I have eyes but I do not see

17 May, 2015                  I have eyes but I do not see

I was a few steps from the parking lot at Pony Pasture Tuesday morning (May 12) when I looked at the ground and it was covered with these: 

Almost (but not quite) ripe mulberries on the trail at Pony Pasture

Almost (but not quite) ripe mulberries on the trail at Pony Pasture

They’re mulberries. I’ve had six plus months of “keen observation” of “every living thing” at Pony Pasture. I’ve walked past that 4” thick tree a hundred times – minimum – and never knew it was there. And I’m looking for stuff! That’s pretty weak. How much other stuff is there? Stuff that’s right in front of me and I still don’t even know it’s there? Crazy. Tons, I’m sure. It’s a process.

Those little fruits come from a mulberry tree (Morus rubra). The ones in the picture  are not quite ripe – they’re more of a dark purple when they’re ripe. I found some ripe ones and brushed them off and ate them. They’re delicious. Like blackberries only sweeter. I cannot believe I didn’t know that tree was there. All this time.

I was fortunate later the same day to look across a wide field (at Pony Pasture, of course) and see what I thought was a hawk sitting on a branch. When I zoomed in with my camera I saw it was a deer’s head! Look how pretty:

Whitetail deer at Pony Pasture. The dogs were right beside me!

Whitetail deer at Pony Pasture. The dogs were right beside me!

I sent that picture to my sister Katie in Maryland. She spends a lot of time outdoors, and a lot of time with hoofed mammals. In her case, horses. She looked at the picture and replied, “I see your deer have their summer coats. Ours are holding onto the winter coat very late this year.”

I thought the deer’s face looked slender, but I didn’t think about coat length. But compare its coat to this deer I photographed in February:

Much shaggier look with a winter coat. I took this picture at Pony Pasture in February.

Much shaggier look with a winter coat. I took this picture at Pony Pasture in February.

The difference is obvious.

Speaking of obvious differences. Toads have begun to appear at Pony Pasture. They’re not always noticeable, but after missing a tree for half a year I’m happy to see anything! I’ve gotten two; one is a decent shot and one is marginal.

I believe this is a Fowler’s Toad (Anaxyrus fowleri) but I wouldn’t bet on it:

Probably a Fowler's Toad.

Probably a Fowler’s Toad.

I don’t love this shot as much. I had a difficult time getting an angle that felt comfortable. It’s a weird fact for me – with birds or deer or snakes or toads or anything – if I get uncomfortable, whatever I’m photographing gets uncomfortable and I take poor photographs. 100% of the time. It’s a difficult variable to control. 

Anyway – I think this is an Eastern American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus):

Perhaps an American Toad. See how well camouflaged they are?

Perhaps an American Toad. See how well camouflaged they are?

I may have mentioned in the past that I write these posts at my computer in my office and I have a window 6” to the right of this monitor. The window has a bird feeder on it. Chickadees, Tufted titmice, house finches, sparrows, cardinals, nuthatches, wrens, they go back and forth all day long. About 6:30 Wednesday morning, just as I was shutting off my computer to go to work I looked up and saw this – for the first time in my life:

Rose-breasted grosbeak - what a stunning bird.

Rose-breasted grosbeak – what a stunning bird.

A Rose-breasted grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus). Incredible. All I had was my phone so the picture quality is weak. But I was happy to “get” a new bird! And a Rose-breasted grosbeak is not a bird you’re likely to mistake for something else. Not subtle! 

Here’s a picture with better photo quality. It’s my favorite picture in some time, even though I cut off a couple of millimeters of the tail. This is great light. And a stunning subject, a Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), on a wire at Bryan Park Thursday afternoon:

Barn swallow. THAT is a sharp picture. Great subject, great light, it makes it easy.

Barn swallow. That is a sharp picture. Great subject, great light, it makes it easy.

On a website called “Birds of North America” they have profiles of certain birds – not all. I was particularly fond of the quote on the Barn Swallow page:

One hardly knows what quality to admire most in . . . the Barn Swallow. All the dear associations of life at the old farm come thronging up at sight of him. You think of him somehow as part of the sacred past; yet here he is today as young and as fresh as ever, bubbling over with springtime laughter.“ William L. Dawson, 1923, The Birds of California

When we’d ride the tractor in the summer at Camp in the evenings, Barn Swallows would swirl around us catching flying insects stirred up by the wheels in the grass. Another beautiful form of natural pest control.

Speaking of birds who live off of flying insects, I took a few more Purple Martin shots at Bryan Park this week. They’re always around their houses so it’s not hard to get a lens on them. But it’s hard to get what I think of as an attractive image. But here’s a male perched on the edge of the martin house. Males are darker, a deep gun metal blue:

Male purple martin at Bryan Park

Male purple martin at Bryan Park

Females are lighter. This pretty gal is staring straight at me: 

Beautiful female purple martin at Bryan Park.  Possibly that handsome guy's mate.

Beautiful female purple martin at Bryan Park. Possibly that handsome guy’s mate.

This just in! I watch the purple martins at Bryan Park with a friend of mine named Ethan. Ethan and I have had many conversations with a man  named Adolph White, who put up all the purple martin houses. He educates us about purple martins whenever we talk with him. Here is an article from the Richmond Times Dispatch about Mr. White and the purple martins of Bryan Park:

Flyways and Byways: Purple martins in good hands at Bryan Park          

Ev and I hiked at the river yesterday and we could hear a prothonotary warbler warbling over our heads. The leaf cover is getting dense and it took us some time to locate him. Our efforts paid off; look at this handsome guy. The focus could be sharper (next time) but the color is lovely: 

Prothonotary warbler. It's so bright it looks like it takes batteries.

Prothonotary warbler. It’s so bright it looks like it takes batteries.

We had Mackey and Turner with us on that hike plus we were walking our friend’s dog Yuki. We stopped by our friend’s house to drop Yuki off on the way home. They have a shelf on the side of the house with an empty flower-pot lying sideways in it and a pair of mourning doves built a nest inside! Yesterday there was one adult and two babies (they’re called “squabs”!) inside. All three gazed peacefully at me while I snapped away. It’s easy to see why doves are a symbol for peace:

Boy that is a peaceful looking family.

Boy that is a peaceful looking family.

And finally, my first honeysuckle of 2015. Honeysuckle is invasive – it’s big time invasive – but I can’t help it. It’s my favorite photosynthetic plant. It’s exuberant. It’s graceful. It smells better than anything I know that is not a chocolate chip cookie. Anything that produces this much beauty and enjoyment with this little effort can only be a good thing: 

Fresh honeysuckle

Fresh honeysuckle

Have a great week,


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, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to I have eyes but I do not see

  1. Cappy says:

    Great post, thanks Jay!

    • Hi Cappy! Glad you enjoyed it! And sorry for the delayed reply! I hope your hike is fantastic. So far we’re having a lovely late Spring here in Richmond. Lots of hawks! And honeysuckle!

      Safe travels, much love, talk with you soon,


  2. Kevin says:

    The first non-horse tenants (or would-be tenants, as they have so far just perched on the center aisle light fixtures) in the new barn are barn swallows.

    • Hey! Thanks for the note and sorry for my foot-dragging reply! Excellent that you’ve got organic insect control. A bat box and a black snake or two would also help. And a hawk and/or an owl. Toads. Dragonflies. Great to hear you’ve got Barn Swallows though. In my research there are a lot of references to them as good luck, for what that’s worth. But they’re beautiful and give the impression of being cheerful. Enjoy! Take it easy and thanks for the note,


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