Thursday, November 21, 2013

Birdwatching From The Saddle, Along The James River

Howdy Folks,
Just hooking up the trailer I had to tie my hat on. Cold wind gusts hadn't lessened any since Coffee Clutch earlier in the morning. Had it gotten even more windy, and cold? Well, I'm one of those folks who, when I have a plan in mind, hate to squash it just because of a little wind. But I must admit, when a surprise gust just about tore the trailer door from my hand, I had second thoughts. For at least half a minute. Then there's the fact that Kessy was still in her on-again off-again trailer loading frame of mind and it would be a cold night sleeping in the trailer at James River State Park … if she decided she'd be off-again today.

However, it's hunting season and we can only ride here at home on Sundays, and I needed a ride. No hunting at James River State Park, a short half hour drive away, so I'd told Kessy we're going. She loaded nicely, took about two minutes, Ravishin' Robbie handed me my thermos of Folgers, baloney sandwich, carrots for Kessy, and we were off. 

No one greeted us at the Park greeting station, must have figured nobody would be coming on such a blustery day, so I put my $3 in the little yellow envelope and set out to park by the big oak in the pretty grassy lot on the edge of the forest.

Kessy and I were alone, with only the wind for company. When I opened the door for her to step out, a great gust whipped up the shavings, startling me. Not Kessy though, she stepped off like a pro. Pre-ride exercises done and saddled up, we hit the trail. The trees groaned and branches rattled as they swayed in the wind, but our first sighting was only a few hundred feet into the woods. A Hairy Woodpecker busily tore at a dead limb, tossing chips into the air. We paused a second to watch the show.
Down the trail we go - "The best view in the world is between your horse's ears."
It's about a half mile through woods to the river trail, with a nice hill to navigate. Along the way we saw several Chickadees and Titmice. We entered the river trail through a canopy of brown vines and brush. The dense thicket was alive with Robins. They flew all about us setting up a delightful chatter. I stopped Kessy to watch as they bounced here and there. Mixed in with the Robins were White Throated Sparrows, Juncos and White Crowned Sparrows.

There was no escaping the wind, and as we snuck along the trail, riding among more birds than I'd seen on any ride in a long time, I wondered if the blustery day had driven them down to the brushy cover along the river. No matter, I welcomed their silly antics and lively banter. 

On both sides of the trail the thickets were alive with winged beauties. A Mockingbird sat on the trail until Kessy could almost touch it with her nose, and then it flew only to sit on a branch at eye level. For a second I looked right into its shining eye!

At one point the trail meanders through a tall field of dry reedy grass. As tall as my head. This had Kessy just a little nervous. The wind had the reeds roaring, not rustling, but she worked through it with only a few added dance steps. One of her moves would have had Derek Hough on Dancing With The Stars smiling. It did me too.

It's a flat trail along the river, in and out of tall trees, mostly Sycamore. Sometimes the trail is next to the wide river and the rapids roared above the wind. Sometimes the river can't be seen. But always today there were birds. Over the years Kessy has learned to stand quietly when I ask to look at the birds, it almost seems she's looking for them too.

She had a tough time with it though at the pond. The wind was creating tiny waves, and that worried her. A lot. She stood though and, in the pond, among the reeds and stalks I spied a Great Blue Heron, a few Diving Ducks, and I heard a Green Heron. And surprisingly some Red Winged Blackbirds. I thought they'd be gone for the winter, but there they were.

Along the way yesterday we also saw 3 Pileated Woodpeckers, several Hairy Woodpeckers, a Belted Kingfisher, lots of Goldfinches, Fox Sparrows, Cardinals, and Bluebirds. Some others I couldn't identify. Every step of the way we had birds. It was the right combination of great habitat, a great horse, riding alone – and the wind.
Ready to go home
Back at the trailer, Kessy capped a perfect day by stepping right into the trailer, on the third try. We'd been working lately on self-loading, I don't want to get ahead of myself, but yesterday, she was as perfect with her trailer manners, and her trail manners. The wind was really bad, and she truly was splendid. It's a lot for a horse to ride a strange place, alone in high wind and stay solid, calm. And she did, even stood still whenever I wanted to search the blowing brush for hiding birds. What a day, great birding and a terrific partner. Thanks Kessy for your friendship!

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry


  1. Such a nice girl! Sounds like the perfect ride :)

  2. Thanks anon! - It was a great ride! Kessy is a wonderful partner!