Greenspace

9 November, 2014           Greenspace

Isn’t “greenspace” a pleasant sounding word? This is the sign at the river:

Riverside Meadow Greenspace - I like all three of those words.

Riverside Meadow Greenspace – I like all three of those words.

Ethan and I tried a new hike Monday afternoon and went upstream from Pony Pasture to the Riverside Meadow Greenspace. We hit the jackpot! I saw an unusual shape slip off a mid-river rock into the water. I asked Ethan to keep his eyes peeled and a few seconds later he pointed – look what popped up!:

We saw a North American River Otter! Inside Richmond city limits!

We saw a North American River Otter! Inside Richmond city limits!

It’s a North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis laxatina)! If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you can guess how many thousands of hours I’ve spent on that riverbank with a camera. And never saw an otter before! Amazing! The above link is to a National Geographic Magazine blurb about river otters. Here’s a slightly different image:

Same otter, different angle. I'm not sure what's in its mouth or what its gender is.

Same otter, different angle. I’m not sure what’s in its mouth or what its gender is.

And here’s a link to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) page about Northern river otters.

I suppose if you’d asked me before that day if I knew that river otters were carnivores I would have said yes. But when I think of otters I also think of beavers and muskrats so I don’t automatically default to carnivore. Then I took this picture. I will never forget that an otter is a carnivore:

Look at those TEETH!

Look at those TEETH!

In other exciting (to me) wildlife photography news, I’M A PUBLISHED PHOTOGRAPHER! Thanks to Virginia Wildlife Magazine, a longtime favorite of our entire family. It’s one of the best magazine deals going – 40+ pages six times/year with NO ADS and beautiful photography and writing. It’s put out by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. I was fortunate to take this picture one cold February morning earlier this year at Pony Pasture (PS read the caption! It has my name in it!):

Carolina Wren at Pony Pasture - my first published photograph! Yay! Thank you Virginia Wildlife and VDGIF!

Carolina Wren at Pony Pasture – my first published photograph! Yay! Thank you Virginia Wildlife and VDGIF!

When Ethan and I saw the otter Monday afternoon we also saw our first buffleheads. We’ll get better pictures soon as more come south, but I’m always happy to see the first birds each autumn. We saw this bunch on November 3, that’s about their normal arrival time. Here’s an attractive female:

Female bufflehead (I think this is where Nike got the idea for their "swoosh" logo).

Female bufflehead (I think this is where Nike got the idea for their “swoosh” logo).

And a handsome male:

The males are attractive too. These guys are a bit shy. Later in the season I'll get better pictures. But buffleheads always stay out far where they can dive deep.

The males are attractive too. These guys are a bit shy. Later in the season I’ll get better pictures. But buffleheads always stay out far where they can dive deep.

Another local body of water that (as I’ve mentioned) I visit occasionally is West Creek. As I’ve also mentioned, nearly every significant source in central Virginia has Canada Geese and mallards on it year round. That is true at West Creek. But yesterday when I went out to ride there was a huge flock of other ducks. I always ride before I get distracted with photography. The flock was still there when I finished. I have no talent for estimating these things. And I couldn’t zoom out far enough to catch the entire flock in one image. But if someone told me this was three hundred ducks, I wouldn’t argue. Look closely just below the shoreline. They’re so far away they look like flakes of pepper:

They're so far away they look like flakes of pepper

They’re so far away they look like flakes of pepper

This is zoomed in slightly. You’ll notice a pair of mallards in the foreground and a few more inside the flock. If you look closely, the green heads on the males are a dead giveaway. But this flock is at least 85% Ring-necked ducks (Aythya collaris):

From this distance you can make out a bit more detail

From this distance you can make out a bit more detail

I see Ring-necks very occasionally at Pony Pasture, but I think the most I’ve ever seen at once is three. Maybe still water is better. Or they like the marsh behind West Creek. This group was really far away (for my camera) and the light was on a low angle. So regrettably the closeups are not crisp. But they’re identifiable.

 

Here is a female Ring-neck from that flock (lower left):

Ringneck female

Ring-neck female

And here is a male:

Ring-necked male

Ring-necked male

This happens to me when I’m shooting big flocks from a long distance. I’ll get home and look at the pictures and find something I didn’t know was out there. See the duck in the lower left? I have no idea. It’s not a Ring-neck and not a mallard. Any guesses are welcome:

Oddball

Oddball

I think (no promises) that this will be my last post about Osage Oranges for 2014. But I got a couple more decent images on Wednesday. From what I’ve read, farmers in the midwest used them as natural fences. They were dense and they spread easily. Plus they had these major league thorns which if you’re going to have a natural fence, why not make it natural barbed wire:

Remember the teeth on that otter? Check out the thorns on this Osage Orange bush/tree.

Remember the teeth on that otter?Get a close look at the thorns on this Osage Orange bush/tree.

And I have another unidentified insect. I took this picture on my front door Thursday evening as I was leaving to walk the dogs. I haven’t sent it to bugguide.net for identification but I believe it’s a crane fly. Maybe I’ll find out and let you know in a later post. Speaking of that – a brief digression – I posted a spider picture on my October 19, 2014 blog post “There’s an echo in here.” I did not identify it then but sent it to bugguide.net for identification. They replied swiftly that it was a “Marbled Orbweaver” (Araneus marmoreus). This is one of the coolest things about the whole internet – you can not know something, and in just a few minutes you can know it. More concisely, you can move from ignorant to educated in a few keystrokes. That is priceless. Anyway, I’m still ignorant about this one. If I make the effort to become educated, I’ll share it with you. Here is the insect:

Crane fly of some sort.

Crane fly of some sort.

I think we’re going to get a hard frost this week then it’s no more insects until spring.

I’ll close with pictures of two sparrows (perhaps finches) warming up in the sun Friday morning at the Y:

One bird warming up in the morning sun

One bird warming up in the morning sun

Another bird warming up. See the toes?

Another bird warming up. See the toes?

Perhaps you are uncurious about this. But I’m gradually moving from ignorant to educated about matters involving birds. One matter I’m learning about is that roughly half of all birds are “passerines.” Both of those birds are passerines. Passerines have special feet for perching, and you can see them in those pictures. All passerines are distinguished by their four toes. The first one – I suspect it’s analogous to our thumb – goes toward the back on a perch and the other three to the front. Woodpeckers are not passerines, neither are ducks, hawks, gulls, herons, etc. But most songbirds are.

 

It’s possible I’ve mentioned this in the past, but the reality is coming closer. I’m going to add (soon) a link at the top of this page called “ppff.” Which stands for “Pony Pasture Flora and Fauna.” Because as you’ve perhaps seen I’m amassing a nice collection of pictures from Pony Pasture. And each time I “capture” something new I learn a lot about it. The northern river otter this week is a perfect example. Osage oranges too. I’ll compile them a little at a time.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this post and I hope you come back often! Have a great week,

Jay

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.
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7 Responses to Greenspace

  1. lp says:

    Excellent Otter Action!

  2. Sally & Frank says:

    Jay, we saw the picture in Virginia Wildlife Magazine the other day. Wonderful to see your name with it! Congratulations!

    • Thanks Sally and Frank! I met a casual nature photographer like myself the other day. He said “it’s a game of percentages.” When you take a REALLY large number of pictures you can get a TINY percentage of good shots – and still get away with a couple. I lucked out with that wren!

  3. Pat says:

    I think that is a fish hanging down from the otter’s mouth. Its head is down, you can see the mouth and eye down at the bottom.

  4. Pingback: PP Fauna | NEWFAZE

  5. Pingback: Most people are nice | NEWFAZE

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