I have all the usual miscellany this week. But I was walking Mackey and Turner out to the car this morning to go to the river and I turned around and saw the results of Evelyn’s camellia pruning. I took this picture at 9:20 this morning. This is a camellia riot. If this plant was a person, he or she would be grinning from ear to ear:
Spring began here in Richmond yesterday at 5:37 AM. I was messing around in the yard yesterday and took a picture of an individual bloom from that plant at 2:55 PM:
I went down to the river for a few minutes Monday afternoon. Buffleheads are still around. They’ll be headed north soon:
I’ve learned over the past couple of weeks that Barred Owls and Buffleheads are on roughly the same schedule. Buffleheads appear in late October or early November, roughly at the first frost. I learned that many years ago. And I looked back over my blogs and my pictures and that’s when Barred Owls first show up. They’re around until roughly the end of March or the beginning of April – the last frost. I read this about Barred Owls under “Cool facts” on the Cornell Lab all about birds page: “Barred Owls don’t migrate, and they don’t even move around very much. Of 158 birds that were banded and then found later, none had moved farther than 6 miles away.” So they’re around. But they must change behavior. Anyway, one was down there this morning, hooting to its mate who sounded like it was ~¼ mile upstream:
Since I started out with “flowers bailing me out” (those camellias though!), I will continue in that vein, since yesterday was the first day of Spring, 2021. I photographed this hyacinth on the edge of our driveway yesterday afternoon around 4:30:
Maybe I’ve put a photograph on here before – perhaps as recently as last week – but I’m enjoying the Pine Warblers (Setophaga pinus) that have been showing up on my feeders. Cute little birds that in the past I have probably mistaken for goldfinches:
I got to spend some time with my old friend Luna this weekend. We did a few walks around her neighborhood, but of course the highlight was Pony Pasture this morning. Definitely the highlight for me, and I sense it was the highlight for Luna too. A kind person named Jackie took our picture.
14 March, 2021 The flowers are finally bailing me out
The ospreys just started bailing me out too, but I didn’t find out about them until an hour ago. The light was nice and they’re active – extremely active – but they caught me by surprise and I didn’t have time for good photographs. Next week for sure.
Monday afternoon at lunch time I saw the first daffodil of 2021 in our yard. At least in central Virginia, few things are more synonymous with Spring than the first daffodils:
I’ll see bluebirds on my feeders tomorrow morning first thing – they must be building a nest close by. There is never a bad time to see a bluebird. But I am especially joyful when I’m hiking and I get to see one in the woods. I like the background:
More flowers bailing me out:
Most of my life – until early in my blogging “career” – I knew a lot about Red-tailed hawks and close to zero about other raptors. I think sometimes back then I’d see a Red-shouldered hawk – it’s an easy mistake if you’re not paying attention – and think it was a Red-tailed hawk. But once I became aware of their existence, I began seeing them constantly. I saw one this week but was unable to get good light. But I love their color:
I may as well continue with flowers bailing me out. First hyacinths from next to our driveway:
More daffodils? Is this too many? I think that “too many daffodils” is one of those imaginary concepts like “too much chocolate”:
Speaking of other things you can’t apply the idea of “too much” to, here’s a picture of Turner (brown), Mackey (black) and Yuki (none of the above) standing happily near the edge of the James River in Pony Pasture yesterday morning a bit before lunch:
Even after all these months – seventeen in a row now – I’m not sure what happens next with the Barred Owls I see in Pony Pasture. I think – I think – that soon they’ll become more active with parenting duties and spend less time lounging (probably digesting) on this branch. But I saw one yesterday on our hike. It was preening itself enthusiastically, a behavior I had not yet witnessed. Always fun to see them do something new:
What better way to end a blog post than with a Barred Owl! Have a great week, see you (hopefully!) next Sunday.
That’s the first picture ever on this blog – on March 3, 2011. Ten years ago this week! Roux belonged to a person who lived with me back then, but she’s been gone for a long time. Mackey, on the other hand, was at the river this morning (though not early) with me and Turner and Yuki. Yuki wasn’t even born when that picture was taken, and Turner was probably not a year old. Mackey was already almost four!
The river was low when I took that picture – probably below four feet. This morning it was around nine feet, or I would have recreated that picture. I’ll do it in another week or two when the water goes down some. Here’s the picture I took of Turner, Mackey, and Yuki at the river’s edge just before noon today:
We met a photographer named Diego on our hike this morning, and I asked if he’d mind photographing the four of us. Thank you Diego!:
Ten years ago I knew much less than I do today. Now I know where to find owls! Or at least I do for the time being – they could vanish. I photographed an owl down there Monday (March 1) marking the seventeenth consecutive month of seeing owls perched on the same exact branch. I photographed it again today at 11:51. This is from this morning:
I was trying to decide if I would use Monday’s picture or today’s picture so I compared to see which one worked better. The sun was out today and Monday was gloomy and overcast, so I chose today’s picture. As I looked more closely at Monday’s picture, I realized the camera angle and the place where the owl was perched were nearly identical on the two days. Here is Monday’s picture. The sky is the color of watered down milk, but the pattern of the branches behind the owl is nearly identical:
I took the owl picture Monday around 11:30. I hiked around awhile in an unsuccessful search for salamanders and deer, but I did come across this Red-shouldered hawk perched above the creek. Notice the watered down milk color of the sky:
They mowed the big back field – the “pasture” – at Pony Pasture this week. I’ll bet it was muddy! But it needed to be cut down. This is such a different look. Rapunzel-gets-a-crewcut:
I’ll post a companion picture to that image in June. What is ankle high in March will be shoulder high in June. The only things added will be water and sunlight. It’s science but it sure works like magic.
I’m going to wrap up the photography and jot down a few notes. But come back next week! I’ve never seen a picture of a mockingbird looking like this. I rarely see mockingbirds on my feeders at all:
Have a great week! Come back next week! All best,
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My mom and dad were both alive and healthy and engaging when I began this blog. Ten years ago. My brother Shane was single. My dog Ivory was still a great hiker. Now my mom and dad are both dead and my brother Shane has a beautiful wife and a handsome son and a lovely daughter. Ivory died of really old age a few months after this blog started. The river, at least as far as I can discern, has accepted it all. I’d never gone flying before I began this blog; now I’ve flown over a hundred hours. I’ll fly again after the pandemic calms down a little more. The river just flows, flows, flows. Pandemics, presidential elections, parents, dogs, days, owls, flowers, snow, flying lessons, Fourth of July, it’s a good place to be calm. It’s a good place to return to when I’m not calm. It’s good to remember. I’m glad it’s there! I’m enjoying blogging. Maybe another ten years! Meanwhile, I’ll try to make it next week!
28 February, 2021 The flowers haven’t bailed me out!
I keep hoping for a burst of color from the flowers but I’m getting ahead of myself. There are a handful of daffodils blooming – I’ll put one here – but no profusion yet. I keep hoping to have a colorful blog post full of shiny blooms but it’s still too early. And gloomy! It was gloomy when I photographed this handsome dude – see his wet feathers? – but I can’t look at a guy like this and think “gloomy”:
That picture was from today – there has not been an ungloomy instant today in Richmond. There are at least two pair of bluebirds coming to my feeders – perhaps more. I saw two females at the same time Friday. Here is one of them:
This week I became aware of a course from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology called The Wonderful World of Owls. If you click on that link you get a free preview. The course was not free, but it had five lessons and twenty topics and they estimate three hours for completion. It has sixteen videos that are each around four or five minutes long. I learned a lot. Of course they had owls from all over the world, but owls are such an unusual group of birds, they share many similarities. One thing I learned is that owls mate for life and are monogamous, but they only stay together during breeding and nesting season. They live apart for the rest of the year. Since I took this picture on Thursday (2/25/2021) it must still be breeding season:
I stand corrected – by my own photography. It hasn’t been gloomy all week. Here are two pictures of the moon I took on Tuesday, 2/23/2021. The first one is from 5:16 PM
I have two apps that show moon data. Here is what they showed at that time:
Same day, 10:03 PM:
I also stand corrected here – a flower at Pony Pasture did bail me out! It was far away in the woods but I got my lens on this daffodil, not far from where I often photograph deer:
I also stand corrected here – this time re: gloominess. The bright red tail of this Red tailed hawk is in sharp contrast to the crisp blue February sky:
Here’s a picture of Dash on a chair in the living room Thursday morning:
I got a quick glimpse of a brown-headed nuthatch yesterday – a favorite songbird since I only became aware of its existence in the last year or so:
And a chickadee the day before:
Well, let me close of course with Mackey and Turner at the river Thursday. And have a great week!:
Stop the presses! There are, of course, no presses. But I’d considered an idea earlier then thrown it out then now (at 8:45 PM) decided to include it.
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It’s a pleasant sentiment, but if you live a while and get close to some people, you’ll learn there are days when this idea is trite. If I’m just being whiny, I just need to get over it. At this point in my life, more often than not, I can keep choosing joy every day. Sometimes you just can’t. Fortunately, human beings are mind-bogglingly resilient, and when we’re mentally healthy, we can choose joy again – evolution has selected us for it.
That quote appeared in my photos – I don’t know how it ended up in there, in the middle of all the dogs and river and receipts and flowers and birds and all that. But there it was. I must have done a screen shot.
I hadn’t thought of Henri Nouwen in years – possibly decades. But I was swamped with anger in the early years after my accident – you’d hardly even have recognized me – and I was grabbing every life ring that came along. I’d write it down if I thought it would help me keep my head above water. I handle most emotions pretty well, even negative ones, but I really, really, really do not do well with anger. I don’t know how I came across this – I just remember almost palpable relief – a physical sensation – when I read this. From my journal, around 1995:
“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all of us love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour — unceasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.” – Henri Nouwen
I didn’t plan this section – I conceived and wrote it from the first = = = = = to the last = = = = = practically without looking up from my computer. It came to mind. I’m looking forward to March! All best,
21 February, 2021 These keep getting shorter and shorter!
I will be uncharacteristically brief. If I hadn’t had the always-wonderful experience of seeing an owl yesterday, I might have skipped this week. So an owl and a couple other items.
Some of the recent ice storms had damaged the branch the owls normally favor. I was afraid they’d moved. I visited twice this week and no owls either time. I cannot recall the last time I visited on two consecutive days and saw zero owls. I was relieved yesterday when Mackey and Turner and I walked under the branch at 10:45 and saw this:
Just after we walked away it began hooting at its partner, who responded immediately – from very close by. We walked back to have another look but this is the only one we saw.
This picture (below) was right when we arrived, about fifteen or twenty minute before we got to the owl. I like this spot because it’s open and the light is good. But it’s right at the very beginning; Mackey and Turner don’t like to stop moving just a moment after we get out of the car. They shed their hangdog demeanor as soon as we start hiking:
A pair or Red-tailed hawks have been perching on a Dominion power line tower near me regularly. I don’t know where their nest is but I suspect it will have eggs on it soon. I saw this pair (presumably) on this tower (definitely) on Thursday at 12:30. The sky was dreary and gray and in every way February-like. I drove past the same tower again yesterday at 12:30. Their backs were to the sun so the color is not lovely but they are a lovely pair of birds. Patterson Avenue is right behind them; you can see the west wind blowing their feathers from right to left:
I’ve reviewed some previous years blog posts to see what’s happening in late February, early March. I’m surprised I’ve posted so few flower pictures recently. I expect they’ll be in the blog soon.
Long time hikers understand a simple relationship in the park – the worse the weather, the fewer the people. If it’s really messy out, it’s like your own private park. When I arrived just before noon today there were four cars in the parking lot. If this was a pretty Sunday in May there wouldn’t even be four spaces.
Tuesday was sloppy weather too. I left the dogs home (today too) but hiked ~1.5 miles in the park. On the first loop I saw a single Barred owl:
I’m looking at that picture on a big clear monitor. It’s very easy to see droplets of water on top of the owl’s head, and on the feathers on the side of its head near its right eye.
I walked a few more minutes and came across a large crowd of deer. This one gazed at me for a while:
On the return loop there was a double owl! A pair on the branch. I took a couple pictures but I used the light so poorly they didn’t come out well. Meanwhile – the birds on my feeder are never far away. And my shoes don’t get muddy! Here’s a handsome male bluebird from yesterday:
I don’t have a million pictures today, so let me add one I took one minute after I took that bluebird picture. This cardinal was on the feeder at the same time as that bluebird:
Soon I’ll get a male goldfinch and add the third primary color. But not today!
I was thinking about those birds. It’s ~5:15 PM on Sunday and it’s getting dark and it’s going to stay that way for twelve hours. And it’s going to get cold. And those birds live out there. Every night. They really look so delicate but it must be an illusion.
Ah – one more picture. From my dogless hike at Pony Pasture this morning:
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 yesterdayI went to the river (to beat the snow) and there were two Barred owls!:
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:
Some nice birds landed on my feeder Tuesday. First a Catbird:
Then a Pine Warbler:
A red-bellied woodpecker
And of course a bluebird!:
I also so a Hooded merganser at Echo Lake in western Henrico:
I saw a Great Blue Heron at Pony Pasture Monday when I saw my “first February owl”:
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:
See! Not much to say! Have a great week, all best,
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:
I was really (of course) hoping to see an owl and (of course) was rewarded:
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:
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:
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:
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:
There are a lot of great astronomy apps. I use two simple ones. This is a screen shot from World Clock:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
This is the same bird four minutes earlier on the other side of the tree. I like the sun shining through his red crest:
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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!
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:
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:
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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 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):
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:
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:
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 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