A little to show – not much to say

7 February, 2021 A little to show – not much to say 

That’s my theme this week. I went down Monday just to see if there’d be a Barred owl in February, and there was. But yesterday I went to the river (to beat the snow) and there were two Barred owls!: 

Always gratified to see 2 at once. Yesterday morning:

I had Mackey and Turner and Yuki with me. Mackey is getting pretty old and tired but seems to have gained enthusiasm for trips to the river. So I made a loop called the “Mackey Minimum” and it passes the owl branch and the deer’s favorite spot without a lot of walking. It was only a few minutes walk after we saw the owls that we came to a large herd of deer. I’d hoped to get some good pictures but the deer actually crossed the trail in front of us. You should try taking a picture and holding three dog leashes when that happens. This was a couple minutes before they crossed the trail: 

All light is flattering to deer – they’re just so elegant

Some nice birds landed on my feeder Tuesday. First a Catbird: 

Handsome catbirds even enjoy suet

Then a Pine Warbler: 

Everybody likes suet

A red-bellied woodpecker 

Maybe not woodpeckers. I’ll have to watch.

And of course a bluebird!: 

They always remind me of my dad, in the best possible way

I also so a Hooded merganser at Echo Lake in western Henrico: 

Hooded merganser on a floating log:

I saw a Great Blue Heron at Pony Pasture Monday when I saw my “first February owl”:

 

This Great Blue Heron is paying close attention to something:

When we were photographing the pair of owls yesterday, another owl lover came to watch them. I asked her to take our picture – thank you Laura! This was less than a leash-length from the tree where the owls were sitting: 

Thank you Laura!

See! Not much to say! Have a great week, all best, 

Jay

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The day before a snow day

31 January, 2021 The day before a snow day

If you live in Richmond, VA or the surrounding area, you’re aware today IS a snow day. Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I went to Pony Pasture yesterday to avoid it. Here they are shortly after we arrived at the park: 

Yuki, Turner and Mackey in the bright January sun yesterday morning

I was really (of course) hoping to see an owl and (of course) was rewarded: 

They like to hide behind those vines.

My true reason for hiking at Pony Pasture is just to have a hike near the river – that is its own reward. I first saw owls in this spot a year ago. I’ve hiked that trail since 1999. So the owls are just a bonus. 

Speaking of bonuses, I had a Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus) land on my feeder just before I put my blog post up last week. I took this picture but it was too late for the blog. So here’s a delayed image: 

Pine warbler a week ago today:

Yikes! I don’t have a million pictures today! Well, short blog post, no worries. I did get an interesting (IMO) image of a cormorant earlier this week. I called this picture “Sinatra” because of its remarkably bright blue eyes. Evelyn also pointed out its distinct feather markings. It almost looks like they’re painted on: 

If I gave names to wild animals, I’d call this one “Sinatra”

I saw a handful of Red-tails this week, including a nesting pair on a power line a couple blocks south of my house. But they were too shadowy to post here. When I’m doing raptor photography that I love, I settle down so much I’m practically in a trance. It’s like time stops. This one, I fumbled. But it was sunny and I didn’t get much else so here it goes: 

Red-tailed hawk behind a blurry power line

The following day (Thursday, January 28) the moon was just past full at 9:36 PM when Mackey and Turner and I got home from our walk. If you look closely on the right edge of the moon in this image you can see crater shadows. Fascinating: 

Moon Thursday evening (1/28) at 9:40 just moments past being full

There are a lot of great astronomy apps. I use two simple ones. This is a screen shot from World Clock

Fascinating moon data from World Clock:

This is a screen shot from Sun Surveyor

Additional fascinating moon data from Sun Surveyor:

I don’t know what next week will bring – except a new month! I hope it brings you back for a visit a week from today, on February 7, the first Sunday of the new month. 

Have a great week, 

Jay

Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, Dogs, Fun, James River, love, moon, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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?

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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! 

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Have a great day, 

Jay

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 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wildlife in my tame life

17 January, 2021 Wildlife in my tame life 

Yesterday – for the first time in my life (if I recall correctly) a flock of striking Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) stopped by to use the birdbath. These two stopped on the edge for a moment; there were around ten total in the flock:

Pair of Cedar Waxwings on my birdbath, Saturday, 1/20/2021

A week ago today I saw this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) at Pony Pasture:

Great Blue Heron at Pony Pasture, 1/10/2021

I saw a pair of Barred owls (Strix varia) the week before last, but currently (at least for me) they’re only showing up one at a time. I took this picture at 9:30 this morning:

My life is tame; this Barred owl’s life will never be

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Wildlife in my tame life

Seeing those owls so regularly got me started thinking about “wildlife in my tame life.” Canada geese are ostensibly wild, but please. They’re wild in the sense that gray squirrels are wild. You might think of geese and squirrels as “WINO” or “Wild In Name Only.” Barred owls are not like that. They are really, really wild. I hear them in my neighborhood at night sometimes – I heard one last night walking the dogs, and I’m not even kidding. But they do not even faintly give the impression they belong in the company of human beings. They strike an appealing balance between wild animal standoffishness and a confident cuteness that says “come back as often as you like – it never bothers me.” They don’t even mind the dogs. They watch the dogs, but it seems like they’re just trying to learn something. 

Another thing about Barred owls is, sometimes you know they’re there – and you still can’t see them. I try to photograph it to give some appreciation of just how invisible they are but I normally fail, for obvious reasons. Maybe I’ll do two identical side by side pictures and circle the owl in red. Their camouflage looks like it was designed for Pony Pasture. The pattern of their breast feathers is identical to cottonwood bark. 

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There have also been a lot of birds on my feeders. The local Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) remain in their less-bright winter colors, but they’re another bird I’ll never tire of seeing:

I don’t think bluebirds really frown. They hunch up when it’s cold though.

I saw that bluebird Monday (1/11) afternoon. I’d gone to Pony Pasture in the morning and photographed the owl shown above. It was later that day I took the bluebird picture at home. It was the same day, and also at Pony Pasture, when I was fortunate to see this Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus): 

Female Pileated woodpecker from Pony Pasture Monday

It seems to me Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) have been late arriving in our area this winter. It was only males at first. The flocks are just now getting big at Pony Pasture. Here’s another picture I took this morning. Two males and a female on the water plus one lovely female flying:

One female bufflehead flying, two males and another female on the water – today at Pony Pasture

Mourning doves aren’t the only bird that scratches around below our feeders to fatten up on fallen seeds. This handsome male Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) gets seed the same way:

Eastern Towhee barely a wing’s length from a Mourning dove

I almost called this blog post “This time of year is for the BIRDS” because I’ve seen so many. It’ll get birdier and birdier for the next several months; I look forward to it every day. 

I’ve mentioned often the books we’re reading in the Wildlife Center of Virginia online book club. Our next meeting is on Groundhog Day (go figure) and I just finished our current fascinating book. It’s called Nature’s Best Hope – A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard by the enthusiastic and well informed Douglas W. Tallamy. Dr. Tallamy is encouraging us to make our yards more attractive to wildlife and restoring biodiversity. Have a look at his ideas on improving biodiversity at home on his website Homegrown National Park

I found a quote in the Nature’s Best Hope book that captures my continued attraction to the James River and Pony Pasture and Barred Owls, cedar waxwings, dogs, sycamore trees, dogwoods, butterflies, tadpoles, bluebirds, wind, clouds, all of it – “Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” — Rachel Carson  

Have a great week! Come back next week! All best, 

Jay 

Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, buffleheads, cedar waxwing, James River, love, newfaze, Pileated Woodpecker, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Wildlife Book Club, Wildlife Center of Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lit up like a Chinese pig shop”

3 January, 2021 “Lit up like a Chinese pig shop”

The original title for this blog post was “Bright start to 2021.” Go to the bottom of the post to read the story if you’re so inclined. It’s a really old one. 

Happy New Year Bluebird from Pony Pasture

I took that photograph Tuesday (12/29/2020) so it’s not an official 2021 picture. But I took it this week, and chose it for the first photograph on my blog in 2021. Bluebirds are just wild animals – they’re no different than rats or ticks or fleas or snakes – but that is an undeniably cheerful picture. 

My friend Marion joined me for a quick hike Tuesday – she was there when I took that picture. I’ve been absentee dog-sitting my friend’s dog Luna this week so Marion and I took her along for that walk. I “got” a double owl that day. I don’t love the image, but I’m keeping a record of when I see pairs of owls (plus I’m obsessed, in case you hadn’t noticed). Here is the owl pair: 

Still owl pairs sunning themselves in the final days of December.

I’ll include a picture of Luna hiking with my boys later in this post. But here’s a picture of her on a walk we took in our neighborhood this week: 

“Santa Luna” – sounds like the name of a city in southern California

Another old friend and I went to Three Lakes Park near the intersection of 95 and 295 Thursday. I hadn’t been in decades – I was happy to visit again. Pony Pasture has lots of cormorants, but they’re always out on rocks. This one was on a fake rock (I’m pretty sure that’s a fake rock) but it spread its wings and looked nice in the sun:  

Cormorant drying its wings in the pale December sun

When Marion and I were at Pony Pasture Tuesday, the sky was blue and infinite, but a wheeling, screeching, high flying flock of gulls wheeled over the parking lot to lend perspective. This looks almost wall-paperish, but the blue is peaceful and the flecks of gulls are graceful: 

I’ve flown enough to know they must be enjoying themselves

Marion and I saw a grebe during our hike as well. I used Merlin Bird ID to identify it, though I’ve had them in this blog before. This is a Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps):

Pied-billed grebe at Pony Pasture

I took Mackey and Turner and Luna to Pony Pasture yesterday, to avoid today’s rain and mud. Here they are a few minutes before noon: 

1 pretty girl, 2 handsome boys, 1 well maintained park, 1 incomparable river

I’ll close (before the story) with a quick “Happy New Year” picture from Luna. Have a great day, week, year and more. And come back next week! All best, 

Jay 

Luna says HAPPY NEW YEAR

I almost forgot – for those of you who may be heartbroken otherwise – to include my first Barred Owl of 2021. I went solo on New Year’s Day specifically to see if one would be there. I first photographed Barred Owls on this vine just after Thanksgiving in 2019. So this marks the third consecutive calendar year I’ve photographed one (or more) in this precise spot:

First owl of 2021 – I can tell it’s going to be a great year

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“Lit up like a Chinese pig shop”

Our mother’s parents were a bit younger and we spent lots of time with them when we were growing up. They were from Nebraska and they were quite midwestern and very Catholic. One of my siblings once described our parents as “Kennedy Democrats” and they raised us (as another sibling says) “on a long leash.” Mom’s parents weren’t 100% on board with that parenting style. Mom’s dad was the more Catholic (and the more Christian) of the two , but he was a kind and quiet and warm hearted and loving man, and I suspect he delighted inwardly. But his lovely wife said mom and dad were raising us “like wild Indians.” Mom had a sister (who went on to become a Catholic nun) and no other siblings. So I’m sure their house was generally quiet. And dad was an only child. 

We had three boys and two girls and our house was only rarely quiet. Our cabin was quiet a lot – because we were so rarely indoors. Kevin and Shane and I had two buddies our age who had a cabin near ours. They lived in Harrisonburg, only a half hour from the cabin. They were Michigan natives and theirs was a true blue collar family. Their names were Bob and Jeff. Their parents loved us and took great care of us, and cooked great popcorn, and their chimney didn’t draw well, so it always smelled like popcorn and sweat and mildew and woodsmoke in their tiny red cabin. Their father laughed easily and had, unforgettably, one blue eye and one brown. 

In the summer we swam in the river a little bit and fished a little bit. We ran around outside at night all year long. It’s now the Norfolk Southern railroad, but when we were young it was the Norfolk and Western railroad, and the tracks ran on a high, steep embankment behind their cabin. 

Those tracks were on a relatively steep grade. You couldn’t see the elevation change with your eyes; train track “hills” are not like road hills. But locomotives were underpowered back then, and they were hauling long, heavy coal trains. It wasn’t unusual for a train to have five locomotives on the front pulling up the hill, and another five on the back pushing. We’d hear them coming at night long before they arrived, and we’d race up the steep embankment to watch (and listen to and feel) them rumble past. 

Bob was the older of the two, and while you would never describe him as “staid,” he was significantly calmer than his younger brother. You wouldn’t call Jeff (not in the clinical sense anyway) “hyper,” but compared to Bob he always was. Compared to almost anyone I knew, come to think of it. 

So one night we were crouched in the shadows next to the railroad tracks and the front locomotive’s headlight swept over us as the train rumbled past and Jeff blurted out that we were “lit up like a Chinese pig shop.” I don’t think Jeff even knew what he was saying. He definitely didn’t attach any meaning to it. It was the non-sequitur to end all non-sequiturs. I was probably fifteen, so this was the mid-1970’s, and I guess Jeff was eleven. Or so. It was sort of a manic outburst. I don’t think he knew why he was saying it – any more than I know why it still comes to mind many decades later. 

Mom and dad always – 24/7/365 – encouraged us to be open-minded and accepting. You can’t “curate” a childhood to include experiences like that. Have an excellent week. I hope 2021 is your best year ever.  

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Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, Dogs, Fun, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, Shenandoah Valey, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Trains | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Since I don’t know where to begin…

27 December, 2020 Since I don’t know where to begin… 

I’ll begin with this picture Evelyn took of Dash on Tuesday: 

Dash with his head in the clouds – photo by Evelyn

Evelyn fixed a fantastic dinner Christmas day and our friend Ariel (Yuki’s owner) shared it with us. Yuki came too! We should have gotten a picture but alas. 

My friends Sue and Marcia and a few others get together every year for Christmas but we couldn’t make it happen due to the pandemic. But Sue is the most talented and prolific baker I know and she always brings lots of treats to our Christmas gathering. This year she dropped them off at our house! Evelyn and I have been eating them for delicious dessert ever since. 

Dash and Ev stayed at the house this morning. Mackey and Turner and I picked up our old friend Luna and took her to the river. A very kind person named Mike took our picture. Thank you Mike! 

The chemistry is a little different when Yuki is on sabbatical

I wanted to make this the opening image because I loved it so much. The owls I normally see were not in the spot where I normally see them. We had a nice hike then headed back up the creek. I saw a “football in a tree” at the edge of the creek – and it was an owl! But its back was to us, and it was in shadow. We hiked back down the creek and up the other side until I just knew we were directly across from the owl. But it was invisible. I finally found it. Then I’d look away to see a cardinal or something and look back – it would disappear again. You can see why: 

That is seriously how camouflage is designed to work

Tuesday was a nice day and Mackey was a little lame so I snuck out and took a little hike at the river myself. It was a pretty day. My favorite picture from that day was this Cedar Waxwing: 

There has never been a disheveled Cedar Waxwing

I hadn’t seen a deer in a while. I was grateful to see this pretty girl Tuesday: 

Peaceful doe at the river Tuesday

I saw a Hermit thrush Tuesday also: 

Hermit thrushes don’t disturb anything

I haven’t been flying much lately but yesterday my instructor Joel was free and I reserved a plane. We met at Hanover airport at 11:00 and I preflighted the plane and we flew to Ocean City, MD. Here’s our plane tied down at that airport: 

Our plane tied down in the December sunlight at Ocean City, MD airport

I’d put a picture of the crab cake sandwich here – the chunks of crab were cartoonishly large – but it is a distinctly unphotogenic food. IMO. Go out some time and get one yourself! We went to Waterman’s Seafood Company – go get one yourself! It comes with my strongest recommendation. 

We flew home west (toward the setting sun) and it’s difficult to take what I regard as a good picture. Looking forward, anyway. But I was on the pilot’s side (left side, just like in a car) and I asked Joel if he’d take the controls for a couple of minutes so I could snap a picture. We were at 4,500 feet going around a hundred knots when I took this picture a bit before 4:00 PM yesterday: 

Pilot’s side view (facing south) on our home flight – just before 4:00 PM yesterday

Finishing up in a rush again! The final Sunday of 2020! See you next year! 

All best, 

Jay

Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, cats, cedar waxwing, Dogs, Fun, James River, kofp, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Tecnam, thoreau, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A bluebird bailed me out!

20 December, 2020 A bluebird bailed me out! 

I was thin on blog material this week (as will become evident when you whisk through this post) but I saw this lovely bluebird at the river yesterday. You may be an exception, but I’ll bet you’re not – almost everybody smiles when they see bluebirds. I’ve put up really junky (IMO) pictures of bluebirds from my feeder and people just flock to them (in a manner of speaking). So I was grateful when this one stopped on a branch at Pony Pasture yesterday long enough for me to click my shutter: 

He’ll turn your frown upside down

I actually photographed this owl about ninety minutes before the bluebird. But I wanted the bluebird on top of this post. I love bluebirds – they remind me of my dad, and they make me smile even apart from that. But I only ever glimpse bluebirds, or watch them flit. It’s much easier to breathe and think and relax and be mindful when owl watching: 

Barred owl – my favorite Pony Pasture sight when I’m not looking at the river or dogs

Here are two more lovely animals I photographed yesterday morning at the river. Yuki (our big white German Shepherd buddy) is healthy and cheerful (Evelyn walked him with his owner yesterday) but on sabbatical. Don’t tell Yuki, but these two are my real favorites: 

Mackey and Turner saying “For the love of Dog can we please just hike already?”

Also while we were hiking yesterday we saw this ice formed on the rings of a fallen rotting log. 

Winter ephemeral at Pony Pasture

It’s funny – in the Spring at the river there are a group of plants referred to specifically as “ephemerals,” meaning something that “lasts a short time”. That’s in the dictionary. Those little ice patterns are really ephemeral. 

I’m kind of just plunking down in front of this computer and dashing this off – and a week from today will be the final Sunday of 2020! 

I should have taken a picture of the river today. Maybe next week. I hear (often) about how difficult 2020 has been. It has been, and 2021 will bring more of the same. An almost infinite number of excellent things also happened in 2020, and 2021 will bring more of the same. The reason I opened this paragraph with a sentence about the river is, it always flows the same. 2020, 1920, 2030, it’ll keep going by. No president, new president, pandemic, new babies, it’s all good. 

Have a great week, see you in seven days, 

Jay 

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Kindness multiplier – I saw it happen

13 December, 2020 Kindness multiplier – I saw it happen 

It was like I’d put a random act of kindness on the table, and another person said “I’ll see your random act of kindness – and raise you a random act of kindness.” It’s sort of a boring story, but it’s also sort of an encouraging story, and I’ll put it at the end of this post. After the “usual” stuff. 

This first picture was taken by yet another kind-hearted stranger – and I forgot to ask their first name! One of these days I’ll remember to do that. People were so kind today – it was a joy to be there. Whoever you were, thank you: 

Thank you stranger!

Whoever took that picture this morning, if you ever see us again, please say hello! And tell me your first name! And thank you!

If a week goes by and I see an owl at Pony Pasture, you’ll see it in this blog. I just looked back on my blog. The first Barred Owl picture on my blog was on May 15, 2011! That post even has pictures of my mom and of my wonderful old dog Ivory! Check it out at Flora – and some fauna 

Anyway, that’s not the point. This blog post is #469 since I started back in early 2011. This Spring will mark the ten year anniversary of this blog. I have photographed Barred Owls hundreds of times. And when I photographed one today (I photographed one Tuesday too), I got the same thrill I get every time I see one. It just does not fail. This is from Tuesday: 

100% smile worthy – from Tuesday

I just realized I took a picture a moment after that to demonstrate owl camouflage. Here’s the identical picture, taken practically the same minute, not using a zoom lens. You just don’t glance up and notice these birds – ever:

If someone hadn’t told me it was there (over a year ago) I’d have never known

This bluebird was from Tuesday. I never tire of bluebirds either, but my experience of photographing songbirds (passerines) bears no resemblance to my experience of photographing owls and hawks and eagles and ospreys (raptors). Bluebirds are just trying to get something to eat, just like every other creature in those woods, but they don’t kill mammals or other birds. It’s an illusion, but they look peaceful: 

It’s always a good day to see a bluebird

I got some “double” red-tails on Wednesday morning, but they had their backs to me and the light wasn’t good anyway. A couple hours later, one had flown off but the other turned around to face the sun: 

Red-tail soaking up the sun on a cold December morning

I think I’m going to wrap it up! I can hear my editor yawning. Have a great week! Read this little blurb and come back next week. All best,

Jay

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Raising the stakes on kindness

I have no shortage of things to smile about. It’s one of those instances where gratitude becomes self-fulfilling. But this morning after our hike at Pony Pasture, Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I were headed back west (upstream) on Riverside Drive. A young couple was walking up the north side (closer to the river) of the road. They were pushing a stroller and walking a dog – personally I think it’s easier walking a pack of dogs. At least dogs keep pulling forward. 

I could see a car coming toward us on the other side, so I pulled over and stopped so I wouldn’t crowd the little family to the side. Everybody does that. It’s a random act of kindness but we don’t acknowledge it as such; it’s just what you do. Anyway, the car coming toward us on the other side saw what was going on (the driver did). So they stopped. And they flashed their lights at me! Saying (unmistakably) – “No, we’ll stop for a minute and let you proceed up the road.” I refer you back to the first sentence of this section, “I have no shortage of things to smile about.” Because I’d made myself feel good by giving the young couple a break, then the folks in this other car made themselves feel good by giving me a break because I was giving the young couple a break! 

As I break it down and type it I can see it’s sort of boring and sort of petty and sort of minor and generally inconsequential. But I went away feeling good. And I’m sure the folks who flashed their lights at me went away feeling good. And that couple with their infant and their dog, I’m sure they were feeling good. It was sunny and warm and the river looked blue and shiny and life giving and it was difficult (IMO) to imagine a better place to be. If next week is half as good, it’ll be a huge success. I hope yours is too. 

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Recognizing individuals

6 December, 2020 Recognizing individuals

“Every scientific study is improved if you can recognize individuals”

“‘Every scientific study is improved if you can recognize individuals,’ she (Marie Auger-Méthé) said.” – Narwhals: Arctic Whales in a Melting World, Todd McLeish 

I can’t tell these owls apart – yet. I’ll learn to. 

I’ve mentioned in previous posts I’m a member of the Wildlife Center of Virginia Online Book Club. Our next meeting is Tuesday evening (day after tomorrow) at 7:00 PM and we’re reading the narwhal book. I loved every single page – one of my favorite books in recent memory. I learned a ton. A lot of things jumped out at me, but that line in particular. I always look at those owls as identical even though they’re not. Scientifically is my favorite way of looking at nature, and I know I need to be able to distinguish between those two lovely animals. Soon enough. 

Every time I start one of these blog posts late (it’s late) I wince and say “next week I need to start earlier!” But alas. Here I am. This pretty little bluebird dropped in on my front feeder Tuesday: 

Bluebird in bright sun

This was the moon Monday evening at 9:45. Both apps I use (World Clock and Sun Surveyor) identified it as 99.5% full. World Clock called that “waning gibbous” (just past full) and Sun Surveyor still called it “full.” Looking up at it in the sky you would have said it was full, but technically (and mathematically) it wasn’t: 

Moments-past-full moon Monday evening:

Here’s World Clock (first): 

Followed by Sun Surveyor: 

I saw a Red-shouldered hawk at Bryan Park this week. It was passing through and didn’t “pose” and give me an easy look. But it’s nice to see them in the woods from time to time: 

I never tire of raptors. That intensity is unmatched.

My friend Tim brings me the excellent firewood that heats our home – and this week he brought us eggs! He also cuts grass in the summer and cleans gutters (yay) and is an excellent family man. He’s been bringing me firewood for many years. I’m still cutting my own grass though – so far. Thanks again for the firewood and eggs Tim!: 

Firewood and fresh eggs – thanks Tim!

Our local Red-tails are still paired up. I got this picture Friday when I was almost home. That’s the female on the right and the male on the left. The breeze is out of the south, blowing his head feathers backwards – that’s the white spot. Both of their bodies are oriented toward the breeze so all they have to do is spread their wings and jump and they’ll be airborne. They won’t even need to flap their wings. I can’t tell but it looks like there’s a blood spot on the left side of the female’s (the right hand bird’s) breast. I wonder if she killed something recently: 

Red-tail pair a block from my house

I usually (IIRC) see my first buffleheads of the season around Halloween. I’ve been watching for them this year but didn’t see them until today. They are synonymous with winter on the falls for the James: 

Buffleheads bobbing along in a mild flood this morning

The river was around twelve feet deep when we were hiking today; often it’s at five or six feet or lower. We came around a corner and the trail was under ~3” of water for a hundred feet or more, so we had to go “overland” or “bushwhacking” – it was a jungle out there! 

Lots of surprise detours this morning:

A kind stranger took this picture exactly 60 minutes earlier, in a much more accessible section of the park. I need to start asking these kind photographers for their first names! They are always so friendly. You could not ask for three better ambassadors than Mackey, Turner and Yuki:  

The river’s edge came to us this fine December morning

Have a great week! Come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay

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Birds – unfeathered and feathered, and more

29 November, 2020 Birds – unfeathered and feathered, and more 

The subject of “birds” comes up during Thanksgiving week. I saw this “bird” (unfeathered) when my instructor Joel and I flew to Delaware Coastal Airport (KGED):  

Me with “Panchito”, a WWII era B-25 Mitchell medium bomber

That’s a B-25J Mitchell medium bomber. B-25’s were made famous when sixteen launched from an aircraft carrier in early 1942 to bomb Tokyo – only four months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I asked Joel how a plane that big could take off from something as small as an aircraft carrier. He basically said the aircraft carrier goes “20 knots into a 10 knot headwind, you have a thirty knot wind going over the wings before you even start the engine.” It’s just remarkable – it doesn’t even look real. 

As soon as I got home I began reading Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo by Ted Lawson, a pilot from the mission. Not to spoil it, but he watched one of his crewmates saw off his femur after he crash landed. And he wrote about that experience. And when you come home with one of your legs amputated at the femur, it’s hard to dispute his story. This is a remarkable, remarkable story – I am still flabbergasted. He was twenty-five years old when that happened. Twenty-five. He lived until he was seventy-five. Only about the first quarter of the book has any flying in it. The rest is their survival after crashing on a beach in China. 

We flew this Tecnam P92 Eaglet from Hanover to Maryland (first) then Delaware then back to Maryland then back to Hanover. I took this picture just before I preflighted it: 

Tecnam P92 Eaglet Joel and I flew to MD and DE Tuesday afternoon

For a moment’s perspective – that Tecnam has a four cylinder, 100 hp engine. The B-25 at the top of this post – it landed right behind us – has two engines and they each have fourteen cylinders and 1,700 horsepower. Each engine! What a treat it was to see that plane. 

This was the sunset we saw near Virginia’s Eastern Shore when we were flying back on Tuesday: 

Sunset near the Eastern Shore while we flew back. Probably ~4,500′.

Of course I saw owls this week. Evelyn and Mackey and Turner and I hiked at Pony Pasture on Thanksgiving – and we saw our first pair of owls for the season! I took this picture around 11:00 Thanksgiving morning: 

First owl pair I saw this season. I hope to see more! Check out the talons on the right hand owl.

A few minutes earlier, Ev and Mackey and Turner and I were on the edge of the river. I decided I’d see how far I could stretch my arms to get a selfie of the four of us. Note the dog hair on my arm – Turner likes to leave little reminders he’s been around: 

Thanksgiving river selfie with Evelyn and Mackey and Turner

The white squirrel returned – or returned to visibility – at Deep Run this week. I took this picture one day – I can’t recall when: 

Deep Run white squirrel

I also saw this Great Blue Heron at Pony Pasture on Thanksgiving when Ev and I were there with Mackey and Turner: 

Pony Pasture Great Blue Heron Thanksgiving morning

My brother Kevin and his wife Jenny and their family hosted a pandemic sized (small number of people, big distance apart) socially distant Thanksgiving in their barn Thursday. One of my many talented nieces (Wren?) took this group picture: 

In 2021 we’ll take of our masks and show our true selves

I’m running out of gas (energy, anyway). I’ll close with a robin I saw this morning. Wait – I’ll close with Mackey and Turner and Yuki from this river this morning, after a robin picture. Robin from this morning: 

Caught a robin at Pony Pasture in the sun for a moment:
Mackey, Yuki and Turner gleaming in the sun on the riverbank this morning

Have a great week! 

All best, 

Jay

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