Slim Pickens

28 January, 2018            Slim Pickens

Change of pace (remember, pickings are slim this week). I was looking for something else and found this picture from March of 2009 at Pony Pasture. It’s a long time from now to March:

Roux in the background, Ivory in the center, Mackey in the foreground, Pony Pasture, March, 2009

It was only a matter of time (almost seven years) before I had such a dull week I chose to fall back on that title. Possibly everyone who reads this blog understands that title but it’s a reference to the “slim pickings” I had to choose from this week. But I spelled it as the name of the late “rodeo performer and film and television actor” Slim Pickens, born Louis Burton Lindley Jr. (thanks Wikipedia) in 1919, died 1983. That link is to his obituary in the NYT; he was a character. I first saw him in Blazing Saddles with my Dad and maybe Katie; I suspect it was my first “R” rated movie. It was 1974 so I was thirteen. Here’s an excerpt  from that review: “What I found amazing was that, in one of our better theatres, a civilised-looking audience laughed loudest and longest at a scene in which a bunch of cowboys sit around a campfire eating beans,” declared a horrified John Simon. “One after another, they raise their backsides a bit and break wind, each a bit louder than his predecessor. If this is what makes audiences happiest, all future for the cinema is gone with the wind.” “Gone with the wind” when writing about a fart joke in a movie review – you just can’t top that. So if you haven’t seen it, by all means do.

A red-tail perched on the power line across from our house Monday morning and I was able to get a raptor picture for the fourth consecutive week. This won’t end up on a magazine cover, but I’m just taking data:

4th consecutive weeks of a raptor-a-week. Red tailed hawk on power line near DS Freeman HS 

I did get another raptor picture (several other raptor pictures) this week, but notably in my opinion (IMO), I got another accipiter rather than the buteos I normally see. This is another shot that won’t end up on a magazine cover, but I’m still learning these birds. Again I’m uncertain whether this is a Cooper’s Hawk or a Sharp-shinned Hawk (those are the only two choices). And this image is inadequate (IMO) to make that determination:

I’m amazed I got another accipiter. I hope I see more.

This is a good time to follow up on last week’s accipiter image. Here it is again:

Pony Pasture accipiter

Here’s the blog post if you’d like to see it again full-sized: “I can’t complain but sometimes I still do”. I posted the picture on a Facebook page called simply “Hawk ID.” People put pictures up there all the time, but questions over the difference between a Cooper’s Hawk and a Sharp-shinned Hawk are constant. One frustrated wildlife rehabilitator once commented that she had held them in her hand and still couldn’t tell the difference. There were several comments about this picture and the consensus was “immature Cooper’s Hawk.” Here are a few excerpts:

  • Blocky head, forward set eye, fine neat streaking, tubular center weighted shape and graduated tail feathers point to immature Cooper’s Hawk.
  • All the hallmarks for Cooper’s Hawk are here. Large, square-backed head, fine tear-drop breast streaking, graduated tail feathers, stout legs & toes, in juv. Plumage.
  • A first winter bird by the breast coloration, the graduated tail feathers and the blocky head with a natural slope to beak make this a Coopers Hawk. Judging by size is not a reliable way to determine gender.

Some have asked about the progress of my flying lessons, but unfortunately my lessons have gone as far as they’ll go. I flew a total of twenty hours with an instructor including seventy landings and was getting close to soloing when I got the response from the FAA for my medical evaluation, viz:

FAA’s final decision on my pilot’s license:

It’s a result of long-term restrictions from injuries sustained in my 1988 accident. The injuries didn’t prevent me from finishing my BS and MS at VCU and they didn’t prevent me from eleven Ironman finishes. But they do prevent me from scuba diving – I learned that decades ago but scuba was never a thing for me. And now I learn they prevent me from earning a pilot’s license. It’s a First World Problem – my sister suggested I instead focus my energy on a solo trans-Atlantic sailing trip. And my brother suggested hiring his daughter as a sailing instructor, since she has more experience than I do and “accepts payment in gummy bears.” 

Speaking of my family, one of my siblings was working on family pictures this weekend and found this and posted it on Facebook. I suspect this is from 1970, give or take a year:

We’re still close! All these decades later! It is a good fortune beyond compare.

I have more good luck in my life than any one person really deserves, but being part of that family is worth more than the rest of it combined.  

Mourning dove in my front yard Wednesday:

Front yard mourning dove in January:

I’m on another Facebook page called “Nature Lovers of Virginia.” A person named Michael  posted a picture of a bluebird and wrote “Bluebirds never fail to make me feel happy–there is just something about their attitude and their colors.” I know just what he means – I never feel blue when I look at a bluebird. I saw dozens at Pony Pasture this week but could never make the light work for a good image. This one perched on one of my feeders yesterday morning:

“Bluebirds never fail to make me feel happy” – commenter on a “Nature Lovers of Virginia” Facebook page

I was never able to photograph a large bunch together, but mallards are flocking up in broad shallow spots around Pony Pasture. It’s easy to stand in one place and see thirty mallards at once. They’re normally “dabbling” in the shallows then and it’s not often  sunny. As an aside, if you’re interested, the binomial name of mallards is “Anas platyrhynchos.” “Anas” is the genus and in Wikipedia it says “Anas is a genus of dabbling ducks. It includes the pintails, most teals, and the mallard and its close relatives.” This pair was calm on a midstream rock – not dabbling:

Pair of midstream mallards at Pony Pasture, captured in a non-dabbling moment

Everything is pairing off now – the raptors have been getting things ready for some time. Pileated woodpeckers too. After reading a lot, I began to notice some pre-nesting and pre-courtship behaviors in December – which I never knew was the case. The cycle lasts 365 days, and I’d always thought nesting behaviors began in Spring. It’ll be another month or two before they’re occurring at that frantic pace that makes them impossible to overlook. It won’t be long before we have the windows open and we’ll hear the “dawn chorus” every morning. But not this week!

All best,


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 accipiters, Birds, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Slim Pickens

  1. Liz Adams says:

    Sorry about the pilot’s license. Any hope of an appeal? The solo sailing sounds like a great alternative.

    • Hi Liz! And thanks for the note. The odds of a successful appeal are small but non-zero – they are negligible. The cost/benefit analysis is not favorable. But maybe the solo sailing…

      Thanks again for the note, say hi to Bill and Ruth and Sarah and have a great day,


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