“What else is there?” – there is SO much more! 

8 December, 2019             “What else is there?” – there is SO much more! 

I always like photographing herons in trees. They look like they’re not sure how they got up there.

A couple around my age saw me take some pictures at Pony Pasture this morning. We chatted a few moments and I gave them my blog card. I told them my blog didn’t have any  politics or advertising or religion. The guy laughed a little and said only half-jokingly “what else is there?” I laughed too; those are three subjects I often feel overwhelmed with. Our chat took place moments after Mackey and Turner and I climbed off the rocks and began our hike. We saw (not necessarily in this order) an owl, a flock of seagulls, multiple bluebirds, lots of dogs, a gorgeous blue river, a deer I’m certain was pregnant, beautiful trees, a dozen or more good-natured hikers – we hiked for an hour and a half. No politics! No advertising! No religion! I found a Barred owl (Strix varia) in the same tree I’d seen it a week ago: 

Not everything makes my heart beat faster when I photograph it. But owls always do.

The heron in the top picture was perched up high in a tree. That’s one of my favorite places to photograph Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias). Herons (IMO) don’t look like they belong in trees. All herons (again, IMO) around water appear similar. They all stalk the same way, look around the same way, they wade, etc. But when they sit on a branch twenty or thirty or forty feet off the ground, they look slightly out of their element. I think they look a little bored when they’re standing in the water. But when they’re up in trees they’re paying more attention. I think. 

This deer was 100% aware Mackey and Turner and I were only a few short yards away in the woods. But this deer has seen us in the woods time and time again for years and years and she knows she’s not risking anything by staying where she is. She was chewing her cud with what appeared to be a relaxed and content look on her face. I believe there’s close to a 100% chance she’s pregnant: 

Her appearance is in every way elegant

There were Ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) and Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) on the river from the moment we arrived. Those two are constant winter residents here on the falls at Pony Pasture. They arrive in the vicinity of the first frost and will leave in March or April around the last frost. Gulls you can see around in the summer from time to time, but when those Buffleheads leave in the Spring, they are 100% truly gone. There is 0% chance you’ll see one here in the summer. So get a look now! Ring-billed gulls first: 

Ring-billed gulls on a mid-river rock

This picture is not technically proficient, but it captured something I’ve never seen in all the thousands of buffleheads I’ve photographed over the years. The female is on a rock – and I have never, ever seen that. And the male was staying with her – constantly. I’m not sure what was happening here, but I suspect she was not healthy:

Female bufflehead on rock, male bufflehead clearly being attentive toward her. I never saw either of them leave, or any other ducks come over.

Mackey and Turner and I are still getting used to hiking without Yuki. He’s real big and real white and has a strong presence, but he’s so easygoing he doesn’t really change the essential nature of the hike. He’s interested in the same things we are. We’re looking forward to seeing him again! Here’s Mackey and Turner at the river this morning: 

Mackey and Turner before the sun got on them

I was at Pony Pasture yesterday with Lola and Luna: 

Luna (left) and Lola on the riverbank yesterday morning

I almost left his out! Maybe because it’s not Christmas yet. But look at Evie’s Christmas Cactus! I took this yesterday afternoon at 3:00. I’ll get her to photograph it for next week – she’s a much better plant photographer than I am: 

Christmas cactus glowing

Plus – on the subject of “what else is there?” after politics, advertising and religion – I went flying for over six hours Thursday in a Cessna 172RG. The “RG” means “Retractable Gear.” Most Cessna 172’s have fixed landing gear; it’s always in position to take off or land. But it creates a lot of drag and slows the plane down and burns more fuel. We were going on a long trip – 284 miles each way – and the 172RG goes about 30 mph faster than a conventional 172. We flew to Lee County Airport (0VG) deep in the southwestern tip of Virginia. Here is the plane we flew. This was at Virginia Highlands Airport (KVJI): 

Our plane Thursday at Virginia Highlands Airport

Here’s the sign at Lee County airport, our incredibly far destination: 

My goal achieved!

Virginia has around thirty or forty relatively small airports, similar in size to Lee County. All of them have two runways, which really means you can take off going either direction on the same strip of runway. This airport’s runway numbers are “7/25”, which means one runway (#7) faces 70º on the compass, or just a little bit north of east. Runway 25 is the opposite of that, 180º around, facing 250º on the compass – almost directly west, but slightly south. You take off and land with the wind blowing toward you – you get more lift that way and gain altitude quicker. In this picture, we’d taken off on runway 25, starting at the far end of the runway. We lifted off and flew and climbed for a couple miles past the end of the runway. We gradually turned 180º as we continued to climb. I took this picture out of the left side as we flew back past. We were slightly over 3,000 feet when I took this picture (I took a picture of the instruments too) and climbing at about 700 feet per minute: 

Departing from Lee County Aiport

We flew over miles and miles and miles of woods. I mentioned to my instructor that there wasn’t much down there. He said “there’s coal.” I hadn’t thought of that. Presumably there’s coal under here. 6,500′ above Tazewell: 

This is what you see. No politics, no religion, no advertising

From time to time you see small communities or schools or factories or farms. We were flying between 6,000 and 8,000 feet high, usually going a little over a hundred miles per hour. Everything has a distinct look; you can tell right away what you’re seeing. I did not expect to see this, but the moment it came into view I knew it was a prison. Here’s a picture I took Thursday at 2:05 PM as we flew over USP Lee in Pennington Gap, VA: 

USP Lee from 7,500 feet

The first two sentences of the wikipedia entry about USP Lee say “The United States Penitentiary, Lee (USP Lee) is a high-security United States federal prison for male inmates in Virginia. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice.” No shoplifters at USP Lee. That’s a great place to not be inside. 

If you’re reading this from inside USP Lee, I hope they’re letting you out soon. If you’re not reading this from inside USP Lee – I hope you’re not – have a great week! And come back next 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 Birds, buffleheads, Cessna 172, coffee, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, James River, kofp, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “What else is there?” – there is SO much more! 

  1. Rob Martin says:

    Nice post! Glad you had such a nice flight. Thanks for the aerial pics!

  2. Jackie says:

    Who could ask for more, love the pictures!

  3. linda says:

    Thank you, Jay! My pal and i were at Whole Foods this week, having coffee and painting. You came and took some pictures and gave us your NEWFAZEorg card. Really loved the pics- I seem to be sketching much the same wildlife- bluebirds, herons, neighborhood cats , dogs, and people -as you are photographing! (No owls, though- wonderful pics!)
    Let me leave this link for another of my friends’ blog, “The Evolving Naturalist.” I think you’ll like it as much as i do- and thanks again, it was so nice meeting you!

    • Thank you for the note Linda – it was great to cross paths with you and your pal at Whole Foods Wednesday. I enjoyed both your paintings and the process – that’s a nice space there. I have no hand eye coordination; I can hardly write my own name legibly much less paint like you were. Keep up the great work!

      Your friend’s “”The Evolving Naturalist” blog is REALLY impressive – thank you for the link! It gave me a real education in millipedes. This blog has over 400 posts going back nearly nine years but only one photograph of a millipede! It’s from 5 years ago and tt’s at the bottom of this link: https://newfaze.org/2015/04/26/fascinating-boring/

      But I did – incredibly – photograph a river otter near Pony Pasture also around five years ago. You can see it at this post:

      I’ve put up a new blog post every Sunday evening since ~2014, and intermittently for three years before that, so there are a LOT of pictures on here!

      Thanks again for the note (and the blog link) and have a great day,


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