Out and in with the old and new

31 December, 2017            Out and in with the old and new

When I sat down at my computer Christmas morning, I looked out the window and this was the first gift of the day: 

My favorite gift – you can’t buy this on Amazon

Who could ask for more? Later that day I walked into the backyard and there were six bluebirds on the two feeders, and four perched on the power line above their heads, waiting for a turn. I’m certain that’s the only time there’s ever been ten bluebirds in my yard at one time.

This is my last blog post of 2017 (since it’s my few hours awake in 2017), and I’m looking forward to more and better blogging in 2018.

Those bluebirds are a lovely reminder that, though the weather is frigid, Spring will appear again. 11:15 AM ET on Tuesday, March 20. But in the meantime, true story – I photographed these lilac buds in our backyard at around 4:30 this afternoon:

New Year’s Eve lilac bud – isn’t that remarkable?

I’ve lived in this house fifteen years (!) and those lilacs have budded reliably in the deepest, coldest part of winter – and burst into bloom every April. Another thing that’s happened reliably – it’s already happened this year – is a long-faced neighbor telling me they won’t survive the upcoming cold weather. They’ll bloom in April, right around tax time. 

Speaking of flowers (though not of flowers that smell like lilacs), I picked these up at the grocery store a day or two ago just to brighten up the place: 

If these were at Pony Pasture they’re probably be torn out as an invasive species but what can I say. December needs more brightness.

Speaking of Pony Pasture and natives, I was on the way back from the river Thursday afternoon when I saw a football in a tree. I rolled to a stop and snapped four pictures all in the same minute. Two of the bird sitting in the tree, this one, and one of it flying away: 

Bald Eagle ascends into a west wind on Williams Island Thursday afternoon:

I photographed a few different raptors (in addition to that eagle) this week, but none of the images were pleasing. This Red-tail on the power line tower near DS Freeman HS is adequate: 

Lots of birds soaking up sun when the opportunity presents itself

I apologize (yet again) for the quality of the next image, but it was such a great “catch” (though imperfect) I had to include it anyway. It’s quite difficult (for me) to photograph and often to even see Eastern Towhees (Pipilo erythrophthalmus). Wednesday afternoon I looked out my window and there were two on the ground! I got one click before one disappeared. There’s an obvious bird in the center and another one lower left. Maybe I’ll do better soon: 

Towhee visible center and partial Towhee visible lower left

I took that picture of the two Towhees at around 3:30 Wednesday afternoon. I’ve noticed going through my pictures from that day I photographed a Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) in nearly the same spot around 11:30 that morning. I guess these secretive birds are more visible with less cover (leaves) to hide in. Plus calories are getting scarce and they’re grateful – in their avian way – for reliable food: 

Brown Thrasher scooping up fallen bird seed

 I got another Red-tail the same day, but it was a dull picture. I caught a Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) pausing momentarily in a trailside tree at Deep Run Park Friday. This is also a bird I don’t see every day: 

Hermit thrush at Deep Run Park Friday:

 A picture from Pony Pasture around noon today – the start of our final river hike of 2017. Hopefully we’ll have the first river hike of 2018 tomorrow! 

I hope 2017 has been superb and 2018 is even better. See you next year! All best, 


Three handsome hikers on a COLD river! Happy New Year!





Posted in Bald eagles, Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, ice, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

You can’t buy this on Amazon

24 December, 2017            You can’t buy this on Amazon

You can buy pictures on Amazon. But you can’t buy the experience of being on that river bank

I’m 56 years old and this will by my first Christmas without a living parent. Mom was enthusiastic and ebullient and feisty and celebratory a year ago this week. On January 4 of this year – it’s hard to believe 365 days have not passed – she died suddenly in her sleep.  In her own home and in her own bed – just the way she (and we) wanted it. I’ll add a few words at the end of this post, after the usual detritus.

This is what inspired this thought and title and blog post. I’ll address it a bit before I finish: 

Stationery my friend Sam made from a picture he took while hiking at Pony Pasture

Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I went to the river this morning. I was looking for footballs in trees, and we walked right under this nest. It’s a wasp nest or a hornet nest or I don’t know – if you know, please inform me. If I change it, I’ll credit you, but I’ve been slow on that lately. Here’s the nest from about 11:30 this morning:

[[Update from my friend Kim; she put this on facebook last night: “The bald-faced hornet, which is technically not a hornet, makes that nest. Short version, all hornets are wasps, and none are native to the US, though the giant ones called European hornets are found here now (the only true hornets found here.)” She went on to provide this helpful link from, of all people, Colonial Pest Control, IncWHAT MAKES THOSE BIG, PAPER NESTS IN TREES?]]

Winter riverbank hornet’s nest at Pony Pasture, in a maple tree

I saw a similar nest, only in better light, three years ago near the Williams Island dam. At that time I assumed it was a hornet’s nest; today I’m less certain. No one corrected me about it in 2014. If you’d like to see that 2014 nest, plus a couple of Pileated woodpeckers, a squirrel cowering beneath a hawk, and a short slow motion video of Turner bounding across our backyard, I invite you to visit (or revisit) Stirring up a hornet’s nest from November 16, 2014.

The weather in central Virginia has not been frightful this week; I’ve ridden my bicycle a time or two at West Creek. I saw and heard these killdeers shrieking and scrambling along the banks of the eastern lake at West Creek Tuesday afternoon:

Two noisy killdeers in the fading light at West Creek

Twenty-four hours later this Red-tail gazed down at the parking lot of the Westbury Apothecary. It could easily see the chimney of our house half a mile to the east:

Regal Red-tail in sharp relief against a flawless blue backdrop

When we see crowds of gulls on the river in winter, they’re often Ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis). The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says Ring-billed gulls are  “Comfortable around humans, they frequent parking lots, garbage dumps, beaches, and fields, sometimes by the hundreds.” We saw big flocks of Ring-billed Gulls, but we also saw this large gull alone on a mid-river rock. This is a Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus ):

Great Black-backed gull mid-stream at Pony Pasture this morning

This is what the Cornell Lab says about Great Black-backed Gulls: “The king of the Atlantic waterfront, the Great Black-backed Gull is the largest gull in the world, with a powerful build and a domineering attitude. They harry other birds to steal their food and even hunt adult birds such as grebes and puffins.” 

Evelyn was staying at Yuki’s house last night. She took this picture of the four of us just before we left for the river this morning:

Mackey, Turner, Yuki and me departing for the wilds of the James River Park. Photo by Evelyn! Thank you Evie! 

Merry Christmas tomorrow if that’s your thing. If it’s not, by all means have an excellent December 25 and an even better week. And come back here a week from today for the final blog post of 2017! Have a great week, 



You can’t buy this on Amazon

Mackey and Turner and I hike every week or so with a friend named Sam. Some weeks we hike at Pony Pasture, some weeks at Sunday Park in Brandermill. Sam’s in middle school but he already takes pictures any adult would be happy to get. I let him carry my camera while we were hiking at Pony Pasture in November. Sam took this picture:

Sam’s great Great Blue Heron photograph from November at Pony Pasture. And now my stationery!

It was a brilliant photograph and a gorgeous memory from an autumn afternoon spent hiking on the riverside. I emailed it to his parents. They had it made into stationery and he gave it to me for Christmas! I’m standing there in the parking lot thanking him and simultaneously thinking how much my parents would have loved to get these cards.

When Mom died last year, my siblings and I spoke afterward about our combined sense of grief and relief. It was completely unexpected – she was 100% herself when she went to sleep that evening – but it was just the way she wanted it. At home, in her own bed, with family around, and I suspect no real pain. And since it was the way she wanted it, it was the way we wanted it. But when Sam handed me those cards, with the image he’d captured of an excellent afternoon at the river, I thought in an instant how happy I would have been to send one to Mom. Dad would have liked it as much or more.

That’s the cool thing about gifts you can’t buy on Amazon – they’re priceless.


Posted in Birds, Dogs, Fun, James River, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Box of chocolates

17 December, 2017             Box of chocolates

“Momma always said life was like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna’ get.” – Forrest Gump, 1994

There’s never a bad time to see a bluebird

That’s an Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) in the top picture; I took that picture at 12:08 today at Pony Pasture. This next picture is the one that inspired the title of this post – I didn’t know what I was gonna’ get.

Immature – probably 1st year – Bald eagle. I didn’t know what I was gonna’ get.

We were leaving Pony Pasture at 1:00 this afternoon and I saw a “football in a tree” just upstream from the parking lot. I thought I “knew what I was gonna’ get” – I was positive it was an adult Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). I pulled over and put my flashing lights on and started snapping and I could see it was not an adult Bald Eagle. The light was not helpful and I guessed I was seeing an out of season osprey because… you never know what you’re gonna’ get. I came home and took a better look (on a bigger monitor) and googled it and it’s an immature Bald Eagle. I think this is the feathering for a first year Bald Eagle but I’m not positive. Since this is my first one ever. Feel free to comment on here or email if you’re more certain and are able to tell with that middling-quality photograph.

Speaking of first birds ever. I told Evelyn on Thursday that I’d seen my first ever Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) in the backyard. Then it came around to the front feeders – outside my office window – and I took this picture. And it was not black. I had no idea what it was so I posted it on the Birding Virginia Facebook page and asked for ID. Fortunately my friend Kim identified it thus: “Red-winged blackbird. Young male, I believe.” That’s first for me in my yard – I’d never seen a Red-winged Blackbird of any age here. You never know what you’re gonna’ get:

An immature male Red-winged blackbird, as it turned out

More often, of course, after a while, you do know what you’re gonna’ get, or at least you  have a pretty good guess. There’s not a 100% chance you’ll see a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) every time you visit Pony Pasture (they’re not Canada Geese), but they’re a regular visitor. I saw two today, one near the parking lot and one farther downstream. This was the former:  

Pony Pasture Great Blue Heron

This picture is not crisp, but I’m including it to show how close these birds are sometimes. It’s easy to see the  pair of Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) in the lower left corner. Just look diagonally opposite them in the upper right; it blends in well but it’s easy to see the Great Blue Heron in the opposite corner:

Mallard pair (lower left); Great Blue Heron (upper right)

When I get an accipiter – a Sharp-shinned Hawk or a Cooper’s Hawk – I am caught by surprise every time. Accipiters always move. They hunt mainly birds. I can predict buteos – a Red-tailed Hawk or a Red-shouldered Hawk – because they are creatures of habit. Buteos hunt mainly small mammals. But this accipiter – I’m not sure if it’s a Sharp-shinned or a Cooper’s – flew over my head and landed in a dogwood tree two blocks from my house on Wednesday. With a buteo you often have ten or fifteen minutes to get the image you want. With an accipiter you’re fortunate – in my experience – to get ten or fifteen seconds. I’m always grateful though:

Accipiter near Freeman HS Wednesday – possibly a Cooper’s, possibly a Sharp-shinned

I often do know what I’m gonna’ get – as do readers of this blog – when it comes to Red-tailed and Red-shouldered hawks. They may be featured more often than any other bird on this blog. This Red-shouldered hawk was perched in a poplar tree near the swamp on Patterson Avenue, just west of Pump Road at 9:30 Wednesday morning:

Red-shoulder, yellow poplar, blue sky – primary colors

Ten minutes later – less than ten minutes later – I was almost home and a Red-tailed hawk  was hunting from a power line tower across the street from DS Freeman HS:

Pretty hawk (Red-tailed) and sky, but the perch is inelegant

Not everything in life is like a box of chocolates – Mackey and Turner and Yuki know what they’re gonna’ get on Sunday mornings – a walk at Pony Pasture. I watched the segment of Forrest Gump when he’s telling the lady about life being like a box of chocolates. He said,  “I could eat about a million and a half of these.” I feel the same way about chocolate – of course – but I feel that way about dog walks at Pony Pasture too. I could take about a million and a half of these:

Yuki (white), Turner (brown), Mackey (none of the above)

Dash gets a little blog time, but not as much as Mackey and Turner and Yuki. It doesn’t bother him a bit. Here’s one of him on a chair in the living room and another lying on the carpet in front of the fire. On instagram I captioned the second picture #shameless:

The word “anxiety” is not in Dash’s vocabulary


I open many blog posts with a picture of the river; today I’ll close with one. Enjoy – and come back next week! All best,


Do you know when the river looks bad? I’ll tell you when: never


Posted in Bald eagles, Birds, cats, Dogs, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

 Must be present to win

10 December, 2017            Must be present to win

With nature photography, I’m told – and I know – you “must be present to win.” I didn’t show up  much this week – outdoors – so my offerings are thin. So it goes. The deer in Pony Pasture have been breeding – that’s what they do this time of year – and in the coming months, the pregnant females will slow down a bit. But I haven’t seen them recently. A couple of days last week were warm enough to ride my bike at West Creek, and there were large flocks of ducks on the two ponds out there. I saw a handful of Hooded mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) on the western lake, and one or two on the eastern. Here are two males:

Two male Hooded mergansers at West Creek

There was a huge flock of ducks on the western lake. I should be able to ID these but I’m unable. Or didn’t take the time. Email me or comment on here if you know what they are; I’ll correct it and credit you:

Isn’t that remarkable? That’s ~1/3 of the flock.

A squirrel from Deep Run:

Gray squirrel at Deep Run. Like all of the other birds and animals, they’re packing in the calories right now. Cold weather is upon us. 

And a picture first of Dash in his favorite place:

Dash could not care less about snow. Ice. Cold. That cat is 100% satisfied, 100% of the time.

Dash is followed – or preceded – or both – by Turner:

When it comes to “having a ball,” Turner takes it literally.

Dash is a 24/7/365 indoor cat, and he’s thrilled to have it that way. Turner is up for pretty much anything, but Mackey was outside Friday afternoon for about three minutes during a snow deluge. Mackey doesn’t complain – ever – but he was ready to take his turn in front of the fire:

You wouldn’t even call Mackey “long-suffering” – he just accepts it all. He is very Zen.

Ev was in Texas last weekend. She always buys thoughtful gifts, and she’s especially fond of the type that don’t sit around the house very long:

Evelyn is a master at choosing gifts that won’t be left lying around unused.

This was the river when we arrived this morning:

This is a safe, quiet, peaceful, comforting place. It’s like a secret how great it is in the winter. If you haven’t visited recently, by all means do!

And this was Yuki (left) and Mackey (center) and Turner (right) about an hour later, very focused on something in the woods. That I never was able to see. Or hear or smell:

It is a privilege to spend time with these boys

I’ve seen a lot of great blue herons this week, and red-shouldered hawks, and Juncos nearly everywhere I’ve traveled – they’re a signature winter songbird – but my pictures have been poor quality even by my standards, and that’s saying something. I’ll get some sooner or later. And I’ll get back here again next week! And I hope you do too! Have a great week,


Posted in Birds, Dogs, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Footballs in the trees

3 December, 2017            Footballs in the trees

Mockingbird on a sign – my favorite picture in a while. It was an accident!

This first (mockingbird) image is unrelated to the title or the rest of the post; I just enjoy the way it looks. I stumbled on it by accident earlier this week when I was driving to the river.

The title relates to this:

Bald eagle on Williams Island

If you’re uninterested in raptors, the “football in a tree” concept is uninteresting. But from now through late February, when the tree branches are bare, if you want to find big birds in the woods, look for footballs in trees. That’s what Bald eagles look like, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered hawks, and Barred owls too. The first thing you’ll notice is the size and shape. They all look like footballs in trees. There’s nothing else like them. 

Here’s a “football” – but it’s not in a tree. It’s a Red-tailed hawk on the lights at the baseball field at Freeman High School in Henrico County.

Red-tailed hawk perched on a light. It’s football sized. 

Buffleheads, as you’ve seen, at least as you’ve seen on this blog, are difficult to photograph. Or anyway they are for me. Another thing you may have noticed is my shaky videography. I was hiking with a buddy of mine at Pony Pasture on Monday and suggested he try a few bufflehead pictures. He promptly lay down on a rock – solving the shaky camera problem – and took this excellent video. It has about twenty (or more) buffleheads, floating up and down, flapping their wings, chasing one another, and possibly even frolicking. It was 60º, sunny and still, it’s difficult to imagine they didn’t enjoy themselves. Watch it and see what you think:


This is Pony Pasture this morning:

Bald eagles and I each draw sustenance from the river. Buffleheads do too. 

I saw an actual turtle in at the river this morning. It’s December! I liked its reflection on the water:

Turtle in the river in December! It looks mighty comfy though.

This is also Pony Pasture today, an hour later:

Turner on the left, uncharacteristically timid. Yuki in the center, characteristically in the limelight. Mackey on the right, characteristically peaceful. 

Evelyn was out of town this weekend; she left really early Friday morning. When I came out later to eat breakfast I found this card on the dining room table:

I don’t know where she finds this stuff. Isn’t it excellent?

All four of us are looking forward to her return – soon we hope! Dash will wait in his favorite spot. His face will not be lined with worry:

All is always right in Dash’s world. Especially in the winter when there’s a fire in the woodstove. 

As long as he’s home and there’s a fire and he has a Kong toy, Turner knows where he’ll wait too:

The fireplace is like a magnet

Have a great week! And come back next week! I’m planning a new blog section in 2018.  The first planned blog post of 2018 is Sunday, 7 January. I’m getting in touch with my inner nerd (more in touch than I already am, if you can imagine such a thing) and appending a brief section to the end of each blog post. I’ll describe it at the end of this blog post. All best, 



Genesis of “the tally”

genesis – “The coming into being of something; the origin. See Synonyms at ‘beginning.’” – American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 5th Edition

tally – “A reckoning, score or amount.” – IBID


This project will focus my attention, literally and figuratively.

I will record every notable wildlife sighting each week in 2018 at the bottom of each blog post. Red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, bald eagles, whitetail deer, ospreys, barred owls, buffleheads, snakes, turtles, frogs, bluebirds, if I’ve photographed it – I have to have an identifiable photograph – I’ll record it here. I’ll learn how often I see certain animals, and the time of arrival and departure of some seasonal visitors. Everything will be in central Virginia. Maybe a couple in the mountains of Virginia. Mainly in Pony Pasture, except for hawks. I see hawks all over town, nearly every day, or so it seems at the moment. But not often at Pony Pasture.

I’m going to learn how the animals move with the rhythm of the seasons. There are buffleheads on the James now, but they’ll go away in March or April. And won’t return until November. There are no ospreys now, at least not on Parham Road where I normally see them, but they’ll return in March – possibly February – at roughly the time the buffleheads leave.

I won’t tally a lot of songbirds. They’re beautiful and they have lovely voices but I enjoy them most in the background. Chickadees are my favorite, plus I love bluebirds and goldfinches and most woodpeckers. But songbirds won’t be tallied regularly. I also don’t anticipate doing much with mallards, Canada geese, seagulls, that sort of thing. By this time next year I will have a more precise idea of what comes and goes, and how often, and when.   

I’m not a scientist but I enjoy the collection and organization of data. It helps me make sense out of things. When I’m outdoors, the absence of politics, of religion, of advertising – every moment is a relief. There is no partisanship about the first frost. No prayer causes an osprey to plunge into the river after a shad. No advertisement beckons a pair of Barred owls to build a nest in a hollow sycamore. It’s so quiet. Always a sanctuary.  


Posted in Bald eagles, Birds, buffleheads, cats, Dogs, firewood, Fun, James River, mockingbirds, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Turtles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments


26 November, 2017            Healer 

Bald eagle on Williams Island yesterday (11/25/2017) around 12:30:

That eagle is not the healer – time is. I just like that picture. 

Early in my recovery from my 1988 accident, my brothers told me “time is a great healer – the only problem is, it takes time.” Mom died suddenly on January 4 of this year. Ten months and more passed between that bright cold morning and Thursday, November 23, 2017, our first Thanksgiving without a living parent. It’s to both of their credit that my brothers and sisters and I were able to hold on to their memories and still experience the joy of the holidays a relatively short time later. The river continues to flow:

I know how to feel crummy, and I know how to look at this river. I am unable to do them simultaneously. Speaking of healers.  

Nice bluebirds too:

1/2 hr after & 1/2 mile downstream from the eagle – Eastern bluebird

The eagle picture at the top is not related thematically to this post – I just like the image. It’s not perfect, but on my monitor you can see the pupils in its eyes. That just fascinates me. The eagle was perched in a tree at the downstream end of Williams Island, overlooking the rapids. Also – if this sort of thing interests you – you can make out the dried fruit of yellow poplars in the surrounding branches. Plus a few sycamore fruits. Sycamores are by any measure the “alpha” tree of Pony Pasture. We are so fortunate to have this river and this park.

As the hawk flies (if you will), the cell phone tower this Red-tail perched on is 350 feet from our chimney. Mackey and Turner and I did a loop around Pony Pasture Thanksgiving morning. This guy was up there, watching us come home:

Red-tailed hawk, Thanksgiving morning, probably eyeing a chipmunk in our front yard

Speaking of Thanksgiving. I didn’t take any pictures! But we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving for many years at my brother Kevin’s house in Doswell. This was the first one ever without Mom, and her absence had a strong presence (in a manner of speaking). But it was (in my opinion) entirely positive. Because we talked about her often and warmly, and we celebrated the gifts she’s left us with, the qualities of hers that we’ve made our own.

I think there were twenty-five people at Kev’s house, give or take some. We were seated at a long, long table, and we were shoulder to shoulder down both sides and at both ends. Kevin’s daughters make our personalized place tags every year. My youngest (for the time being) niece Wren made them this year. Each place setting had a rock painted with a meaningful scene. I wish I had them all – they were creative and thoughtful and lovely. This was mine. That’s Yuki on the left, Mackey in the middle and Turner on the right. Pony Pasture and the river and the sky and the clouds are in the background. What a treasure:

Personalized place tag, 2017 edition – Yuki, Mackey, Turner, Pony Pasture. Thanks Wren!

For a rough comparison, I took this picture at Pony Pasture at 12:30 today. Mackey is on the left (he is the absence of light in this image, although he may have the lightest spirit). Turner in the center, smiling, because he’s in the center – that’s his favorite place. Yuki on the right – he appears to be pondering something. They are such excellent boys: 

Mackey casting his own shadow on the left, Turner front and center, Yuki on the right

Evelyn is out working in the living room, sitting in front of the fire. She took this picture of Dash moments ago:

Dash just can not stop worrying. Sadly, it is his burden.

I lucked into an image of a seagull flying low over the river this morning. It’s not flawless quality, but I enjoy the bird’s lines. Seagulls in my opinion always present a pair of opposite qualities. They’re squawky and noisy and quarrelsome. But they only fly gracefully:  

They look so elegant. When they fly. Ring-billed gull this morning at Pony Pasture.

I was out in Glen Allen earlier this week, leaning against my car and trying to get an image of very predictable Red-shouldered hawk. I could never come to terms with it (photographically speaking) but this handsome male cardinal watched me the whole time. I just turned 90º to my left and got this guy:

Glen Allen cardinal

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


Posted in Bald eagles, Birds, cardinals, Dogs, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The color of our planet

19 November, 2017        The color of our planet 

“Blue, the color of our planet from far, far away” – Regina Spektor, “Blue Lips”

The preceding picture is Pony Pasture rocks at a very civilized hour this morning. 

Another “primary color” at Pony Pasture this morning

There are three “primary colors” – blue, yellow and red. This completes the set

Every year as the leaves drop away and the sky turns its brightest blue I think of the words “Blue, the color of our planet from far, far away.” (Blue Lips, Regina Spektor, 2009). I don’t think of the rest of the song – just that line. From now through about mid-February, on clear days, the river reflects the sky back even more dazzling than its actual color. It may be my ignorance – never discount that possibility – but I have no idea how that happens. The reflection is brighter and bluer than the original. To me it’s like alchemy. 

I understand a bit more about how yellow leaves become yellow leaves and red leaves become red leaves. Knowing how it works doesn’t make the leaves any less stunning. The science doesn’t make the reality less miraculous.

The light didn’t cooperate as much for this Red-tailed hawk near Freeman High School Tuesday. But they’re among my favorites and I smile more when they’re around:

Neighborhood Red-tailed hawk

I smile when Red-shouldered hawks are around too. This one found nicer light. And a more pleasing backdrop:

Different bird, different day, different light – Red-shouldered hawk

Despite the miserable light in the first picture, those two images clearly show the difference between Red-tails and Red-shoulders in a frontal view. See how the background of the breast in the Red-tail (top picture) is mostly white? And the background of the breast in the Red-shoulder (bottom picture) is mostly orange? No matter what light they’re in, if you get a good view of the front, it’s easy to tell them apart.  

Blue is the color of our planet, and of Bluebirds and Bluejays and of course Great Blue Herons. This one was way out on the river – not looking extremely blue – but the turtles are looking up to it. See them in the lower right?:

Great blue heron mid-river. Turtles in the lower right – see them? – making sure nobody sneaks up from behind. They’ve got his back. 

I’m always – every year, there are no exceptions – grateful when buffleheads return to Pony Pasture. They’re not easy for a person of my middling talents to photograph well, so I’m always happy to get a non-typical image. I snapped this picture just as a little flock splashed into the air in front of us. It’s funny. In all the years I’ve watched buffleheads, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen them fly downstream. I think they fly upstream a moderate distance, call it a quarter of a mile or maybe half a mile. Then they drift and eat, drift and eat, drift and eat while they go back downstream. Then fly up and do it again. All winter:

Buffleheads splash-flying upstream this morning

This was later the same morning (today). Yuki on the left, Mackey front and center, Turner uncharacteristically seated on the right:  

Yuki left, Mackey center, Turner right. All three handsome, all three happy. I am too.

I rode my bike at West Creek this afternoon. I do loops through there, crossing this lake twice on each loop. I stopped on the way out to take this picture. I took it with my camera. I’m not a big fan of “man made” lakes, and that’s what this is, but there is no denying this beauty:

Man made lake at West Creek this afternoon. I don’t think of “man-made” and “beautiful” at the same time. But there you go. Shows how much I know! 

Enough! For now, anyway. Have a terrific week, come back next week, all best,


Posted in Birds, buffleheads, Dogs, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Turtles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments