Indistinguishable from magic, and so much more

25 October, 2020 Indistinguishable from magic, and so much more

Male monarch butterfly, “as if by magic,” in our front yard Wednesday

“Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.” That’s a paraphrase of a more precise quotation, but the idea is the same. 

Evelyn looked at it and said “I wonder if it’s a male or a female?” Google came reliably to the rescue. There’s a blog called “Monarch butterfly life” and it has an article called “Difference Between Male or Female Monarch Butterfly? See Butterfly Pictures…” See those two black dots at the bottom of his wings near his lower abdomen? Males have that – females don’t. How cool is that?

Evelyn planted milkweeds in our front garden last year, a host plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. She also planted lantana, another flower Monarchs enjoy. It’s right outside my office window. In late August I photographed a Monarch butterfly fluttering around the flowers. A couple weeks later (mid-September) we began to have Monarch butterfly caterpillars – LOTS of them. This year, for the first time (that we ever saw) they made two chrysalises. You can see when it started if you look on my post from October 4, 2020 called Work in progress. Another one appeared a few branches over the same week. The first one didn’t make it. But here’s a picture of the second one from Tuesday, 10/20/2020 at 5:32 PM: 

Front yard chrysalis, 5:32 Tuesday evening:

I looked at it again at 11:49 AM on Wednesday, 10/21/2020 and saw this!: 

Chrysalis the following morning:

So that’s slightly over eighteen hours. Just below it I saw this!:

Bouncing baby boy – he must have just emerged from his chrysalis

I know that’s not magic. I know Ev chose and planted flowers there, and I know Monarch butterflies came to the flowers and laid eggs, and the eggs hatched, and caterpillars ate the plants, and they got to another plant, and they made chrysalises and hung in their chrysalises for several days, and emerged as Monarch butterflies. It’s obvious that’s not magic – I just explained precisely what happened. That Evelyn grew milkweeds and a couple months later, because Evelyn grew milkweeds, butterflies flew away. It’s part botany, part biology, etc. Not magic. But wow. 

Speaking of things that aren’t magic: 

Photosynthesis isn’t magic either. But it makes sunlight edible. What can I say.

That is (to the uninformed, though I suspect no one is that uninformed) a sunflower. Chrysalises, butterflies, caterpillars, that sunflower, it would all fit in a square that’s about four feet on each side. There’s a bird feeder (four, really) around one corner of it and birds scuff sunflower seeds out of it. And one took root down there. And a sunflower seed “felt” or “saw” the sun above it, and its cells divided, and in a process called photosynthesis. Photosynthesis converts sunlight into something you can eat. Let me repeat that, with  italics: converts sunlight into something you can eat. It’s more complicated than that – you can click that link up there and read the science behind it – but photosynthesis converts sunlight into something you can eat. It’s not magic. It’s science. It’s biology and chemistry and botany, etc., but if a magician walked on to a stage and said “watch closely as I convert sunlight into a tasty snack,” you would totally be amazed. 

I was visiting a friend earlier this week and I looked at the edge of a creekbed near his house and saw two Red-shouldered hawks! On the ground! This is extremely not magic, but still. Incredible to see this: 

Pair of Red-shouldered hawks in my friend Ray’s front yard. That’s not “magic,” but wow.

Then Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I went to Pony Pasture this morning (it was raining) and we saw our first Barred Owl this autumn!: 

Rain & cold make imperfect photography conditions, but there is no bad day to photograph Barred Owls

My final owl shutter click this morning was at 9:34. Eleven minutes later it clicked again: 

Sloppy conditions made sloppy photography but I’m grateful nonetheless

I’m not overjoyed with the quality of those images, but I am really overjoyed I got to see the owl and the deer. I didn’t see my first owl last year until “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving, November 29. It was on the precise branch – the exact spot I saw it last November – today, October 25. Exciting! 

It’s been a slow season so far, but things are (maybe) picking up. I saw a few Red-tailed hawks this week (the ones by the creek were Red-shouldered hawks) but only one in pretty light. This was a male, and I clicked the last picture at 5:57 PM. Sunset was at 6:24 that evening, 27 minutes later – he was looking for a last meal before heading back to the nest for the evening: 

Male Red-tailed hawk stretching his legs before (I’m guessing) heading to his nest for the evening

Tuesday I was riding and I saw killdeers! They’re great birds, but it was a struggle for me to get close to them. Nice light though:

Glowing killdeer

Have a great week! Watch out for stuff that’s indistinguishable from magic – there is a lot of it! All best, 


But wait! How could I sign off without a picture of my handsome hiking buddies. They were happy when we got off the river and into the woods:

Handsome hikers – ready to get in the woods!
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Don’t get your hopes up!

18 October, 2020 Don’t get your hopes up! 


I regret my lack of success with both my camera and my phone this week. Of course I saw a decent number of hawks, but this is the only picture worth posting. Notably (IMO) I photographed another pair of Red-tails together, on Tuesday near the Westbury Apothecary. The light was poor and the distance and angle were unfavorable and although I got pictures for my records, none were blog worthy. I saw this healthy looking female at the corner of Westbury Drive and Bentridge Lane. If you look closely on the lower right you can see a crow; there were three up there. They were harassing her, but not with any vigor. I’m sure noone has any offspring around; I had the sense they were just going through the motions: 

Red-tail ignoring half-hearted crows:

I saw another Red fox on my block yesterday. Unlike the one I saw this summer it was scrawny and had terrible mange. A biologist friend of mine stated very flatly that animal will not live through the winter. 

Evelyn took this picture Monday. I put it on social media and a lot of people have already seen it; sorry if this is 2x for you. But it’s a fun picture. Ev gave me the shirt years ago. Dash was pointing out that, although I may “LIKE DOGS,” only cats are allowed to sit in my lap. He never lets them forget it: 

I like dogs AND cats!

Our first monarch chrysalis is turning black and shriveling up so I think it’s a goner. The second one still looks healthy but no sign yet of a butterfly. We’ll keep watching it. 

Evelyn has a pretty rose growing in the backyard (still). Maybe it’ll last into next week! They don’t have the unmatched enthusiasm of Spring flowers, but this is gorgeous, especially for mid-October: 

Mid-October rose – still blooming! And still smells good!

Remember my opening sentence about the lack of pictures? I wasn’t kidding! Hopefully next week will be more active. I opened with a Red-tail; I’ll close with (of course) Mackey and Turner and Yuki at Pony Pasture this morning. Come back next week! I’ll get some content together! Maybe I’ll even write something, though don’t hold me to that. Have a great week, 


Any day that begins at Pony Pasture with dogs is a good day
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I opted for color in the rain

11 October, 2020 I opted for color in the rain

Backyard (our backyard) zinnia from Thursday:
Backyard rose. It belongs on a magazine cover.
Yet another zinnia from our backyard this week. Thank you Evelyn!

So much color this week! But I also saw not one but two pairs of Red-tailed hawks. Again! I opted not to open with them because they’re not super bright (colored). But, as you’re aware (unless this is your first time on this blog), I have an ongoing fascination (not to say obsession) with Red-tailed hawks. And this year I’m seeing more pairs than I’ve ever seen. I think it’s just increased awareness. 

Neighborhood Red-tails watching for breakfast
My second pair of Red-tails this week! Bryan Park! Today!

I’ve been fascinated with raptors since at least high school and probably earlier. But my current level of interest didn’t begin in earnest until 2015 when I realized a pair lived within two blocks of my house. Now they just seem to appear in front of me. 

It didn’t occur to me until this year – after five years of this – that the only time  you’ll see a pair together is when the nest is entirely empty. I realize now if there is an egg or an unfledged juvenile at the nest, one adult will always stay. Probably to guard against crows but also raccoons. Mid-July was when I saw my first pair of Red-tails together this year. That makes sense timing wise for youngsters to have fledged. 

Still two chrysalises in our front yard. Here’s one of them:

We still have two Monarch Butterfly chrysalises on the bush in front of our house. Presumably at some point as a chrysalis-watcher we shrug and say “No luck this year – hopefully in 2021.” But I’m not convinced we’re at that point yet. Watch this space next week. If a butterfly hasn’t emerged from the chrysalis by that time, the odds are slim. We’ll see. 

We didn’t go to the river this morning; it was too messy out. But Mackey and Turner and I caught a break in the rain and went over to Bryan Park. It was still damp and gray but the temperature was balmy and we had a nice hike. We took a break in the woods mid-hike: 

Mackey and Turner at Bryan Park today. It smells MUCH different from the river.

Oops! I had all these gorgeous flowers from our yard. But Ev and I went to the Fan Wednesday (10/7) to pick up some food from our favorite restaurant (don’t tell the other restaurants) Fresca on Addison. It’s our favorite restaurant twelve months a year, but as an added bonus – as if we needed one – these gardenias bloom in profusion along the sidewalk. Like magic!: 

Gardenia growing by the SIDEWALK in the Fan!

Come back next week! Enjoy the coming week! All best, 


Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, Dogs, Emerson, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Work in progress 

4 October, 2020            Work in progress 

Evelyn (I presume) read about Monarch Butterflies and/or talked with people about them. I’ve seen a handful, but on this blog this year, the first mention (and photograph) was five weeks ago on August 30 in a post called Suddenly beautiful. Two butterflies (but no Monarchs) a week later on a post called A squirrel told me my mother was a “miracle worker.” The next week – three weeks ago today, on September 13, I put up a blog post called Bookended with buteos. That blog post had my first photograph of a Monarch butterfly caterpillar on the milkweed Ev planted in front of my office window. More caterpillars a week later, and the week after that – a week ago today. This week – a work in progress – we have the next stage of Monarch butterfly evolution – a chrysalis! Not one but two! Or two that we’ve seen anyway; there may be more in the bush. 

When they begin to change from a caterpillar to a chrysalis, they move to a different plant – not a milkweed – and attach themselves to the bottom of a leaf. They hang upside down in a J-shape. We first noticed the one in our front yard Monday morning (9/28/2020) at 8:40:  


Monarch butterfly caterpillar preparing to form a chrysalis

I left for work and when I got home at 12:30 we had our first chrysalis!: 


In just a few hours it formed a chrysalis! Isn’t that amazing!?

There was still caterpillar activity on the milkweed; I took this picture Thursday at 12:45: 


Caterpillar and a chrysalis at the same time

As an attractive flower aside, Evelyn also has these zinnia’s in my dad’s favorite color blooming in our backyard and front yard: 


Feast your eyes. That’s in the picture dictionary next to “orange.”

I’ve been photographing it a lot but it never looks a whole lot different. But speaking of chrysalises (and not looking different), another one appeared Tuesday afternoon! That one is lower down and easier to get to. I’ve photographed that regularly as well. I took this picture today at 5:00 PM. You can see the outlines of the butterfly wings developing: 


Chrysalis as of 5:00 PM today:

Anyway, my intention beginning this post “Work in progress” was to highlight the development of the monarch butterflies in our front yard. “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” – in my opinion that means until a butterfly emerges from a chrysalis and flies away. I think the odds of that happening are not high, but then the odds of those chrysalises developing in the first place was not high, so maybe we’ll see one. It’s been fun so far! 

Ev’s planted cheerful pansies in the yard. It’s hard to use a word other than “cheerful” to describe these: 

IMG-0089 (1)

Pansies are only ever cheerful:

I still got a honeysuckle picture this week! This is from Monday: 


More honeysuckle! You should SMELL it!

Have I put Dash on my blog recently? It’s impossible to take a bad picture of him. This is from Monday: 

This was Dash Monday morning, four minutes before I photographed the chrysalis:


Caterpillars, honeysuckle, chrysalises, it all makes Dash yawn.

And speaking of “impossible to take a bad picture,” here are Mackey and Yuki and Turner at the river this morning: 


Yuki, Mackey and Turner – as fine a pack of dogs as you’ll ever meet anywhere

Got a nice image from the river Wednesday when Mackey and Turner and I found a few free moments in our schedule: 


Our gorgeous James River Wednesday morning:

Anyway, maybe we’ll have Monarch butterflies here next week – you never know. Like all of us, they’re still a work in progress! 

Have a terrific week. And read this brief vignette I stumbled across recently in my reading. All best, 


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The world’s tiniest aside

So I’m reading a book called The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket by a man named Benjamin Lorr. He’s not overwhelmingly jaded, but you may say relentlessly skeptical. Not in an off-putting way; it’s a wonderful book and it isn’t negative. At one point he applies for and is hired at Whole Foods and works there for two months. He’s describing his training, and how as employees they’re supposed to smile and be enthusiastic. In that paragraph he writes “Primarily we are there as forces of support, fellowship, community, and the all-important smile. That is our role. And while there is something animatronic and Stepford about the whole thing from a distance, I want to be clear, for the most part, this is nothing but a pleasure. The odd thing about being nice to people—even being forced to be nice to people—is that it is nice. This is not me, by the way, testifying from my completely dilettantish experiences, but the result of conversations with dozens of people over a wide spectrum of the retail food industry.” I emphasized the part that really moved me. The Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh says that “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” Mr. Lorr was clearly saying that his smile was being the source of his joy – even though he was being told to do it. That’s a powerful lesson.  

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First Sunday of autumn

27 September, 2020            First Sunday of autumn 

First deer of the season on the first Sunday of autumn:

I’d been swimming for half an hour Thursday morning at 9:30 when autumn officially began here in Richmond. This morning – five days later almost to the minute – I saw my first whitetail deer of the season at Pony Pasture

You cannot feel anxiety and look at a deer at the same time. Anxiety and deer are mutually exclusive.

I photographed a Brown headed nuthatch on my feeder yesterday morning. My favorite thing about Brown headed nuthatches is, before I saw one at my feeder, I never knew such a bird existed! It’s one thing to have never seen a bird before, but I never knew it existed! It’s so exciting to learn about a new bird. That’s as much a reflection of my ignorance as it is anything else, but I’ve seen a lot of nuthatches for a lot of years – probably at least forty years before my first brown headed nuthatch. I’m grateful for the opportunity! 

Brown-headed nuthatch yesterday, headed for a tree to hatch that nut

Red-bellied woodpeckers were less of a surprise for me, but they photograph well and I always like to see them on my feeders. I have learned to distinguish genders in woodpeckers since I put my feeders out. This is a male. See how the red color goes all the way to the front of his head? Females have a red streak that extends two thirds of the way up the back of their heads: 

They know the bird seed’s not there for decoration. He has a big seed in his mouth.

I wish the light had been better and I’d been closer (cameras love more light and being closer to the subject) but I always love seeing Red-tailed hawks. I saw the nuthatch and the woodpecker around 11:00 yesterday morning. I photographed this hawk two blocks from my house at 4:00 PM the same day:

There are no vegetarian Red-tailed hawks. They like to eat small live mammals, often in a single bite.

I saw a skink at Deep Run Park in western Henrico this week. We have a warm couple of days coming up, but soon the skinks will vanish for what remains of 2020. They’ll appear again in the Spring next year – they’re as reliable as the change in day length: 

Late season skink – the last of 2020?

Speaking of being animals that crawl, the milkweed Evelyn planted is crawling (it really is literally crawling) with Monarch Butterfly caterpillars. They generously turn the leaves into a substance that enhances the soil. It’s like magic. I don’t know how much longer they’ll be around either – maybe they leave with the skinks. Here’s one from today: 

Monarch butterfly caterpillar (and a smaller one just below) this afternoon in front of my office window

I always get the caterpillars and occasionally a bird or two, but I don’t include Evelyn’s Beautyberries (Callicarpa americana) often enough. All this stuff is fleeting – it’s just as ephemeral as Trout Lilies in the Spring. Beautyberries will leave with the skinks and monarch butterfly caterpillars. But Buffleheads will show up on the river soon – all this stuff follows predictable patterns: 

Well-named Beautyberries

The gardenias in our yard are currently on sabbatical; I expect their return soon, possibly by next week. But this week I was picking up a delicious meal for Evelyn and me at Fresca on Addison in the Fan. If you want to smell or see some gardenias, these are always (in season) growing along the north (away from the river) side of West Cary street between Addison and Davis. The sight and smell of gardenias just does not ever get old: 

Urban gardenia

When I posted a photograph of honeysuckle last week I learned my niece Aileen is also fond of honeysuckle. So I’m not just posting these for my own selfish interest! Enjoy: 

Honeysuckle – what’s not to love? (Except that it’s invasive)

Deer at Pony Pasture have seen so many dogs so often – especially mine – that they don’t waste their energy running away. When I took the pictures at the top of this post it was 9:30 this morning and we were on a trail deep in the woods, far from the river. This picture was an hour plus later, a few minutes before we returned to the car: 

Three handsome boys at the edge of the James River this fine first Sunday of autumn:

Have a great week! Come back next week! 

All best, 


Posted in Birds, brown-headed nuthatch, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, honeysuckle, Insects, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lord of the Butterflies

20 September, 2020            Lord of the Butterflies

Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis) (Lord of the Butterflies) 

Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I were hiking at Pony Pasture this spectacular Sunday morning when their three long noses simultaneously weathervaned into the unpleasant scent wafting on a puff of breeze from the north. I’m not a dog and I could smell what they were smelling – a lot of decaying animal flesh. It was brushy and I could see over their heads – the decaying body of a large whitetail deer. It had not died of natural causes. I zoomed in with my telephoto lens; hundreds of shiny green flies were having it for brunch. The Circle of Life. I immediately thought of the book Lord of the Flies, the 1954 novel by William Golding. It wasn’t a pleasant scene with a pig in the book and it wasn’t a pleasant scene with a deer at the river. 

A few paces later we broke out into bright sunlight gleaming across a brushy field of cheerful yellow flowers. There appeared to be as many butterflies on the flowers as there’d been flies on the deer. The time between the two incidents was so brief my immediate thought was “Lord of the Butterflies!” 

I uploaded that picture to the web; google and another app identify them as a Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis). I don’t 100% trust that; please leave a comment on here if you know different. 

We had a nice chat with a couple of people near the river’s edge when we arrived this morning. I regret not asking the photographer’s first name so I could include it here. Whoever you were, thank you! This was around 9:15 this morning, only a couple minutes hike downstream from the main parking lot: 

Best place ever with the best boys ever on the best day ever (today)

I’ve seen a handful of raptors this week but my pictures have been unbrilliant. I saw this Redtail near the Westbury Apothecary Monday afternoon. This is a big female; she looks nice in this light: 

Pretty female Red-tailed hawk keeps her eye on the Westbury Apothecary

One day this week I saw two Red-shouldered hawks perched together – something I’ve never seen! Crazy! I drifted into a handy parking lot and rolled to a stop. I was just putting my window down when one flew away! Bummer! But it’ll happen again. This stuff always happens in patterns. Here’s the one that was still perched after I took my lens cap off:: 

Half a pair of Red-shouldered hawks perched on the cross at Staples Mill Road Baptist Church:

It’s the second half of September; days are getting shorter and autumn officially begins (here in Richmond) Tuesday morning (9/22/2020) at 9:30. There are still plenty of bright, gorgeous flowers, even a few that smell great, but enjoy them while you can – they’ll be finished for 2020 real soon. But not yet! Here’s one of Ev’s wine colored hibiscuses. I took this picture Thursday morning: 

Lush red hibiscus in our backyard

To give you an idea of the size, I asked Turner if he’d stand near it – for just a moment: 

I used Turner for scale because I didn’t have a quarter handy:

Our gardenias are moving slow but I photographed (and sniffed) this and several more off Patterson Avenue on my way to the Y: 

September gardenia – on Patterson Avenue! In a public parking lot!

Our milkweed got top heavy and bent over at a 90º angle, parallel to the ground. Twenty four or forty eight hours later it bent (to follow the sun) another 90º to turn vertical again. Monarch butterfly caterpillars think it’s an edible and delicious jungle gym. At around 5:30 this evening I went outdoors to photograph a few. The light was not super helpful; I only got one picture I enjoyed. But I could count at least ten caterpillars, and maybe there were more. It’s a jungle gym after all, not a ladder: 

The milkweed is pleasing the the caterpillars; the caterpillars are pleasing to me

I suspect caterpillars can’t see far; I don’t know how that would help them pass their genes on. But they’d have to be 100% blind to miss the Beautyberries (Callicarpa) drooping low over their green jungle gym: 

Well named “Beautyberries” for caterpillars and humans to enjoy

Honeysuckle is invasive in Virginia but (IMO) it is lovely and graceful and delicate, and even in late September it smells as delightful as any flower you’ll find in any month: 

September honeysuckle – it smells like April

I was saddened to learn of the death of the brilliant and principled and hard working Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I’ve already read a couple of books about her, and since she died Friday I’ve read about her from a number of online sources. Nina Totenberg at NPR knew her well and wrote a beautiful piece after she died. This line jumped out at me: “I do think that I was born under a very bright star,” she said in an NPR interview. I agree. Yesterday the NYT reprinted a 2016 article by Justice Ginsburg called “Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Advice for Living.” She wrote this before the 2016 election, and ostensibly it was about marriage, but she emphasized the advice was about life in general. It certainly applies to me in this second half of 2020: “Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”  

Enjoy some butterflies! Flowers! Caterpillars! Come back next week! 

All best, 


Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, honeysuckle, James River, koans, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bookended with buteos

13 September, 2020            Bookended with buteos

Wait! If you enjoyed last week’s post A squirrel told me my mother was a “miracle worker”, take a second look (just click on it). Go to the bottom to the “comments” section. A bunch of you wrote really, really nice comments, and I’m always grateful for comments. But the final one is from one of her friends in Mexico, and it’s really, really moving. It describes her to a T! Actually – I didn’t ask Sergio’s permission, I hope he won’t mind – I’m going to reproduce it here. It was so moving: [[Hello Jay,
I’m very surprised of the opinion of this paramedic, and that your Mom, our very beloved Judy, had three of this pins. But at the same time, I do believe your mom was pretty surprising. Every year that she came back to us in Cuernavaca, she would do amazing things, not only at home, but moving around the hole territory, coming and going, and meeting people, making friends all around! You knew, she would climb on any public transport and go everywhere, building a great friendship with driver, to know everything about everywhere! She was a real friendly squirrel and nothing would stop her from visiting, knowing places and meeting people, and, of course, having a great fun around Cuernavaca.
You made my day thinking of her, today!
Thank you very much, Jay! GOD bless you and all the family,
from Mexican Family,
Seva Sergio]]. 

What a beautiful, beautiful comment. Thank you Sergio! GOD bless you and all of your family too! 

  • Jay  

Most raptors I see are “buteos.” When I google “buteo,” the first response says “a bird of prey of a group distinguished by broad wings that are used for soaring.” In my raptor watching experience here in central Virginia, that means either a Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) or a Red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus). I photographed the former on Monday morning at 10:38 AM and the latter today at 9:34 AM. One at each end of the week! Here’s the Red-tail I saw Monday morning on the side of the road at (approximately) the intersection of Three Chopt Road and Ridgefield Road in western Henrico County, VA: 

Young Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) on the side of Three Chopt Road Monday morning:

My friend Ray and I were driving past Monday morning and it was standing on the side of the road and a woman was standing near it. The woman looked unsure of herself so we stopped and visited. She (the woman, not the hawk) was from Moldova! Do you know a lot about Moldova? I didn’t. Her English wasn’t good (though far better than my Moldovan) and she wasn’t certain she’d alerted the proper authorities. Fortunately for the hawk, she had. 

Moldova is landlocked and two million people live there. Romania is to the west and Ukraine is on the other three sides. The Black Sea is fifty miles south. I felt so ignorant after talking with her I had to go home and learn about Moldova. I’m glad she saved the hawk! 

While we were talking, the hawk was standing quietly by the side of the road. From what I gathered, she’d seen it get hit by a car but not hard. A neighbor came out with a shovel (I was told) and scooped up the hawk and got it to the side of the road. The hawk was big; I think it was a female. When we got there, it looked like a football player that just got his “bell rung” as they say. She didn’t look physically injured but she looked confused and just a little disoriented. She was on the shoulder facing parallel with traffic but with her back to it. As she gathered her wits – you could see the confusion going away – she tentatively turn/hopped 90º to her right so her back was facing traffic and she was looking into a dense patch of woods beside the road. 

About this time, a Henrico Animal Protection Police truck pulled up on the side of the road and put on his flashing lights so traffic would give us a wider berth. I was grateful; it’s a narrow, busy spot. Here is a picture of the truck when it pulled up: 

Henrico Animal Police making sure all the people and hawks stay safe:

I’ve dealt with Henrico Animal Protection a lot through the years. They’ve always been helpful and professional and kind and this visit was no exception. The officer got out and looked at the bird and chatted with us for a few minutes. He said he’d take her to the vet. He went back to his truck and walked toward us carrying something similar to this, a good size for the hawk: 

I use these to take my cat to the vet but they’d work fine for an injured hawk:

When the officer was halfway between his truck and the hawk, the hawk decided she felt healthy enough to depart unassisted and flew deep into the woods looking healthy and energetic. “Well, that’s what we always hope for” the officer said, and returned to his truck. Problem solved! Thanks to the first Moldovan person I’ve ever met! 

Half an hour later I was at Deep Run – pointing my camera at a skink! 

Late season skink at Deep Run:

Early every year I organize my race schedule. Since I don’t do Ironmans any more, it’s not  demanding. I had a couple of 5k’s scheduled this year and two sprint triathlons. Thanks to coronavirus, they all got cancelled! Since I wasn’t working much and my races were cancelled and the Y was closed (I couldn’t swim), I started riding my bicycle  several times each week at West Creek. On April 1 I rode 16.5 miles in the office park. Between then and August 31 I did a hundred of those rides! The Y opened back up on a limited schedule so I took a swim and it went well. So Monday (September 7) I reserved a lane in the pool for Tuesday morning at 9:00. I put my bike on top of my car and brought my running shoes with me and drove up Tuesday morning and swam a mile. What a treat! 

Beginning my first triathlon of the 2020 season:

After my swim I drove out to West Creek again and did another of my 16.5 mile rides. My 102nd 16.5 mile ride since April 1! Then I put my bike on top of the car, took off my bike shoes and put on my running shoes and “ran” (mostly walked) five kilometers (3.1 miles) – and completed my first “triathlon” of 2020! I didn’t get a t-shirt but I also didn’t pay an entry fee. And nobody finished ahead of me! 

In the transition area – switching from bike to run:

The butterfly turnout has been slender so far this year, at least outside my window. But Evelyn pointed out early this afternoon – we got our first 2020 Monarch caterpillar on the milkweed she planted! Check this beauty out: 

Monarch butterfly caterpillar on our milkweed. Nice work Evie!

Anyway, back to “bookended with buteos.” I began the week with a Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) on the side of Three Chopt Road. When Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I pulled in the parking lot at Pony Pasture this morning, we had the windows wide open and we could hear crows mobbing before we even got to our parking space. In my experience, that could only have been an owl or a hawk. You cannot believe how loud they were. It could have been fifteen crows, maybe twenty. I could see the crows darting in and out of the trees – most of the leaves are still on – but I couldn’t see what was making them so irate. Finally I looked up and saw an adult Red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) on a branch with an immature Red-shoulder perched two feet away. You can’t see the youngster’s face here, but this is the two of them together: 

Adult red-shoulder on the right, juvenile not very visible on the left

The mobbing had already been going on for some time before we walked up. The adult had enough and flew a few yards away. The youngster turned around and faced in the direction the adult had just flown. I took this picture just before it flew off to follow the adult: 

Young Red-shouldered hawk at Pony Pasture this morning; its parent had just left

Remarkable – according to the time stamps, this was before we saw the hawks. I’m always happy to be at the river with these three: 

Me, Mackey, Turner and Yuki at the river this morning

This picture is so much better – I have to include it too. This is as fine looking a group of animals as you’ll ever see: 

Mackey on the left, Turner in the middle, Yuki on the right – James River in the background.

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


Posted in Birds, disability, Dogs, Emerson, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), triathlons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A squirrel told me my mother was a “miracle worker” 

6 September, 2020            A squirrel told me my mother was a “miracle worker” 

A person parked next to me this morning at Pony Pasture with the license plate SQRLY1. I asked him what his license meant and he said “It’s sort of a joke. I’m a paramedic and the nickname for people who run lots of calls is a ‘squirrel.’” I laughed and said my parents used to be EMT’s up in the mountains. I’ll continue the story at the end of this post. 

Today’s pretty but it’s a challenging time of year (for me) to get pictures I’m super fond of. Leaves are just beginning to fall, and more light will be coming through, and more birds will be (and are) migrating but it’s a slow time. That being said! I got lucky more than zero times this week. My best luck was this sandpiper at Bryan Park. Other than being a sandpiper, I’m stumped about the precise type! I am open to input from anyone who wants to offer it. I’m positive this is either a Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) or a Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria). But I’m not sure which! [[This just in! My friend Nancy hypothesizes this is a “non-breeding adult spotted sandpiper”. Her evidence is the white patch on the tip of its tail and the streak through its eye. She asked if it bobbed its tail when it walked but I didn’t see it walk enough to judge.]] Have a look: 

Sandpiper at Bryan Park this week

The Cornell Lab All About Birds website goes on to say “Though you may think of the beach as the best place to see a sandpiper, look for Spotted Sandpipers alone or in pairs along the shores of lakes, rivers, and streams.”  

While researching this post I read this interesting fact about female Spotted Sandpipers:  “Female Spotted Sandpipers sometimes practice an unusual breeding strategy called polyandry, where a female mates with up to four males, each of which then cares for a clutch of eggs”

I saw a lovely butterfly this week at Deep Run. It was crawling down the trunk of an oak tree; I turned it sideways because (IMO) it looks better this way. My best guess is this is a Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis) but I’m not certain that’s correct: 

“Red-spotted purple” at Deep Run:

I see skinks more in the Spring than in late summer, but here’s a beauty from earlier this week: 

Late summer skink at Deep Run

Speaking of butterflies (by the way), I’ve mentioned in earlier posts all the native plants Evelyn has growing on all four sides of our house to attract pollinators. Mackey and Turner and I ended our day with a short walk Thursday. We end every day with a short walk if it’s not pouring rain. It was after 9:30 PM when I looked on our porch screen and saw this beauty: 

Night time butterfly on our back porch – I never knew!

Yuki’s been out of town for a few weeks but he joined Mackey and Turner and me at the river this fine September morning. The river was still a little high and muddy from all the rain, but these guys make any scene look great: 

Turner, Mackey and Yuki at the edge of the James River this morning:

Speaking of making any scene look great, look at this pot of gardenias Evelyn has in our backyard. I counted sixteen blooms of various ages. They sure are happy! 

You can smell this from a long way away!

This flower at the river didn’t smell quite as good as our gardenias but it sure is pretty. The indistinct gardenia colored blur behind it is Yuki: 

Flower on the riverbank with Yuki in the background

I think I’ll jot down that quick story I began at the top then sign off for the week. Come back next week! 

All best, 


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A squirrel told me my mother was a “miracle worker”

So I’m shooting the breeze with the guy and his wife, they were real friendly, it was a cool, sunny Labor Day morning (it was this morning) and we’d all just gotten out of our vehicles at Pony Pasture. Most EMS people I’ve met (I’ve met a lot) are “squirrely” to a greater or lesser extent. They all like to talk about EMS. So I said my parents became EMT’s up in the mountains when they retired. I said the scanner was always going in their living room and they’d listen to the string of emergency calls. They knew everyone on the squad and most of their neighbors. I casually mentioned that my mom had three “CPR Save” pins. His eyes widened dramatically and he said “Dude, your mother was a miracle worker!” He went on to tell me he’d been a paramedic for fifteen years and he’d never known anybody who had one

If you are not a “squirrel” or have not had the good fortune to spend time with squirrels, a brief definition of a “CPR Save.” When EMS personnel arrive at an emergency, or while they’re at an emergency, in rare cases the patient “codes.” “Code” is shorthand; it means the person’s heart has stopped beating. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the US, and when your heart stops beating, you die. More often than not. But for three lucky people, my mom was there when their hearts stopped beating. And my mom performed CPR and got them to the hospital alive. It happens so rarely that the American Heart Association hands out an award – a “Heartsaver Hero” or “CPR Save” pin – when it does. 

Again, this guy was a paramedic, emergency medicine is what he does for a living. And he’d never gotten one and never known anyone who’d gotten one. And my mom had three. So that’s why I started out my Labor Day Sunday morning with a total stranger telling me my mom was a “miracle worker.” Good thing mom and dad were “squirrelly”! 

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Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Suddenly beautiful

30 August, 2020            Suddenly beautiful

It’s sunny and not real hot and the humidity’s down – living things are thriving in central Virginia! Evelyn has planted an array of native flowers and other plants in our yard to attract pollinators – and her efforts are paying off! This Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) fluttered past my window as I was typing the first draft of this post: 

Monarch butterfly on the flowers Evelyn planted – right outside my office window!

Here’s a rose from our backyard from earlier this week: 

This rose looks so good it makes ME want to eat it!

Also – Monarchs aren’t the only butterflies around at the moment. I may have seen one before but I don’t recall getting a picture like this. This is a Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia); I got this image at Bryan Park this week: 

Common Buckeye at Bryan Park:

A leopard frog surprised me hopping right down the middle of the path near the pasture in the back of Pony Pasture. This is right in the center of the spot where I see thousands and thousands and thousands of tadpoles each Spring. One of them became this Leopard frog: 

Pony Pasture leopard frog

I’m also seeing lots and lots of dragonflies; if you’re unaware, they eat mosquitoes! I haven’t photographed any real flashy ones recently, but this one posed cooperatively on my car door while I loaded my bike at West Creek Thursday afternoon: 

Dragonfly hitchhiking on my car door at West Creek this week:

I can hardly believe I’d put a rose in a blog post and leave out a gardenia! Although I’ll tell you why – Ev went out of town for a couple of days and there was one bloom, and it was spindly. Within about twenty-four hours of her return, I think I counted seven blooms, and they were all stunning. I always feel like I’m keeping something to myself when I post a picture of a gardenia; the smell is beyond compare. But they’re graceful and (IMO) satisfying to look at : 


Our big friend Yuki was out of town this morning so Mackey and Turner and I went to Pony Pasture ourselves. Yuki missed a spectacular late August morning; it was 73º when we parked the car. I’m always grateful to be there: 

I emailed this to myself with the subject “Never a bad time”

As I wrote in the caption, I emailed that picture to myself with the subject “Never a bad time.” Because there is just never a bad time to go to Pony Pasture with dogs. There are not a ton of things I can really, really count on – but if I hike at the river with dogs, I won’t have a bad time. Ever. Talk about a gift!

I think I’ll wrap it up! The next time I put up a blog post it’ll be September! An acquaintance told me that because of coronavirus, the kids in his county would be going to “virtue school” beginning on September 8. I’ve known some who should have gone to virtue school ten years ago! But at least they’ll have the opportunity in 2020. 

Have a great week, 


Posted in Birds, Dogs, Emerson, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, Insects, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Too many birthday presents” is not a real thing 

23 August, 2020            “Too many birthday presents” is not a real thing 

Today is my birthday! I have the great good fortune to celebrate another one. When you get to have a large # of candles on your cake the way I do, the celebration lasts several days. Also at this advanced age I already have a ton of “stuff” so the best gifts I get are experiences. Gifts you can buy from Amazon are nice, but by definition they’re not “priceless.” I got a bunch of priceless gifts this year. Every time I interact with a stranger it’s a priceless gift. I was strolling through Pony Pasture this morning, meeting strangers (normally friendly looking families with dogs) and telling them it’s my birthday and asking if they’d take my picture. People invariably seem delighted, or anyway they fake it because Mackey and Turner and Yuki are so sweet. Here’s one I really enjoyed: 

Every single person I met was kind! And I met a LOT of people!

Plus I got to take a quick trip to lovely Beaufort, SC for some different “birdwatching.” The “birds” I photographed were much larger than I’m used to and much farther away and much faster. My friend Pat has spent lots of time perfecting this and he is really good. I asked if I could use a picture he took (we were standing shoulder-to-shoulder when he took it) and he sent me this: 

F-35B takes to the skies over South Carolina Friday morning. Photograph by my friend Pat.

I did take a little video. The plane is just a dot, but you can hear it – and the sound is a huge part of the experience. Play loud: 


Plus  – ready for a non sequitur? – our neighbors brought over Key Lime tarts! Check these out!: 

Fresh Key Lime Tarts! Thank you Hannah and Nora and Owen and Kara! YUM!

Plus – this is so crazy – this is from a blog post nine years ago today on my birthday: 

Nine years ago today! And STILL they bring me delicious treats! How awesome is that?

The one in the solid colored shirt is in college now! And they make awesome key lime tarts! Thank you!

And – as if that wasn’t enough – look what my friend Sue brought today!:

Think this looks rich and delicious? Newsflash: it’s like TWICE as rich and delicious as it looks. Thank you Sue!

Here are a few birds from Beaufort this weekend: 

Birds coming in for a landing in SC:


Deer running next to the runway where supersonic jets take off and land multiple times every day:

The sound of freedom doesn’t appear to alarm them

And we still have (another non sequitur) gardenias!: 

Gardenias do not remind me of supersonic jets

And look what Evelyn cut and put with my sublime breakfast this morning: 

Breakfast rose

Plus my old friend Ray got me this incredible birthday card: 

Happy Birthday from Turner and Yuki and Mackey – and Ray!

And when you open it up: 

Happy Birthday!! 

Gifts have been coming from every direction this week – what a treasure! “Too many birthday presents”? I am so sure. That is not a real thing

Have an excellent week! 

All best, 


Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, love, newfaze, People, raptors, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments