Swallowing my pride

11 May, 2014    Swallowing my pride


I heard an unusual racket coming from the underside of a bridge in downtown Richmond earlier this week. I looked up and there were dozens of swallows flying around dozens of mud nests. My buddy and I were watching trains downtown and we’ve been at the same spot week in and week out for years – and there’s never been a swallow or anything else nesting on that bridge. This was a treat:

A Cliff Swallow on its well-constructed mud nest

A Cliff Swallow on its well-constructed mud nest

Here are a few together:

A few birds together on a couple of nests

A few birds together on a couple of nests

I’ll get more next week. There were maybe nearly a hundred nests. Very, very exciting. When I first saw them I assumed they were Barn Swallows, since that was the only swallow I was familiar with. Barn swallows flew alongside the tractor every evening at camp during the summer. I was sure I would have noticed the white spot on the forehead though, so I was surprised to see that and looked them up. I learned that these were in fact Cliff Swallows. I may have mentioned (I hope I’ve mentioned) a bird ID site called Birds of North America. I’ve subscribed to it (it is quite reasonable) and am learning a great deal about birds. Here’s a great quote from the introduction to the section about Cliff Swallows:

Doubtless the Lord—to paraphrase Lincoln’s aphorism—must love the Cliff Swallows, else he would not have made so many of them.

William C. Dawson (1923)

And I’ve been hanging around outdoors for fifty-two years and never even heard of them. Crazy. Glad I know what to look for now. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression (the song title) When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano – those are Cliff Swallows! Also I’ll bet they kill way more mosquitoes than any backyard bug zapper. And their noise is much more pleasant. Speaking of pleasant noises. I didn’t know this – I admit my ignorance – until I wrote this post. Not even until the final edit! I just learned this – this minute. That “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” is (among other things) the name of a 1940 single by The Ink Spots. Quite fun.


Speaking of spring animals. I was hiking at PP a few mornings ago and this guy was swimming in a puddle (these guys will also eat mosquitoes):

Tadpole cruising a Pony Pasture Puddle

Tadpole cruising a Pony Pasture Puddle

Soon to be a frog. I also took the time at PP to do a fun selfie. This is from far away:

Long distance selfie

Long distance selfie

Same selfie,  zoomed in:

House of mirrors

House of mirrors

I had another birding experience recently that’s not quite as pleasant as discovering Cliff Swallows for the first time. I ride my bike at West Creek a great deal and there are two large lakes. There are herons and egrets and mallards but there is always – always – a large flock of Canada Geese. I’ve been seeing them for years – for decades now – and I often notice at least one with an unusual looking upturned wing. I finally googled it and learned it’s called “Angel wing.” I’ve read a lot of different articles about it and their hypotheses differ. But the consensus is it’s a nutrition problem of some sort. Crazy. This is a cell phone picture, I’ll get a better one with my real camera:

Canada Goose with "Angel wing." Very odd.

Canada Goose with “Angel wing.” Very odd.

I have for most of my adult life not been the world’s biggest fan of Canada Geese. But I’ve lately been reading (as I mentioned last week) Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and it’s heightened my sensitivity about a number of subjects. Canada Geese among them. Here’s a healthy young Canada Goose building up its muscles as it works against the current of the James River:

Healthy gosling getting healthier

Healthy gosling getting healthier

I’m learning (that’s my goal) as I write more regularly that sometimes the well runs dry. But it’s spring and no wells are running dry in central Virginia any time soon. I misjudged my timing and didn’t quite get to write as much on this blog entry as I’d hoped. I am, however, sticking to my “publishing” schedule and getting a blog post up for the sixth consecutive Sunday. My mom is away today – on Mother’s Day! – and so is my favorite editor, Evie. So all errors (as always) are my responsibility alone. Happy Mother’s Day, and I’ll see you next week,




PS Here’s a song for my mom, but you may enjoy it too: Mexico


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 Birds, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, People, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Swallowing my pride

  1. Clare T says:

    Great photos & writings as always! what an awesome find – the nests! i have never seen them – until now – THANK YOU JAY!

    went up to Winchester for a picnic – wished i’d had your camera & your eyes – there was lots of wildlife (mostly frogs, to my grandson’s delight) which my camera just did not do justice, but a fun filled day!

    • Hi Clare!
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Those nests were really amazing – a first for me too. You should go down there and take a look, and take a walk around Brown’s Island while you’re at it! Sounds like Winchester was fun, I love traveling anywhere in Virginia in the spring. Looking forward to seeing you at the river soon! Have a great day,


  2. Cindi says:

    Jay, I LOVE your blogs.

  3. Marion J Brown says:

    Great blog! I am surprised that you have not been familiar with cliff swallows. I have seen them nesting in other areas of the country.

    Sand County Almanac is a wonderful read. Enjoy!

    • Hi Marion!
      I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. As far as bird watching goes, the extent of my ignorance far outweighs the extent of my knowledge. I still have many, many, many birds to become familiar with. I’ll keep watching! Have a great day,


  4. Pingback: Mexican tadpole | NEWFAZE

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s