Thanks Kathy!

26 March, 2017            Thanks Kathy!

Barred owl – notice the blood on his beak. He must have caught a mouse or a vole.

Thanks Kathy! (Possibly Cathy or Kathi or some other spelling – it sounded like Kathy). Mackey and Turner and I had searched in vain for our first Barred Owl (Strix varia) of 2017. We turned a corner into a trail through pine woods just east of the foot bridge that crosses the creek near the river. First thing we saw halfway down the trail was a birder (they’re unmistakable) standing calmly, pointing her binoculars up at a low angle. That’s a good clue she might have been looking at a raptor. Try watching a songbird and see how long you hold your binoculars (or your eyes) still.

We walked up and said hello and she said (yay) she was watching a Barred owl. And pointed, and there this guy was, on a branch a couple of feet above head height, with a streak of blood on the side of his beak. I’m only guessing this is a male; the females are identical in appearance but slightly larger. This time of year (it’s been pointed out to me), the female is probably sitting on eggs and the male is hunting to feed them both. Some mole or vole or mouse or shrew met its maker courtesy of that owl. 

I took that picture at 11:45 AM on Thursday, March 23. 

Incidentally, with raptors, the main difference in appearance between genders is the female is around ⅓ larger. Male hawks are called “tercels” because they’re generally about  a third smaller than females. I’ve read that the size difference offers a pair of reproductive advantages. One is that the female spends more time incubating the eggs (sitting on top of them and keeping them warm and dry) so her larger size helps. I’ve also read that the difference in size allows them to hunt for a broader range of quarry. Female can catch larger, stronger, heavier animals and males can catch smaller, quicker, more agile animals. More calories are better – end of story.

Speaking of more calories, the usual small deer herd has taken up residence once again in the little patch of woods behind Charlie’s Bridge. They eat somewhere else (sometimes there) and rest in the woods in the middle of the day. I see three in there most times I pass by, but this morning I counted four, and there may have been five or six. They’re quite difficult to see. Here’s one we saw the same day Kathy showed us the Barred Owl:

Isn’t she elegant? She just looks so refined. I’m sure it’s the big eyes and graceful nose but she’s lovely. 

I took that picture (and the video in the next paragraph) at 12:15 PM the same day (half an hour later) as I took the picture of the Barred owl. 

The light was pretty and I took a half-minute video of the whole herd. The sweetest and most unique part of it was the final ten seconds; I’m certain you’ll enjoy watching this. It’s something you could go your whole life and never see; it’s worth a look. Take a look at this 10 second video of two deer grooming at Pony Pasture on Thursday, March 23, 2017 at 12:30 PM.  

This morning (Sunday, March 26, 2017) the dogs and I (five dogs and I) were arriving a Pony Pasture shortly after 9:00. Just as we arrived I looked across the river and saw a telltale shape high in an old sycamore. That’s the eastern or downstream end of Williams Island. Where I’m told there is an eagle nest. A few yards upstream from the exit of Pony Pasture there’s a small police parking lot that holds maybe five cars. I pulled into that lot, got out and took this picture at 9:15:

Eagles can’t help looking majestic.

The reason I keep mentioning times (11:45 owl, 12:15 deer, 9:15 eagle) is to dispel the myth that you have to be out at dawn or dusk to see this stuff. You don’t, especially not  now in early Spring. Between courtship and mating and egg-laying and incubating and everything else, these animals are all around, all the time. Just keep your eyes peeled!

Everything at Pony Pasture is enjoyable all the time, but another sure marker of Spring is the appearance of redbuds, one of my favorite trees. I think I walked past them a couple of times already this year – probably I was looking too hard for owls. Couldn’t see the forest for the trees, you might even say. The finally revealed themselves this morning on the side of the trail near the Wetlands; that’s where I find them every March:

Redbuds at Pony Pasture – more color unfolding

I brought a decent sized pack with me this morning; they were ready for a quick break when we got close to the golf course:

Mackey, Turner, Lola, Luna, Yuki

I’ve said time and again that the best thing about Pony Pasture in winter is “no bugs, no mud.” I enjoy most bugs though, and can hardly wait to see my first dragonfly or damselfly for 2017. The first mosquito and the first tick will be around too, but so will butterflies. The  advantages of being outdoors outweigh any disadvantages so thoroughly it’s not even a contest. This is a warm-weather only picture. Sorry I haven’t identified the insect or the flower!:

An unidentified insect on an unidentified flower. I am doubly embarrassed to say. Unspectacular image too. 

And last but by no means least, there were four or five or six deer near Charlie’s Bridge today. Here’s just one, very possibly the same beauty I photographed earlier in the week: 

She has a look, doesn’t she? An arresting gaze. Very serene for a wild animal.

I was just getting ready to put this blog post up when a bright male American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) stopped on the feeder. He has a few dull winter feathers left but soon he’ll be in his full summer glory:  

A goldfinch between seasons

Have a great week! Spend some time outdoors!

All best,



Time well spent

I appended this story to a blog post I wrote in 2013 called Every Sandwich. For some reason I thought about it this morning.

Early in the cell phone era – I’ve been hiking at Pony Pasture since before I had one – I took my phone on a hike with me. This was a generation or two of dogs ago. During the hike I called my brother and told him I was taking care of some office business while I was on my walking by the river. My brother was in a more mindful place than I was, and he immediately saw the error I’d missed.

He said “take a lot of pictures – then when you’re back at your office you can enjoy the river.”

I don’t do office business while I’m hiking any more. When I hike, I enjoy the river. When I’m at my office, I make phone calls and read and write. I take my phone with me on 100% of hikes, because it’s good to have around if you need it. But I don’t answer it and I don’t make calls. It takes voicemail. I can deal with that back at the office.



2013 – every sandwich


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 Bald eagles, Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Insects, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Thanks Kathy!

  1. Jackie says:

    Great pictures especially the owl and
    your 5 compadres!

    • Hi Jackie! Glad you enjoyed the blog post! I certainly did get lucky (thanks to Kathy; see below) when I got that owl picture. More to follow, hopefully. And ALL pictures of my 5 compadres come out well! Thanks for the note and have a great day,


  2. Kathy Carpenter says:

    It is Kathy with a K! Glad I could share the owl with you, and glad to have met you and part of your pack. Hope to see you out there again soon

    • Hi Kathy with a K! Great to hear from you! And great to meet you at the river; that was . very timely! I hope to see you there again soon as well. I got a bunch of good owl pictures down there last summer. I’ll put a link to one blog post from last summer on here. If you look at that post plus one from the week earlier and one from the week later you’ll see a few more decent owl pictures. The park was full of them last year. I hope it happens again. Here’s a link to a favorite owl blog post:

      Enjoy and have a great day, I look forward to seeing you again soon,


  3. Katie says:

    The flower looks like the imaginatively-named spring beauty, Latin name Claytonia virginica. No idea what bee species that is.

    • Thank you! Flowers are beginning to run riot in the river bottom and I expect elsewhere too. As for the bee, I should send it to – they’re a terrific ID source. Thanks again and have a great day,


  4. Pingback: Return of the guest photographer | NEWFAZE

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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