“They don’t call it Habitat for nothing.” – my sister Katie

16 January, 2022 “They don’t call it Habitat for nothing.” – my sister Katie

Thank you Laura! Turner staying up (I think he has sore hips), Yuki resting after our long hike this morning:

That’s not (technically) the picture that inspired this blog post title. Though it may as well be. This is the picture that inspired this blog post title: 

The ornaments on my Christmas tree are never this beautiful:

In the first week of 2022 I was hiking at Pony Pasture and caught that lovely bluebird in the sun. He was one of a flock of thirty or more. Two days later I was walking past the same trail intersection and took this picture: 

Same trail intersection, 48 hrs later. THAT’S why they call it “habitat.”

Our dad’s name was Mike; “flabbergasted” is a strong word but I was a bit flabbergasted to realize November will mark ten years since he’s been gone. Ten years! But if I live a hundred more years, if I see a bluebird, I’ll still think of dad. There’s nothing melancholy about it; bluebirds and melancholy are mutually exclusive. But dad loved bluebirds. He probably loved dogwoods as much, which is one of the reasons I’m drawn to dogwoods as well. But dogwoods rarely catch you off guard or interrupt your thoughts; bluebirds do. I’ll elaborate a little but let me put in some more pictures. 

My relentless photographs of Barred owls in the same spot – in the same habitat – merits inclusion here. Remember the first five letters of “habitat” are “habit,” and Barred owls have made a habit of perching on the same branch for four years. Even though I’m dialed in on the reasons, I am still amazed. If there are none tomorrow and I never see them again, I will still be amazed. If you haven’t noticed, I really like being amazed. My last blog post (!) was December 19, 2021! This is my first blog post this year! I’ve seen Barred owls – on the same branch – same habitat – every time I’ve visited since New Year’s Day. This branch has never been empty. Wild. A 2022 Barred owl in the unmatched habitat of Pony Pasture. Look closely; there’s snow in the background. This picture is from January 4th: 

Barred owl on that same crazy branch. Since 2019! Remarkable. See the snow behind it?

I digressed after my mention of dad (and of Katie) near the top of this post. Katie is part naturalist and part linguist. Dad and mom were each naturalists and linguists. They didn’t actively encourage those values in my siblings and me – they were just part of our upbringing. Part of our habitat, it occurs to me. Some of my siblings are stronger in each area, plus in other areas, but we can all identify most birds and plants and animals where we live. Possibly where you live too. I suspect all five of us have bird feeders at our houses. I can’t say for sure. This adult male Pine warbler (Setophaga pinus) visited my feeder on 12/21/2021, two days after my last blog post. First day of winter:

Adult male Pine Warbler with a piece of suet in his mouth, first day of winter, 2021 (12/21)

I took Latin in high school too. I think my sister Katie did too, and perhaps other siblings of mine. But the only Latin I can read in the Pine warbler’s Latin name is the word “pinus” because it’s the root word of “pine.” Notice how the word “root” is related to trees? Maybe I should branch out a little? Perhaps you’re thinking I should leave this subject alone? Maybe I’m just having fun needling my readers? I didn’t know what bird that was. There were other ways of figuring it out, but I “cheated” and used Merlin Bird ID

I take pictures of birds – as you’re aware. With Merlin, you have an app and you choose the picture you want to identify. Then it asks the date and the location where you took the picture. Those are two key pieces of information. According to Avibase – The World Bird Database, there are “…about 10,000 species and 22,000 subspecies of birds…”. If you narrow that from the entire world for a year to Richmond in January you cut it to maybe a hundred. 

If you use the non-photo ID, the third question it asks (after date and location) is one of seven sizes. The smallest is “sparrow-sized or smaller” and the largest is “goose-sized or larger.” So now you have three key ID points. Next they offer nine colors and ask you to pick between one and three. Colors are the fourth ID point. After color it’s “Was the bird…?” and it offers six more choices, ranging between “eating at a feeder” and “soaring or flying.” Then it offers you a list of birds that fit those parameters. 

If you’re interested (this may be boring but IMO it’s not), that list of choices is called an “algorithm.” When I google algorithm the most succinct definition is at the top (generated by an algorithm, of course). It says “a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.” If you know date, location, size, color and activity you eliminate many thousands of birds. It’s easy to pick your bird. 

My boredom algorithm says I need to post a picture so here is a pair. I texted these to friends and family with the subject “good fences make good neighbors.” There’s a little overgrown fence in the woods in Pony Pasture. There were seven deer relaxing on one side and Turner and Yuki were watching them. This doe was watching her watchers: 

She was in a herd of seven. Here she’s watching Turner and Yuki:

Yuki and Turner observing closely. Their leashes are tied around the fence: 

Turner and Yuki watching the doe and her six companions:

It’s also (I nearly didn’t notice it) becoming the time when raptors pair up. It’s past that time really; they’re nesting. I took this picture on December 22. That’s about three weeks ago. Also not coincidentally it’s roughly the first full day of winter. The days had just begun to lengthen. A pair of Red-tailed hawks perched on the cross at Discovery United Methodist Church in western Henrico County, VA: 

Pair of red-tailed hawks basking in the early winter sun. Male is on the left; he’s a bit smaller:

Also not my most amazing photo ever but I whipped around and snapped an image of this Great Blue Heron (recently) as it was taking flight at Echo Lake, a few miles from that church. If you really squinch up your eyes just right and look on the water in the upper right of the image you can see a male mallard with a female a few feet behind him. Mallards are pairing off everywhere

Great Blue Heron flying at Echo Lake; mallard pair swimming in upper right:

Also this is the center of a flock of buffleheads that stretched for a few more feet upstream and downstream. I count seventeen birds here; there were at least two dozen total. So twelve (or more) pairs. I took this picture at 10:10. I took owl pictures at 10:20 and I photographed the second bluebird on this post at 10:30. That was a nice morning!: 

The center of a long Bufflehead flock at Pony Pasture on January 9th:

I haven’t used a moon image in a while (IIRC) so here’s one. I took this on the same day (January 7, 2022) that I saw the bluebird closest to the top of this post and an owl and buffleheads. I also saw a little herd of deer near the parking lot around 12:15. I’m going to include a little deer image (an image of a little deer) I took just before I got in the car. Then the moon shots: 

Young whitetail frolicking along the edge of the parking lot at Pony Pasture on January 7:

Now the moon: 

I took this moon picture exactly six hours after I photographed that little deer:

Information about that moon at the time I took the photograph: 

Six hours after the buffleheads, owls and bluebirds:

Have a first class week! Come back soon! 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.
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2 Responses to “They don’t call it Habitat for nothing.” – my sister Katie

  1. Kelly O'Day says:

    Great post! Love the pictures too~ I now understand the bird connection….

  2. Nate says:

    Jay, had to get twiggy with this Chomskyesque blog post. Glad to hear from a budding linguist.

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