There is no full moon in February!

4 February, 2018            There is no full moon in February!

Who even knew? It can only happen in February. Talk about “learn something new every day.” Back to that in a paragraph or two. Here’s something that’s not new – today (Sunday, 4 February, 2018) is the last day of the fifth week of 2018. And I photographed hawks for the fifth consecutive week!

Red-shouldered Hawk on a wire in Bon Air (photographed through my sun roof) 

Evelyn plants nasturtiums in our yard every year. The earliest picture I can find in my blog is May. So you won’t be seeing any this month and I’m sure not next and it’s possible they’ll be out in April but unlikely. This is an out of season picture – in the sense that you can’t photograph a blooming nasturtium outdoors in central Virginia in February. This is from a blog post from May of last year called “Big Mike Biathlon.”:

Glowing orange nasturtium from our yard last May

The guideline for planting nasturtiums is you plant them on the full moon in February. I looked on my Virginia Wildlife Calendar for the date of the full moon – and there was none! So I read up on it and found this on a site called, on a post called “Lengths of lunar months in 2018”: [[…called a lunation or synodic month, it has a mean period of 29.53059 days (29 days 12 hours and 44 minutes). That’s the mean, but the true length varies throughout the year.]] So that means every month with thirty or thirty-one days has a full moon, and some even have two. Only February can go from start to finish with no full moon, and that is a rare occurrence. As I understand it (don’t bet your life on this), it happens about five times per hundred years. In addition (another fact I learned this morning), a February with no full moon is almost (but not always) preceded and followed by a month with a “blue moon” – a month that contains two full moons. January (last month) had a full moon on January 1 and a second (a “blue moon”) on January 31. That will happen again next month  – a full moon on March 1 and another on March 31.

The genesis of this post came earlier this week when I saw these on our kitchen windowsill and asked Evelyn what they were:

Nasturtium seeds on our kitchen windowsill. They look like tiny moons. Or sea monkey eggs.

I thought they were sea monkey eggs. But Evelyn said they were nasturtium seeds. Don’t they look sort of like miniature moons? I wonder if that was involved in the folk wisdom of planting on the full moon. I’m not sure when Evelyn will plant them in 2018, given the absence of a full moon in February, but I have faith I’ll be posting images of healthy nasturtium blooms before Memorial Day. Stay tuned.

Anyway, I’d gone two full days at the beginning of this week and seen not a single raptor – that is unusual for me. I still hadn’t seen one Wednesday morning, and it wasn’t until Wednesday around noon when that Red-shouldered hawk perched on a wire in a neighborhood in Bon Air. I pulled over and opened the sun roof and took that picture without getting out of the car. Or even turning it off. That broke the no-raptor stalemate for the week, and ninety minutes later I looked down a hill in Hollywood Cemetery and saw this fat female Red-tailed hawk. The image is not crisp and although it’s obvious she’s eating something bloody, I can’t make out just what:

Female Red-tail at Hollywood Cemetery. Converting some other form of life into living hawk.

I’m confident this was a female; she was massive. Here is a brief video of her eating. I was on a hill in Hollywood Cemetery, looking down toward the CSX tracks and to the north bank of the James River. Take a look at this – it’s worth watching and hearing. Fifteen seconds long: 

I spend most of my central Virginia “park” time in Pony Pasture but venture to other parks on occasion. I was in Deep Run Park in western Henrico this week. I wasn’t walking dogs in Deep Run, but I take my dogs to Pony Pasture multiple times each week. As a multi-decade multi-dog walker, I am sensitive to the way different areas approach the problem of pet waste. This is a sign at Deep Run, and it feels sensible to me:

A sensible sentiment about pet waste removal

Also at Deep Run this week – and at home, and at Pony Pasture, and everywhere else I’ve been, the flocks of American Robins (Turdus migratorius) are large and boisterous. My main reference for birds is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds and they use strong language. This is what they say about robin behavior: “Behavior – American Robins are industrious and authoritarian birds…”. “Authoritarian” is an unusual choice of words. “Industrious” is too, but less surprising. Here’s one at Deep Run Friday. You almost never see them on a feeder. In bird baths often, but not on feeders:

Robin at Deep Run on Groundhog Day. I believe it saw its shadow. Does it look authoritarian?

Shortly after lunch today I was pointing my camera out the window at a robin when it abruptly leaped off the ground and headed for a more comfortable spot. I was surprised to see it was displaced by this Red-winged blackbird: 

Marauding Red-winged blackbird. I am surprised nearly every day.

A couple more pictures before I sign off. The first is a male Downy Woodpecker from my feeder on Monday: 

Bright Downy Woodpecker clutching the bird feeder pole outside my office window

I almost closed this post and left a picture out. This isn’t brilliant but I like the angle of the bluebird’s head. I suspect it’s not being quizzical, but it gives that impression: 

They’re cute even when they don’t cock their heads like this. See the raindrops falling? 


Good for what ails me

I am a natural worrier – I always have been. I’m a calm anxious person. Politics themselves don’t make me anxious – I am a firm and faithful believer in the democratic system. I stay informed about the workings of our local, state and federal government. I am comfortable reading about it, but the shrill and strident tones I’ve heard on broadcast media are deeply unsettling for me. So I read.

At the river, the tones are never shrill and strident. Outdoors, walking my dogs in my neighborhood, no shrill or strident tones. Birds will be nesting soon, and their tones may be construed as shrill or strident, and they may even experience some anxiety, if birds have emotions. But they’re the opposite of anxiety producing for me – they’re good for the anxiety that ails me.

They’re predictable too, in the sense the river and the seasons and the moon phases are predictable. There is no end to the violence in nature. Look again at that video with the Red-tail up there. Whatever it’s eating woke up earlier that day, no doubt expecting to make it through another twenty-four hours. But the hawk didn’t kill it out of anger, or for entertainment, or because it was bored. Look again at the video; you can see the river flowing downstream, and the breeze rocking the branches on the tree. The hawk, the river, the breeze – they’re all just doing what they do. It’s good for what ails me.


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, Downy woodpecker, Flowers, Fun, James River, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, robin and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to There is no full moon in February!

  1. Patricia Abernathy says:

    I look forward to following your blog and your work. congrats on the photography and words of interest. From 84 yr old grandma / now an armchair traveler in NE Tx who has resided in Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, Utah, Colorado, California and Puerto Rico. Visited Canada, England, Scotland and Japan. and Hawaii. I have been enchanted by avian life everywhere.

    • Thank you – great to hear from you. I suspect you can see some nice birds from time to time in NE TX – the more I look the more I see. Thanks for the note and have a great day,


      • PS Avian life is good to be enchanted by. You might see the “same” birds but they’re always swirling, moving, singing, being predictably unpredictable. They’re like a kaleidoscope. Only more vivid.

  2. Peter Meiller says:

    Nice pics, Jay!

    • Thank you Peter! There is no full moon this month, but the light’s been nice all the same, and it’s enabled me to get a couple of enjoyable images. Hopefully next week will be even better! Have a great day,


  3. Sheila Wiese says:

    I’m not even comfortable reading about what is happening to our democratic system — not to mention listening to it. That said, I do both; and, it scares the absolute b’jeezus out of me.

    And, even more than making me scared, it makes me really, really sad. Sometimes I think about how Mom and Dad would have reacted to all of this. Mom was such a progressive thinker in so many ways. Dad was such a patriot. I feel a little relief that they don’t have to see this.

    • Mom’s reaction would IMO be predictable. I rarely found it surprising. I long for Dad’s perspective here. He would take the long view and (again IMO) offer the most positive (or least negative) perspective. His wisdom is one of the many qualities I miss. Whatever is happening, he wouldn’t say anything negative. I’m grateful his voice always lives in my mind. I regret that his wisdom isn’t always there, but at least I can take some consolation in his voice.

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