White Deer Twins on the Riverwalk

White Deer Twins on the Riverwalk
These rare white deer twins were born this summer and have found a safe home at Dan Daniel Park and on the Riverwalk
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My name is David Hoffman. I teach English and journalism at Averett University, but I have two side interests - writing and photography. I also enjoy walking daily with my English setter, Sadie, and my wife, Elizabeth, on the Danville, Virginia, Riverwalk. As a novice to studying nature, I am fascinated by the slightest facets of the great outdoors, but most of my pictures are of birds - I don't know a lot about them, but I am learning more and enjoying taking pictures of them daily. I also take pictures of plants, other animals, and insects. All pictures posted for each day were taken on the day of my blog entry.

Leave a comment if you have the time or e-mail me at dhoffman@averett.edu


Saturday, May 8, 2010


(May 8, 2010) Life is plentiful on the river and along the Riverwalk. There are birds flying around, squirrels hopping on the ground and climbing into trees, spiders hanging on their webs, and flowers blooming in the woods. The river is a finely tuned ecosystem in which for there to be life, there must also be food. And the food is often those that maintain a major part in the ecosystem - the birds, the squirrels, the insects/spiders, and the plants. For life to be sustained, there must be death (even if it is the death of a plant).

The river holds predators at all levels of the ecosystem. Perhaps at the top are the raptors - eagles and hawks. I feel like I have a spiritual experience whenever I see a bald eagle flying over. Smaller hawks rest in the trees some morning waiting for something to pop out of a hole to provide breakfast for the flying carnivore. And I have seen ospreys fishing and landing on a fallen tree in the river to a large fish that would give most fishermen enough to brag for a lifetime. The raptors have been referred to as "killing machines."

Now, the gentle heart asks, "Why do these large birds kill animals like squirrels and rats and, even, furry little rabbits?"

Well, about a year ago my wife, Elizabeth, was getting her hair done when a hawk swooped down and grabbed a songbird from a bird feeder outside the window. One of the hair stylists was upset about this tiny bird being snatched away by the larger bird. The hair stylist, without missing a beat, declared, "Well, hawks gotta eat, too." Such is life.

This morning I saw an osprey circling around where Canada geese gather in flocks to graze on the vegetation of a large field. The osprey swooped down, but was at a distance that I couldn't see what the bird had picked up. The large bird flew in front of me and across the river to its nest on top of a tower near Brantley Steam Plant. I thought that the bird had picked up a small mammal or, maybe, a small goose, though I hadn't seen any goslings in the field among the adults (most of the goslings are still on the river, often hidden in the brush along the shore).

When I got home and looked at my pictures, I realized that the osprey was carrying a large stick or board to its nest. A small animal hadn't been taken at that moment - just a board to help prop up the large nest of this great bird. (Click here to go a page of raptors on my web site)

I have seen short-winged hawks on the river as well as bald eagles. Very impressive birds. Equally impressive as they fly over in flocks of 8-12 are the turkey vultures. Though referred to as scavengers rather than predators, they are like the Canada goose in that they are awkward and not as impressive on the ground, but beautiful when they soar in the sky.

The osprey wasn't the only predator on the Riverwalk this morning. A small spider was hanging from its near invisible web in the middle of the trail, waiting for some small insect to fly into its trap. There were the cormorants, sunning and then diving into the water. If raptors are "killing machines," the cormorants are "fishing machines." They can move rapidly underwater and scoop up a large number of fish in minutes. They do not have the down of ducks and geese (most ducks and geese are vegetarian), so they can move underwater much more quickly. They will then return to their roost on a log and spread their large wings to dry them in the sun.

And, there was another predator on the Riverwalk this morning. This four-legged predator is not a part of the Riverwalk. It seeks its prey and walks slowly toward the unsuspecting victim and then pounces rapidly for the kill. This predator is not only an animal but has a name. Her name is Sadie.

My English setter, Sadie, this morning, enjoyed pointing at an occasional bird; this is common since she was bred to be a bird dog. However, butterflies, maidenflies and dragonflies are what get her interest most of all, and she will take as long as it takes to stalk one of these insects.

This morning she had the chance at two dragon flies. She pulled me over to the first one, a rather plain brown dragonfly. She stood in her pose and walked gently toward the unsuspecting bug. She got within a couple of inches and the bug flew away. She later saw a blue dragon fly. This was a very attractive insect, and I had decided that she wasn't going to do harm to this beautiful creature (I know - "dogs gotta eat, too," but dragon flies are not part of their diet, and she had a bowl of food at home waiting for her). In five minutes she crept closer and closer. As she was about to pounce, I let her leash drag near the insect, and dragon fly flew off.

While Sadie was in her stance, I heard one man say to another, "She surely knows what she is supposed to do."

Another couple came by and complimented her on her inate ability. As we were about half way into the dark woods near our car, a man on a bike and a man on roller skates were talking with each other. The man on the bike noticed us and said, "That dog sure is pretty when she points." I said, "Thank you," and we entered into a conversation. I told him that Sadie was pointing shortly after birth. When she was two months old, she was just a white ball of fur (no markings) and her little paw would come up and her tail would raise, but not completely up as it does now. She would point at bugs as she walked around the yard at home.

While we were talking, Sadie entertained herself pointing at something in the grass - perhaps it was, as it sometimes is, just grass moving in the breeze.

After our 3.5 mile walk, I took my little predator home; she ate and slept most of the morning. I noticed, as she slept, her foot was twitching - I assume she was dreaming of birds or squirrels or bugs.

It was another very nice morning on the Riverwalk.

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