“Familiarity bred LESS contempt” and “Drinking from a firehose”

24 January, 2021 “Familiarity bred LESS contempt” and “Drinking from a firehose” 

The videos are (IMO) GREAT today! Watch them! One of frolicking deer being closely observed by dogs, one of a Barred owl hooting, and its far off mate hooting in reply. 

Familiarity bred LESS contempt

Certainly you’ve heard the expression “familiarity breeds contempt.” With me and Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus), my lack of familiarity bred contempt. Until I took this picture this week: 

A cormorant eating a giant fish at Three Lakes Park:

I’d always dismissively categorized Cormorants as “river starlings.” I’d see them on the mid stream rocks at Pony Pasture, squabbling and pooping and giving the impression of (IMO) river starlings. I was at Three Lakes Park this week and saw one tangling with and ultimately swallowing this big fish in the middle of the lake. I’ve seen many thousands of cormorants since I began this blog nearly ten years ago. I don’t recall ever giving them a second glance before this encounter. 

Evelyn gave me a book today – seriously, I woke up and it was in my e book library. In my email a notice from Amazon said “You’ve received a gift from Evelyn!”. This is the book: What It’s Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing—What Birds Are Doing, and Why. When you open to the chapter on cormorants, this is the first sentence: “Cormorants are the most efficient marine predators in the world, catching more fish per unit of effort, on average, than any other animal.” – Sibley, David Allen. What It’s Like to Be a Bird (Sibley Guides) (p. 26). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

So my whole life I never knew that – I was unfamiliar – contemptuous – until I took that picture this week. I’m grateful my longstanding ignorance gives me continued opportunity for interpersonal growth. I also bought two other books, The Double-crested Cormorant:Plight of a Feathered Pariah by Linda R. Wires and The Double-Crested Cormorant: Symbol of Ecological Conflict by Dennis Wild (ed.). I am rapidly becoming less ignorant (and contemptuous) regarding cormorants. 

Hopefully becoming less ignorant in other categories too! So now (Part II), 

Drinking from a firehose

Hiking (and photographing) at Pony Pasture this morning was like drinking from a firehose. I started out (of course) with Mackey and Turner and Yuki. When I’m with these three at the river, all is calm, always. We just saw a lot of stuff. This was a minute or three before 9:00 this morning: 

Turner on the left, then Mackey, then Yuki

I’ve been trying since Halloween to get what I call “The Petting Zoo Trifecta.” We don’t pet any animals at Pony Pasture, but we see them so close and so predictably it’s like visiting a petting zoo. The first animals from the trifecta are Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola). They’re on the river from roughly Halloween through St. Patrick’s Day. If you only come to Pony Pasture on the Fourth of July, you’ll never see one. I was too excited about owl pictures to calm down and get a really nice bufflehead image. But this is a male (on the right) and a pair of females:  

Three of the thirty or forty Buffleheads I saw at Pony Pasture this morning

So we cruise along down the river and eventually take a little trail south and we’re standing under our favorite branch with one of our favorite owls perched on it. A Barred owl on that branch is the second animal in the “Petting Zoo Trifecta.” I took pictures, but the real Barred owl excitement didn’t happen until we’d looped back an hour later. So I’ll finish this blog post with the real Barred owl excitement. It happened near the end of the hike anyway. 

Sundays we keep walking south after the owls then cross the creek and loop back up hoping to see whitetail deer. But on the way I glimpsed a non-typical combination of size and shape and color. It looked like a big slab of clean granite (with no mud on it) which does not exist in that area of the park. I zoomed in and saw this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) hoping to catch more breakfast. I loved seeing the bird of course but I was also grateful to catch this reflection: 

Great Blue Heron reflecting at Pony Pasture this fine January morning

I see lots of Blue Herons at Pony Pasture, but not often enough to qualify for “Petting Zoo” status. Whitetail deer, on the other hand – we probably have too many. So they’re the third animal in the “Petting Zoo Trifecta.” I clicked the shutter on a deer for the first time at 10:02 today. I stayed for fifteen minutes – and they were still there. There were eight or ten. I’ll do a video in a minute; you can count. Here’s a still: 

You can see the head of another deer to the left of this one. The video has many.

This is a link to the video of the deer. It’s slightly over a minute long. Twice I pan back and get good video of the dogs watching the deer. Check it out: 

Mackey, Turner and Yuki watching deer frolic and gambol in the January sun at Pony Pasture 

I’ll include a Barred owl picture from yesterday. I went hiking with a friend who is a talented photographer. His are better than this; I should have asked if I could use a copy! But you get the idea. This is from yesterday: 

Pair of Barred owls on a branch at Pony Pasture yesterday

The Barred Owl video I took today is my favorite video I’ve ever taken, by a huge margin. Because I have photographed Barred owls for years and I have never been watching one (and hearing one) while it hooted. Today, I did. And I mean I was standing right there. It is no exaggeration to say I could have thrown my camera and hit this owl. It was probably twelve feet away. 

And when you watch this video – when you listen to this video – turn up the volume and listen closely. Don’t get your ears blown out – the owl you can see is really loud. It starts hooting right away. Then at around 6 or 7 seconds, you can hear the faint voice of a second, far off owl hooting back! The owl in front of me begins hooting again at about 16 seconds. Then its mate responds again at about 23 seconds! That made my year! So check this video out, and listen closely just after this bird’s really loud hoot: 

Two Barred Owls conversing at Pony Pasture on January 24, 2021 

I’ll wrap up with a still photo of that owl. I took this today on our first round. I tried (I’ve never done this before) turning my camera 90º when I took the picture. It’s hard to frame it. But here’s the one who is really loud in that video: 

Barred Owl at Pony Pasture this morning – pre-hoot

I got so wrapped up in The Petting Zoo Trifecta and of course those crazy owls, I nearly forgot this Pileated Woodpecker from earlier this week. This is a male. You can tell by the red spot where his upper and lower bill come together. You can also, in the top picture, see where he’s been gouging out the soft upper trunk of that big sycamore. You can see a really big gouge mark just behind his head: 

Pileated woodpecker hacking into a sycamore trunk

This is the same bird four minutes earlier on the other side of the tree. I like the sun shining through his red crest: 

Doesn’t it look like he has an internal power source? Like a battery?

= = = = = = = = = = = 

I’m wrapping it up for this week. But don’t miss those two videos! It would never have occurred to me in years past, but this is all clearly early courtship behavior. We’re mostly wired (or at least I’m wired) to associate animal courtship with Spring. And January is not Spring anywhere on this planet. But as of today (January 24) here in Richmond we have already added thirty minutes of daylight since the shortest day of the year about five weeks ago. That – increasing daylight – is what’s causing this activity. This is the very, very, very beginning. I’m fortunate to be here! There will be flowers blooming and warblers migrating and frogs croaking. The frequency will increase with each passing day between now and the first really sweltering day in early June. Don’t stay indoors! There’s too much to see! 

= = = = = = = = = = = 

Have a great day, 


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 Barred Owls, Birds, buffleheads, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pileated Woodpecker, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), thoreau, whitetail deer and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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