Wildlife Center of Virginia – Wildlife Book Club

2 July, 2017            Wildlife Center of Virginia – Wildlife Book Club

Much of what I see and learn at Pony Pasture (and elsewhere) is informed by books recommended by the Wildlife Center of Virginia Wildlife Book Club. I wrote a little blurb at the end of this post. After the usual few pictures.

I’ve seen (and heard) multiple raptors nearly every day this week, all over town. All Red-tails and Red-shoulders until 1:05 this afternoon when my shutter clicked for the first time on this accommodating young Barred Owl (Strix varia) at Pony Pasture:

Young and possibly not extremely wise – yet

I say “accommodating” because it stayed in more or less the same place for a whopping seventeen minutes. As mentioned above, my first shutter click was at 1:05. I ended up taking 78 pictures and the final one was at 1:22 – and the bird had only hopped around a little bit. When Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I left, the owl was still up there. I have a few pictures of it yawning. But as you can see the light wasn’t very forgiving. I suspect it had just caught something in the creek and was digesting while it waited out the early afternoon heat.

All owls are referred to as “nocturnal raptors” which means they hunt at night. I see Barred Owls in the daytime regularly – I’m not sure why. The alpha nocturnal raptor in Virginia is by far the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) but I have never seen one in daylight. For comparison purposes, the maximum wingspan for a Barred Owl is around 43” and for a Great Horned Owl it’s around 57”.

Red-tailed hawks (and Red-shoulders and Bald Eagles and Ospreys and Peregrine Falcons and Kestrels) are all diurnal raptors, meaning they hunt in the daytime. Although I’m not a raptor, I too am primarily diurnal, and it’s a lot easier to take pictures. I took this one Monday morning around 9:30 across the street from my house. I know I photograph far more Red-tailed hawks than normal, but you would be amazed at how many times you click the shutter just as a mockingbird flies into the frame:

I wonder if mockingbirds are like mosquitoes to Red-tailed hawks.

Mackey and Turner and I snuck down to Pony Pasture Tuesday morning for a brief visit and saunter. The river only ever looks spectacular; Tuesday was no different. Sometimes it’s really high and brown and looks like the chocolate river in Willy Wonka but that has (to me) its own distinct appeal.

When we were in the back of the wetlands I was surprised to see two little wildflowers (possibly weeds) sprouting beside the trail. Colors this bright are difficult to not notice:  

Gorgeous early summer flower

This is the one that really caught my eye – you can see why:

Some of these flowers are so bright it hardly looks natural:

Speaking of bright colors at Pony Pasture on Tuesday, I photographed this damselfly while we were hiking. I think it’s a Blue-fronted dancer (Argia apicalis) but I am not fully confident. Corrections are welcome and encouraged – use the comments section or email me or put it on Facebook or wherever:

Blue-fronted dancer (I think)

I’d mentioned the abundance earlier of the raptors I’ve seen and heard this week. Friday morning (June 30) I was on my way to work early and I heard a hawk scream. This was about two blocks from our house, sitting in a tree. I pulled over and rolled down the window and got this shot. It was 6:45 AM and the sun was rising and shining directly on the bird and it was almost too bright to photograph:

Young Red-tail in the early morning glare, screaming

Eleven hours later almost to the minute – at 5:45 PM – Evelyn and I were driving down the street to go out for dinner. And there was screaming coming from the same tree. Different branch, but the same tall loblolly pine. More than likely the same bird or a sibling. I pulled over and rolled the window down and took this picture:

It’s just their facial structure, but they always look like they’re frowning. Or concentrating really hard.

I believe the parents are just pushing the youngsters out of the nest now and forcing them to get their own food. And the youngsters just scream and scream and scream and scream, hoping their parents will relent. Hopefully they got their dinner. I did get mine.

Speaking of eating outdoors, you can make a meal out of blackberries in this area at this time of year. They’re everywhere. These may be black raspberries; I haven’t precisely learned the difference yet. But they taste delicious:

You really need to not-miss these. They’re like candy. And they’re all over town. 

There are still plenty left to ripen (I took this on Friday) so get out and eat some yourself!: 

Look at all those berries still to ripen! This was Friday late morning at Deep Run.

The Rose-of-Sharon in our backyard was blooming like mad last week and it’s still open; I took this picture today. Every year at this time I think of The Grapes of Wrath , John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer prize winning novel from 1939. If you’ve never read it, read it. If you read it, every time you see a Rose-of-Sharon flower, you too will think of that book. Here’s one from our yard this afternoon:

Rose of Sharon or, as they referred to the character in Grapes of Wrath, “Rosasharn.”

I’ll close with (of course) Turner (foreground), Mackey (shiny in the center) and Yuki (cooling his feet). They were waiting patiently while I photographed the owl early this afternoon:

Three handsome, patient, well-mannered boys, waiting for me to finish taking pictures

I opened up this post mentioning the Wildlife Center of Virginia’s Wildlife Book Club; I’ll close with it here. And have a great week! All best,



Wildlife Center of Virginia – Wildlife Book Club

If you’re a reader and you’re interested in learning more about wildlife in Virginia – or about wildlife in general – the Wildlife Center of Virginia hosts an online Wildlife Book Club every other month. If you click that book club link and go to the bottom of the page you’ll see a list of the nineteen books they’ve read. The next meeting (you just have to be online at a computer) is on Tuesday, August 1 at 7:00 PM. The book for August 1 is Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators. The author is William Stolzenburg. I’m just over half way through and I am deeply impressed. He’s a hard worker, a dedicated researcher and crisp, confident writer.

The Wildlife Book Club began on Tuesday, August 5, 2014 with a book called Smiling Bears: A Zookeeper Explores the Behavior and Emotional Lives of Bears by Else Poulsen. I still hadn’t learned of the book club yet, and I missed this and the next two. My first book was Winter World by Bernd Heinrich on Tuesday, February 4, 2015. I immediately became hooked on both Dr. Heinrich and the Book Club. After that meeting in early 2015 I began buying more books by Dr. Heinrich; I’ve since read ten.

The Wildlife Book Club’s recommendations are like a course in outdoor fauna and behavior. As you can imagine, it aligns closely with my personal interests. I don’t enjoy every book, but several (like the current book) have been jackpots of new authors for me. Since I don’t own a television, it’s a gift when I learn about talented and prolific authors. These books (and the Wildlife Center itself) are a constant source of illumination for the mysteries I continue to find in my jaunts on the banks of the James River in Pony Pasture. Check out a few titles for yourself – or better yet a Book Club meeting. You won’t regret it.

If you click on the Wildlife Book Club link above, you can read transcripts of several of the meetings. It’s very, very informal – just try and “listen in” some time. They encourage “lurkers” and I predict once you’ve dipped a toe in those waters, you’ll read one of the books and come back to participate.

Try it out! And 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, mockingbirds, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Wildlife Book Club, Wildlife Center of Virginia and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Wildlife Center of Virginia – Wildlife Book Club

  1. Barbara says:

    I have been enjoying watching the ospreys that have built a nest atop the tall spotlights on the George Wythe High School football/track field. S/he talks to me and my dog as we walk around the track and swirls above us until we are out of sight. I watched one bring, in a matter of minutes, a fish, a small bird and a snake to its hungry brood….

    • It’s always fascinating to watch an active raptor nest. The parents have to bring a LOT of calories into the nest to keep those broods growing. They’ll be fledging any day now I suspect. Enjoy! Have a great day (and a great 4th),


  2. Katie says:

    Our baby red-tail sits on the fence around the ring every morning and evening, and quite often during the day. Yesterday evening it was sitting there when the parent called from the hedgerow. The baby flew by stages to the tree where the parent was. Twenty minutes later it was back on its perch on the fence. I don’t believe it’s capable of meeting its nutritional requirements entirely on its own yet.

    The blue flowers may be naturalized bachelor’s buttons – I think the genus is Centaurea, but most of the local native species are not blue. The pink ones may be…pinks. There are various genera that go by this common name, but that one looks like one we have that is a Dianthus species (related to carnations). It’s not native, but not invasive here at least, and it’s lovely.

    The berries are blackberries, more ovoid than black raspberries, which are more spherical. Blackberry canes are green while black raspberry canes are bluish or whitish. Black raspberries usually ripen earlier than blackberries so they may be finished by now.

    • These baby red-tails are NOISY. I’ve read in some falconry books that red-tail training is a particularly noisy process, especially as compared to other hunting raptors. Ev agrees with you about the bachelors’s buttons – they’re certainly bright. But those pink flowers look like they have an internal power source. Thanks for the clarification re: blackberries. That was my initial guess but it was based on almost zero data. There’s something about pulling them off the stem that you can look and see the difference between blackberries and raspberries. But I don’t recall precisely what it is. Have a great day, hope to see you tomorrow for the Fourth, talk with you soon,


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