Pocahontas State Park

In contrast to the cold overcast that joined me at Wetlands and Pony Pasture, a recent visit to Pocahontas State Park was nothing but sunny with strong hints of spring. Pocahontas State Park is mature forest, with bits of logged forest, a pinch of marsh, and even a drop or two of lake. There are several trails accessed from the heart of the park (all three miles or less - PDF map here). Or, if you are looking for a longer visit, a network of fire roads crisscross the park.

Here are a few of the noteworthy observations from my February visit to Pocahontas. For starters, this White-throated Sparrow flushed up into a nearby tree, and then sat, warily watching me from its perch.

White-throated Sparrow

As Tammy and I walked one of the trails, I was delighted to find a Winter Wren in a pile of brush next to the trail. We stood on a short bit of boardwalk (which was very low to the ground) while the wren worked up its confidence to the point of taking cover under the very boardwalk on which we stood.

Winter Wren

This White-breasted Nuthatch was cruising the trees next to one of the lakes, showing off its talent for walking down trees beak first.

White-breasted Nuthatch

At one point, Tammy and I stood watching several distant Red-headed Woodpeckers. While watching, however, I heard rustling in the leaves right at our feet. Without moving, I did a bit of searching and discovered this critter (I think it is a Meadow Vole) hanging out in the leaf cover.


This Hermit Thrush flushed into the relative safety of some variety of Holly, and then sat...very...still...while I snapped a few photos.

Hermit Thrush

While the land was not managed as a state park until 1946 (donated to the state of Virginia by the National Park Service), it was originally developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. My last photo is of an old grave site located within the confines of the park, a testament to one of the families that lived on this land before it was converted into the park it is today. In this case, it is the Gill family, with the front marker dated 1872.

Old Cemetary

Wetlands and Pony Pasture

Another pair of local parks that I visit are Wetlands and Pony Pasture. They are side-by-side, nestled between the James River, subdivisions and a golf course. They are both part of James River Park, maintained by the City of Richmond Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities. Since they are literally side-by-side, I was never quite sure why they were two separate parks, instead of just one larger park. I treat them as one park, however, so I guess it really does not matter.

One down side to Wetlands and Pony Pasture is that they are both very popular with dog owners, and it is very likely that you will encounter very happy, very friendly, and very off-leash dogs. I have no problems with dogs, but when they run free, they make bird watching and photography more challenging. This Barred Owl, for example, was in view for only a few minutes before a pair of dogs, both completely ignorant of the owl, tore through the underbrush and spooked it.

Barred Owl

To find a happy medium (so that I can watch the birds and the dogs can get a good run in), I try to get there as early as possible, or during the middle of the week, or when then weather is not perfect. Such was the case this past January, arriving early-ish on a day that was very overcast and very cold (at least, cold for Virginia). This Swamp Sparrow on ice illustrates my point.

Swamp Sparrow

During the winter months, the real star of the park is the James River, and the various ducks and gulls that might be present. With very challenging light and distance, these photos are acceptable, but certainly not great. They do, however, give you examples of what might be hanging out on or near the river. From top to bottom: Bufflehead (whoever named this species deserves a prize!), a raft of Redhead with a couple of Canvasback sprinkled in for good measure, and even a Lesser Black-backed Gull.


Redhead and Canvasback

Lesser Black-backed Gull

End of the Year

Some free time and a bit of mild weather in December was all the excuse I needed to visit Dutch Gap Conservation Area (DGCA). I am certainly no stranger to DGCA - it is one of my favorite local spots. And while I might occasionally bemoan the repetition of seeing Ring-necked Ducks during the winter, deep down inside I think they are cool looking birds that I really can't resist photographing. Especially when they are at a convenient distance and in good light.

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck

Even a Canada Goose becomes an interesting photographic subject in good light. This one is clearly demonstrating a balancing-while-napping skill that I will never have.

Canada Goose

I was on my way out of the park when I spied this lovely Turkey Vulture taking advantage of the morning sunshine. Too good to pass up, I got out of my car and took several photos of this pose, while he watched me for any sign that I might be trouble.

Turkey Vulture