Making tracks

11 October, 2015            Making tracks

Good evening! I hope your week’s been a great one. The river’s down to a reasonable level now (just dropped below five feet) but last weekend’s rain pushed it up some. It peaked at slightly over eleven feet. Whenever it drops after a flood it leaves a thin, slippery layer of silty mud, excellent for looking at animal tracks. Mackey and Turner and I were hiking on Thursday and there were plenty of tracks in the mud. We found some clear raccoon tracks (I’m relatively certain these are from a raccoon). Front paw prints, you can see the claw marks just in front of the toes:

Raccoon track in the center of the picture

Raccoon track in the center of the picture

Closeup; you can see the claws more clearly:

This is a closeup; see where its claws made holes in front of its "fingers"? Like a dog's, they're non-retractable

This is a closeup; see where its claws made holes in front of its “fingers”? Like a dog’s, they’re non-retractable

We hadn’t gone much farther when Mackey started nosing something in the tangled honeysuckle beside the trail. The river bank here was about four feet above the water level and this was about ten feet away from the edge:

Eastern Box Turtle - don't his shell markings look like raccoon tracks?

Eastern Box Turtle – don’t his shell markings look like raccoon tracks?

It’s an Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina). My friend Cris sent me a note that the Virginia Herpetological Society is collecting data about Box Turtles. I looked on their site and learned the following: “Virginia Wildlife Action Plan Rating Tier III – High Conservation Need – Extinction or extirpation is possible. Populations of these species are in decline or have declined to low levels or are in a restricted range. Management action is needed to stabilize or increase populations.

They have a form for reporting Box Turtle sightings and I filled it out for the one we saw this week. Here’s a link to the reporting form if you see a Box Turtle in Virginia: Eastern Box Turtle Reporting Form

Part of what made me think about this post was how much the markings on this turtle’s shell look like raccoon tracks. Maybe it’s just me and maybe it’s because I’d just been looking at raccoon tracks, but I think there’s certainly at least a suggestion of a raccoon-track pattern there. ymmv

I’ve said it before, as long as I continue to photograph hawks I’ll put at least one picture here. I’m still learning about them, especially about what I believe are the “local” red-tails. Monday morning I was coming down my street and a hawk flew practically over my hood! One house away from me! I stopped when it landed in the bushes. I put on my flashing lights and rolled down the window. He (I don’t really know the gender) popped out of the bush and flew about ten feet and landed on a wire. Almost at eye level. He was around fifty feet away. Or not quite. Hawks are in my experience skittish around people but I think he thought I was a parked car. So my car served as a blind. Here are two pictures of him, with the siding of my neighbor’s house in the background. Very fun:

Young Red-tail almost within sight of my house

Young Red-tail almost within sight of my house

Same terrific looking bird, zoomed in a bit

Same terrific looking bird, zoomed in a bit

I’ve been watching Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) closely since May (as I’m sure you’ve noticed) and this didn’t look quite like a Red-tail. I thought it might be a Red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus), also common in our area, but it didn’t look quite like that either. So as always I sent it to my friend Kim, a bona fide Virginia raptor expert. She said it’s a juvenile Red-tail.

I saw another one on the power line the next day. I’ve been watching them so much I’m learning some of their patterns. They sit up there facing south now most of the time, watching for an unsuspecting rabbit or chipmunk or mouse to move. Their “tell” when they’re about to take off is they hop up and turn around to face north. That’s where the prevailing breeze is coming from in nice weather and birds (and airplanes) always take off into the wind to get that extra bit of lift. This one had just turned around. Soon I’ll get a picture of one taking off. Look how red this tail is:

Look how bright that tail is! I don't see their tails very often.

Look how bright that tail is! I don’t see their eponymous tails very often.

I got a “double” on Wednesday although it’s an unlovely picture; the light is miserable and the birds are scruffy. But it’s always a treat for me to get a double. My “grail” is to get a triple – and I may be getting closer. Here’s the pair I got Wednesday:

Always happy to get two at once, even when the light is bleak

Always happy to get two at once, even when the light is bleak

This is interesting weather wise. The picture above is time-stamped on my camera at 10:00 Wednesday morning. The picture below was taken on the same tower precisely seven hours later:

I'm amazed the weather can transform so completely in just seven hours

I’m amazed the weather can transform so completely in just seven hours

I am seeing lots of Northern Flickers this week, including one on the edge of the woods while I was photographing those hawks. And I saw three at Bryan Park Thursday afternoon but I didn’t have my camera with me. I’ll get my lens on one (or more) soon, they’re attractive birds.

Speaking of attractive birds, I also photographed my first Pileated Woodpecker in some time on Thursday morning at Pony Pasture but they’re crummy pictures. One might get in front of my lens soon.

Until next 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, box turtle, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, Raccoons, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Turtles and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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