Breakfast at Pony Pasture (this post has some very cool pictures)

19 December, 2012    Breakfast at Pony Pasture

This week I watched a bald eagle eat a catfish for breakfast at Pony Pasture.

It was a beautiful morning to start. They’re all nice in their way, but Tuesday was extra stunning:


On a morning like this, anything is possible

The light was good and the air was nice (see above) and this heron was drying its wings when I got on the river:


Great Blue Heron drying its wings. See the seagull to the left?

There are enormous flocks of buffleheads on the water now. This is just a tiny slice of a flock:

Big flock of buffleheads

Big flock of buffleheads

But I was wandering along and looked across the river and saw an eagle hovering about ten feet above the water. It was an adult (you can tell by the coloring) but it wasn’t huge so I’m guessing it was a male. I was getting my camera out and as I did he plunged into the water. This was the first picture I took:


Bald eagle in the water

If you look closely in that picture you can see little splashes to the left and right. Just his head and shoulders are out of the water. I’m guessing now he had the fish in his talons.

I took this picture only six seconds later. So I guess he was coming out of the water in the first picture. See how the fish is sideways, head pointing to the right? This is all clear now, but I didn’t know precisely what I was seeing at the time. It was obviously a bald eagle – you can’t mistake them for anything – and I could see he was brawling with a good-sized fish. This was a very long way across the river:

Fresh fish

Fresh fish

I posted this picture on facebook. It’s a little blurry. But you can clearly see him holding the fish. Getting ready to eat I guess:

Eagle and fish from a different angle

Eagle and fish from a different angle

This is the final image I took. He’s finally got the catfish still enough to eat. I used to go catfishing a lot and they’re strong fish. He must have been giving that eagle fits. But eating fish is what eagles do, and he clearly had the procedure down:

Fine dining at the water's edge

Fine dining at the water’s edge

I read up a little bit about bald eagles after I saw this. By “read up” I of course googled them and went first to wikipedia and learned a great deal there. But I  also found a bald eagle specific site called “American Bald Eagle Information” at It was informative and interesting. A few geeky facts. Bald eagles are “sexually dimorphic”, which means you can tell males from females by sight. Mockingbirds and crows are not sexually dimorphic. Eagles are only sexually dimorphic by size. Females are larger. There are a lot in Florida and a lot in Alaska and most places between.

There’s a rule (bear with me, I’m at my geekiest here) that I just learned on wikipedia called “Bergmann’s Rule.” Animals get bigger as they get farther from the equator. Bald eagles in Florida are much smaller than bald eagles in Alaska. Kind of cool. Also, since they’re fish eaters and need to be near water, there are lots of them on the coasts. Virginia has three times as many bald eagles as Texas, and twice as many as California. At 1,300 or so breeding pairs, Minnesota has the most in the lower 48. But – get this – Alaska has the world’s highest number at around 17,000. Wow. Florida has about 1,100 breeding pairs and Washington state has about 850. We have 485 here in Virginia, which is still a lot, especially for the lower 48.

More than anything I’m glad I had the experience. Of actually watching a bald eagle swoop down and snatch a live fish out of the river and eat it. I was definitely in the right place at the right time. And I’m definitely glad I had my camera. Fun experience. Fun for me, anyway, and probably for the eagle – not so much for the catfish.

Have a great Christmas, I may get another post up before then but we’ll see. In any event, have a great day and I look forward to posting again soon,


= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

PS I usually think through what I write in this post-post section, but this just occurred to me. It was really, really cool to be there for this and to see it. But – it was also no big deal – anybody can go to Pony Pasture any time. Furthermore, my camera is no big deal either. It’s better than a smart phone, and it’s better than a little tiny point-and-shoot. But it’s barely better – it’s not expensive, doesn’t have replaceable lenses, I wasn’t using a tripod, nothing like that. I was just in the right place at the right time with a low to mid-price camera. Mine is a Canon PowerShot SX30 IS.

I read once that nature is one of those things where you “must be present to win.” Or, as Woody Allen put it, “80% of success is showing up.” If you’re outside a lot and have a camera you’ll see stuff like this. But I do know I was extra lucky. I hope you enjoyed it!

About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
This entry was posted in Fun, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!). Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Breakfast at Pony Pasture (this post has some very cool pictures)

  1. Jenny Marwitz says:

    Incredible pics! Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Hi Jenny!
      I’m glad you enjoyed the pictures. What an opportunity that was! I was just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Hard to believe that was in the city limits of Richmond, VA! Amazing. Thanks for the note and have a great day,


  2. David Myers says:

    That was nice Jay, thanks for sharing. Hope you and your family have a nice Christmas.

    • Hi David,
      How’s it going? Nice to hear from you, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Really neat to have an opportunity to get pictures like that. Almost within sight of Starbucks, amazing! Thanks for the note and have a great day,


  3. Barbara Mann says:

    Jay– What wonderful pics! What an incredible experience! Wow!
    Wishing you Christmas joy and blessings!!!


    • Hi Barbara!
      I’m glad you enjoyed the pictures! It was truly an incredible experience – just a treat to watch. Not for the catfish, but I certainly enjoyed it! And thank you for your lovely Christmas card too! Have a great day and I’ll talk with you soon,


  4. Laurie Wilner Jobson says:

    jay – i loved reading your page and the pictures were super cool! it is so lucky that you were there to see that. we all need to keep our eyes open! many times i am driving and see an amazing (what I think to be amazing) picture and my camera is at home. keep yours with you and keep taking pictures- its not the camera its the eye behind the camera and the timing of the finger on the button – thats the talent.
    all my best, laurie

  5. Pingback: PP Fauna | NEWFAZE

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s