Throw it up against the wall…

18 October, 2015            Throw it up against the wall…

…and see if it sticks! Shorthand for trying something out to see if it works. That’s what I’m doing at the end of the blog this week. At the beginning of the blog, I need to warn ophidiophobes (people with an unreasonable fear of snakes) that there’s a crisp photograph of an Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis) I took this morning at Pony Pasture. I thought for a moment it was a Common Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) until I read the garter snake link above. I’ll put the picture some ways down this post and warn readers before they get to it. Remember that ophidiophobia is by definition an unreasonable fear and you can make it go away if you choose. Or keep it, it’s all about the choices.

A hundred-thirty-six whole words and nary a mention of a hawk; you must have known that wouldn’t continue. I’m learning about them at a great rate this year, and my interest is only becoming deeper. This week I photographed two at the same time on the power line tower near Freeman HS. It may have been a pair, but if I were a gambling man I’d bet that the one on the right is an adult female and the one on the left is a juvenile. Here’s a picture of two at one time: 

Two hawks on the power line tower

Two hawks on the power line tower

Here are closeups of the two. These were taken precisely ten seconds apart. You can click on the pictures and they’ll enlarge for a closer look. The one on top is on the left side of the tower and it just doesn’t look confident. Perhaps “mature” is the word I’m searching for. The focus isn’t as tight on the lower bird (on the right on the tower) but it appears more businesslike. If I were a mouse poking around in the grass down there and looked up at those two and said “OMG” I think I’d be more afraid of the one on the right. Who can say:  

It looks kind of cute, don't you think? Is it just me?

It looks kind of cute, don’t you think? Bigger eyes. Is it just me?



Slightly more businesslike and/or threatening, in my view.

Slightly more businesslike and/or threatening, in my view.















Raptors in general have become more interesting to me this year, and Red-tailed hawks and Ospreys are the two I have the most chance to observe. So I’m reading more about them and learning more about them. I’m finding more to read about Ospreys than I am about Red-tails. Although if anyone knows of any good books about Red-tails, please let me know. I’ve had six solid months now of watching and reading about the two. I can tell you beyond any doubt that ospreys are comfortable having you watch their nest, while Red-tails depart as soon as you come in view. I am having a lot of fun learning about them.  If you can watch Red-tails from your car, they’ll ignore you. Open the door and get out and they’ll leave. 

Speaking of learning about ospreys, I know where there are a few nests and I glance up at them when I’m in the area. I saw something in a nest this week. I was surprised because I thought the ospreys had left. Most ospreys from the east coast of North America overwinter in Venezuela. So I parked in one of my favorite osprey watching hideouts and zoomed in on the nest to find this:

There's a good joke about landscaping to be made here, but it escapes me just now.

There’s a good joke about landscaping to be made here, but it escapes me just now.

Presumably they’ll do some pruning when they return in the spring.

My friend Ethan and I were at Bryan Park Thursday and the ducks were splashing around. It was purely by accident that I got this photograph of a male mallard flapping his wings and a female standing on her tip toes:

Male mallard flailing around

Male mallard flailing around

Female mallard trying to look taller than she really is

Female mallard trying to look taller than she really is

[[Snake picture coming soon! Ophidiophobes, skip to the bottom of the page – there’s good reading (in my opinion) to be done there. ]]

The same day I photographed the mallards I was taking a picture of a black locust (a favorite tree of mine) when this squirrel poked its head around the corner:

Some squirrels will go to great lengths to get their pictures on the internet

Some squirrels will go to great lengths to get their pictures on the internet

Evelyn and I were hiking at Pony Pasture this morning and she stopped and pointed to the ground just a few feet ahead. It was only around 50º and there was a Garter snake crossing the path in front of us. Here is a nice picture of its head. I don’t know (yet) how to distinguish between genders of snakes. When I learn, I’ll put it here. Have a look (or don’t):

Garter snake at Pony Pasture - interesting identification explanation below

Garter snake at Pony Pasture – interesting identification explanation below

I was at first certain this was a Garter snake. Then after some searching I became more certain it was a Common Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus).  As it turns out (I learned on the web site of the Virginia Herpetological Society) it’s common to confuse the two. They’re nearly identical. Save for this great identifying feature, clearly obvious in that photograph. You can hardly tell them apart, except Garter snakes have “dark vertical lines on the margins of the supralabial scales.” Which if you look just below that snake’s eye, there are several dark vertical lines. Learning that Garter snakes have dark vertical lines on the margins of the supralabial scales is reason enough to keep a blog right there – what a treat. 

There have been frost warnings and soon the last flowers will be gone. In mid-June the sun was above the horizon for nearly fifteen hours a day here in Richmond. It’s down to around eleven hours a day now, one of the reasons we see less and less flowers. In late December and early January it will only be up for nine and a half hours. This wild rose was blazing in the garden beside our driveway when we got back from the river earlier. Soon it’ll be gone but it’s bidding a spectacular farewell:

Could be the final rose of 2015 here on Westbury Drive. If so, that's a bright and cheerful way to end the season.

Could be the final rose of 2015 here on Westbury Drive. If so, that’s a bright and cheerful way to end the season.

Enough for this week! On to my new section – we’ll see how it goes.

Until next week,


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Beginning this week and continuing intermittently in the future in this space, I’m going to post brief memoir sketches. I’m going to continue blogging in approximately this present form, just with the occasional addition of these sketches. I don’t just welcome feedback, I encourage it! Please comment on the bottom of the blog (there’s a space that says “Leave a reply”) or send me an email. I look forward to hearing from anyone! Memories of things we’ve done together or places we’ve been, I welcome it all. Plus I love to hear from people.

= = = = = = = = = = =

Have a good time

I can’t remember the most important thing that ever happened to me. I was hit by a car while riding my bicycle in 1988. I had a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) that left me in a coma for five days. That’s why I can’t remember it. I was wearing a helmet but it was broken in three pieces. The car was going 65 mph. My bike went under the car and I went into the windshield. My right arm still has a plate and screws in it. The bones in my leg severed a nerve before they broke through my skin. I still wear a brace since the nerve won’t hold my foot up. I only know all this from police and hospital reports. That’s the nature of TBI – you’ll never recall that it happened. You can’t even have a nightmare about it – it’s gone.

In the year or two that followed, my brain and body healed while my life went downhill. I had numerous surgeries and spent months in the hospital and rehab. I was twenty-six when the car hit me. I’d been married less than a year. We’d lived in our new home less than a week. I’d been at the same job for seven years. In the year after my accident, I lost all of that. Marriage gone, job gone, house gone. Fortunately I still had my large and loving family, the foundation of my “old” pre-accident life and the foundation of my new life.

Now my life is better than it was before my accident. I’ve been in a happy, stable relationship for four years. I have a home that I love. When I had my accident I was training for what was to be my third triathlon. It took about a year but I completed another one. Then another one. These were mostly short races that only took a couple of hours to complete. Then another ten races, then twenty, and this summer I completed my two hundredth. Including eleven “Iron” distance triathlons where I’ve swum 2.4 miles, ridden my bicycle 112 miles and run 26.2 miles in one day. Those long distance races take me between fourteen and sixteen hours to finish. A long day!

When I had my accident, I’d finished high school and was a college dropout. Since my accident, I’ve completed my B.S. in Psychology and my M.S. in Rehabilitation Counseling.

I’ve volunteered for eleven years and over seven hundred fifty hours doing Animal Assisted Therapy on the Pediatric unit at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Medical College of Virginia. I’ve taken a five week mid-winter driving vacation to volunteer at the Yukon Quest 1,000 mile sled dog race. I’ve taken a six week vacation to New Zealand, Australia and the West Coast of the US, including a short triathlon in Wellington, NZ. I drove to Billings, Montana in the summer of 1999 for my first internship for my Masters. Lots and lots of adventures in the decades since my accident.

I’ve recently been moved to write about it a bit more. When I actually produce something, I’ll attach it at the end of a blog entry. I’d love to have feedback! There’s a space at the bottom of this page that says “Leave a reply.” You can leave me a note there or email.

The life I’m living today is as it should be, a combination of the abilities I had going into my accident and the experiences I’ve gained as a result. In the coming weeks and months I’ll expand on that theme in this space.

Have a great week!

PS  If you’d like to see a before/after picture and brief story (the “before” picture is not pretty, consider yourself warned) you can click on the More about me link at the top of this page.


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, Flowers, Fun, garter snake, James River, ospreys, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, roses, Snakes, squirrels and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Throw it up against the wall…

  1. Gilpin Brown says:


    Thanks for letting us into your life – your ‘real’ life. My thought is that when we go through difficulties – and yours were extreme – we learn more about ourselves and, for me, more about our God and His care for us. There certainly are choices to make along the way. Choices to press on in the face of pain, obstacles, defeats AND triumphs or to give up. At may junctures it would have been easy to take the low road – give up and say ‘”Forget it! I’m done.” I am very proud of you for your determination and drive to strive for ‘a better place’. And you’re not finished – 201 is in the future and your care and work with “some of the least of these” is admirable. Press on, my friend!

    And you know how much I love your fascination with in photography over the last couple of years!


    • Hi Gilpin!
      And thanks for the note! I’ve been very fortunate for many years and I hope it will continue. You never know, but hopefully it will.

      Regarding my fascination with photography, I hope some day to equal YOUR skill as a photographer! That picture of the two deer at Pony Pasture was stunning. Keep up the great work – it inspires me to be a better photographer!

      Thanks again for the note and have a great day,


  2. Bob Parker says:

    Hello Jay,
    Another great blog post. Keep ’em coming.
    I won’t comment too much on your accident. Lee had told me a little about it but not the details you describe. You endured a terrible ordeal. What’s the saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”?
    Now to the hawks. I too am fascinated by them. What skillful hunters.
    You are probably right about the adult/juvenile issue, but I have another thought. Hawks, like most animals, usually chase away or abandon their young so they will go elsewhere to lead their lives. And, with hawks the female is rather much larger than her mate. Therefore, I’m wondering if they might be “husband and wife”.
    I see more red-shoulders than red-tails around my house and they are usually easy to ID. But, for some hair-pulling frustration try telling the difference between a Cooper’s and a Sharp-Shin. What can make it so tough is that they are nearly identical and don’t sit still for very long. I know they are around your area because Nora saw one catch a small songbird, pull it apart, and eat it in their front yard several years ago.
    Happy birding and blogging.
    Take care,

  3. Hi Bob!
    Great to hear from you, and thank you for your kind words.

    I’m glad you enjoy the hawks – there was a Red-tail (or more than one) screaming outside when I pulled into the driveway a few minutes ago. That pair I photographed last week may have been a “husband and wife” – I’m not positive. I’m also not sure if the youngsters from this year have left yet. I don’t know enough about Red-tail migration patterns. Or how quickly the adults encourage the young to hit the road. As it were.

    I’ve seen one Red-shouldered here – sitting on the gable of the house across the street – but that was last year. I’d love to see a Cooper’s or a Sharp-Shin. I’ve even seen Bald Eagles within a few minutes drive from here but they were soaring very high.

    There are also extremely active osprey nests within about 5 minutes drive from here but I think they’ve headed south for the winter. There will be Buffleheads landing on the James River near Pony Pasture in the next week or two, then we’ll know the cool weather is close at hand.

    Thanks again for the note and have a great day,


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