Squirrel lovers, avert your gaze

4 March, 2018            Squirrel lovers, avert your gaze

This is a non-sequitur – but Evelyn, my faithful editor, is out of town this weekend. She normally reins in my blogging impulsivity, in addition to correcting my spelling and grammatical errors, so you may notice the absence of her influence on this blog post.

I didn’t ask her if I could use this image, so I hope she won’t mind. She sent it around 5:30 this evening – I’m guessing that’s when she took it. Evelyn grew up on Waackaack Creek in New Jersey; her mother still lives that house and her sister Jackie is not far away. Evelyn is visiting them both this weekend. I grew up in suburban Maryland inside the Beltway; it was probably about twenty feet from our house to our next-door-neighbor’s house on either side. This is the view where Evelyn grew up:

Waackaack Creek, New Jersey, a couple of hours ago. Thanks for the picture Ev!

Anyway, back to the way this blog post started out. I saw precisely one raptor this week – two if you count when her mate flew over and they took off together. Normally I see ten or more during the course of a week. I’m not sure why this week (Week 9 of 2018) was so slow for raptors.

The Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is the most visible wild mammal in central Virginia. If you live in this area and you didn’t see one today, you probably will tomorrow. They’re everywhere, all the time. Adult gray squirrels are too big and tough even for many hawks in this area, but they still make up a large part of a Red-tail’s diet. I was in my backyard Wednesday – filling my bird feeders, believe it or not – when a Red-tail flew very low over my head and landed in a sweet gum tree next to my house. The hawk was carrying a very dead gray squirrel. The picture is not shocking but neither is it pretty. Especially if you love squirrels. So I’ll put it several images down. And start with something more cheerful – a whitetail deer from this morning at Pony Pasture!

When you’re taking pictures in the woods – or anyway when I’m taking pictures in the woods – things happen that you are unaware of. Or I’m unaware of, anyway. When I first took this picture, I was sure I was only seeing one deer. They started to move later, but it wasn’t until I got home that I noticed the two deer on the right of the picture: 

A deer in the center, two more on the right

To give an idea of how close the deer let us get, have a look at this brief video. I point the camera at the dogs then move it around to the deer. They watch the dogs (and me) but they don’t waste valuable energy running away: 

A couple of daffodils from today – I never tire of them: 

Daffodils still glowing beside the trail at Pony Pasture this morning

Possibly they were out earlier and I missed them, but this morning was my first look at Redbud buds at Pony Pasture. They’re a beautiful, bright, brief-tenured harbinger of Spring – they’ve been a favorite for decades. I used to hike and camp on the Appalachian Trail every Spring with Nicky and Ivory (my first dogs) and Redbuds continue to remind me of the inevitability and incipience of the new season. Take a look – they’ll be developing in the coming weeks:

First redbuds of 2018

Another pleasant picture or two then the Red tail with the unfortunate squirrel. So if that’s not your thing, avert your gaze. Or skip the rest of this blog post and come back in seven days. Here’s a Carolina Wren at my house this morning when the dogs and I got back from the river:

Carolina Wren on my fencepost

Here’s a Downy Woodpecker from Pony Pasture yesterday:

Male Downy woodpecker, well-camouflaged, center of the image

OK – a Red-tail with a dead squirrel. This is a female Red-tail; her much smaller mate flew in just after I put my lens cap on. I don’t know if she killed the squirrel or not. If a squirrel gets hit by a car, a hungry Red-tail won’t pass it up. If you look closely at the end of the squirrel’s tail, you can see missing hair. It could have lost the hairs in a fight with that hawk, or when it got hit by a car, or it could be old age. However the hawk caught it, the squirrel’s flesh has now become hawk flesh:

Very alive Red-tail with a very dead squirrel:

The Spring free-for-all is building in earnest, and yesterday there were starlings on my feeder – no surprise. But a female Red-bellied Woodpecker showed up too, and she drove some starlings off – there is no doubt that is precisely what was happening. I wish the light was better, but she was making gestures like this (and gestures that appeared to be more aggressive) toward the starlings and they moved out of the way:

Doesn’t that look aggressive? I think it is.

These guys (and girls) are favorites of hawks too, and they don’t put up as much of a fight. It’s an Eastern Chipmunk. Notice its puffed up cheeks? One of their survival strategies is to fill their cheeks with food then go underground to eat it. Spend less time attracting the attention of hungry predators. They love fallen bird seed:

Chipmunk with its cheeks stuffed with bird seed

I’m going to wrap it up for this week – next week my editor will be home and you can expect a better blog post. But it won’t begin with a beautiful picture of her backyard in New Jersey! Have a great week,


Oops – got a passable picture of a female Pileated woodpecker at the river this morning. Have a look: 

Female Pileated Woodpecker at Pony Pasture this morning


Trust the process

Subtitle – everything is ephemeral

Please in advance pardon my stream of armchair philosophizing. I’m watching the boldest part of the new season begin, and the predictability of it balances my habitual uncertainty about the future.

“Let go, let God” is a bromide I do not subscribe too – I know I have to take action to affect certain outcomes. But at least for the half-century plus I’ve been on this planet, Spring has followed Winter. It hasn’t failed yet, and I suspect it won’t. The flowers open every Spring – it’s already begun. Soon there will be pollen – there will be lots of pollen. It makes my eyes red and my nose itch, but it’s not intolerable. I know some people react more than I do. Some people react less than I do. I don’t love flowers less because there’s pollen.

Trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) will appear at Pony Pasture before long. They’re referred to as an “ephemeral” which, at least in the case of plants, means “short-lived or lasting for a brief time.” Brevity is, of course, relative. Redwood trees would refer to humans as “ephemeral.” The Blue Ridge Mountains would refer Redwood trees as “ephemeral.” There are plenty of bacteria and tiny organisms that even Trout lilies would refer to as “ephemeral” – it’s all relative.

It won’t be long – a month or six weeks – before you’ll see baby mallards and baby Canada Geese. At Pony Pasture, a lucky few people will see young deer – they’ll be appearing soon. There will be baby owls, hawks, chipmunks, squirrels, frogs, fish, salamanders, bluebirds, rabbits, new life everywhere. 

Buffleheads are here now, but not for long. They’ll head north soon. Never fear – they’ll be back in October. I’ve heard there are ospreys down the river, in downtown. Soon they’ll appear on this upper part of the river. They typically arrive for the summer at the same time the Buffleheads depart. They swap again in the Fall.

I saw Juncos on the ground below my feeders today. They’re often referred to as “snowbirds” and keep a similar schedule to the buffleheads.

Tuning into these rhythms provides me comfort and calm in every season, in every view of the river. The sun set awhile before I typed this, but it’s going to rise about 6:30 tomorrow morning – I trust the process.



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, Carolina wren, daffodils, Dogs, Downy woodpecker, Flowers, Fun, James River, Pileated Woodpecker, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Squirrel lovers, avert your gaze

  1. Katherine Louthan says:

    I didn’t know we had trout lilies in the PP! Generally, where are they? What a great to be able to see them!!!
    That red tail ROCKS!!! Yeah, get ’em! There’s a bunch of squirrels in my yard if you’d like a buffet.

  2. Hi Katherine! Great to hear from you. The trout lilies I see at Pony Pasture are usually along the creek that runs under Charlie’s Bridge. They won’t show up until the last week in March or the first week in April. There are some back in the Wetlands too.

    I’m glad you liked the Red-tail – that was a lucky shot. Lucky for me and the Red-tail, for the squirrel not so much.

    This is my first blog post from April of last year, then 2016 then 2015. Always that first post in April is the one that has trout lilies:
    April, 2017: https://newfaze.org/2017/04/02/return-of-the-guest-photographer/
    April, 2016: https://newfaze.org/2016/04/03/a-few-thousand-words/
    April, 2015: https://newfaze.org/2015/04/05/the-most-beautiful-place-on-earth/

    Enjoy the Spring, have a great day, look over some old blog posts if you’re interested – there are over 300 of them, usually with ~10 pictures apiece, going back to 2011. Have a great day,


  3. Jackie says:

    The first photo is gorgeous! Great capture by hawk and you.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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