, all the cold air drops to the floor. So Dash likes to “be above it all”:

Dash watching the world

Have a great week! And a great Fourth! All best, 

Jay 

Posted in Birds, box turtle, broad-headed skink, cats, Dogs, Emerson, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, Insects, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, skink, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), thoreau, Turtles, walden, whitetail deer, Wildlife Book Club, Wildlife Center of Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Two weeks is too long

6 June, 2021 Two weeks is too long

A few pictures. Mackey’s not strong enough to walk at the river these days, so I’m not down there as often. I went with my old friend Luna this morning though: 

Luna enjoying her Sunday morning stroll. So was I!

Most of our magnolia flowers are faded now – they’re quick – but I took this one next to our driveway two weeks ago: 

Lovely magnolia next to our driveway

Dragonfly from the last day of May: 

Dragonfly with lunch

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) put on a “virtual 5k” called the Run for the Wild last weekend (5/28-5/30). I did a 5k in Pony Pasture. It was dry when I started out and I posted this picture at 8:00 AM: 

Run for the Wild – 8:00 AM

It was still not raining twenty minutes later when I passed this small buck with his small harem. Nice way to be greeted on a “run for the wild”: 

Small buck watching me on my “Run for the Wild” last week

This was the excellent medallion for the Run for the Wild. Each one is different! It’s so beautiful and it smells like fresh cut wood – one of my favorite smells:

Perfect finisher’s medallion for the Run for the Wild 5k, 2021:

I hadn’t seen a white squirrel in some time but I glimpsed one this week: 

White squirrel at Deep Run

Hard to believe it today, but just two weeks ago it got cold enough for us to need a fire. Dash thinks we always need a fire: 

Hard to believe we could go from this to today’s weather in 2 weeks. But there it is.

Possibly next week I’ll blog more. I hope to see you then! 

All best, 

Jay 

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