The Scuffletown Creek Hunters

Scuffletown Creek, an Elizabeth River tributary in Chesapeake, VA, was a mess. I wrote about it in “The Same River Twice.” Dave and Lindsay, two old-timers who grew up nearby, remember houseboats in the creek, homes with outhouses lining the creek, and sewage and diesel fuel flowing into the creek. They remember tapping the creek bottom with sticks, and coming up with all kinds of goo-covered junk, including old mold-blown bottles–and once, a trophy bottle of Lake Drummond Rye Whiskey.

Though there’s more work to be done by the Elizabeth River Project and the U.S. Army Corps, the creek and environs have changed, and changed for the better. Debris has been removed, the wetlands have been restored, creek water quality has improved, and wildlife has returned. Here’s one example, a female Hooded Merganser.

Female Hooded Merganser
Female Hooded Merganser

And here’s another example, a Swamp Sparrow.

Swamp Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow

Wildlife watchers have returned, as well. I, for one, visit often both to watch and to photograph birds.

The Arrival

I visited on the morning of 12/24. I was carrying some of my Canon gear: a 1D X DSLR with 500mm f/4 II lens and 1.4X III extender attached. As I noted in an earlier post, this is a good setup that gets me close to birds without provoking them.

On the way there, I observed a raptor kiting and hovering over a nearby field. I couldn’t ID the bird, because I was driving. And by the time I reached the creek, I’d forgotten about it.

A Song Sparrow watched me closely as I entered. Birds are always aware of human presence.

Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow

The Red-shouldered Hawk

Another bird, which appeared to ignore me, was perched higher up and on a power line. It was an immature Red-shouldered Hawk. It’s a bird we usually associate with forested swamps, but one which regularly shows up in other areas—though usually near water. I knew almost instantly it was the raptor I’d seen earlier.

I took a quick photo. I don’t usually take photos like this anymore, but I couldn’t help myself.

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk

I wanted to take more, but I knew I’d have to dance around the teacup (get in a better position) to get a better one. And I knew I’d have to do so carefully. Fortunately, immature birds never seem as skittish as adults. I’ve written about stalking a Great Blue. Here, I was stalking a “Great Red”!

I inched my way closer trying not to draw the bird’s attention and to get to a place where both the lighting and background were better. The plan worked, and I was able to take this. Sometimes, you only have to take a few steps to get a better image.

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk

I took a few more photos (after taking a few more steps). Here’s one with a different background and one I opted not to straighten. I don’t like the background as much as it detracts from the subject. But feel free to disagree.

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk

A few minutes after I took it, the bird finally dove after prey and disappeared from view. Small mammals, the bird’s favorite, have returned to the area, too.

The Canada Goose

I moved on. The Red-shouldered called from a distance. I also heard a Mallard call several times, but couldn’t locate it. Then all of a sudden I heard a loud “pop, pop, pop.” I immediately turned toward the creek and looked up. A small flock of Canada Geese was flying west. But as the others continued on, one of their number fell to the ground. Then I looked down, and I knew what had happened. The bird that fell had been shot.

It maybe should have, but hadn’t registered that it was migratory wildfowl hunting season. Several years ago at about the same time and in the same general area I’d interviewed “Rick the hunter,” who’d just arrived at the Elizabeth River Park boat ramp with several geese he’d just bagged. I wrote about him and the few things I’d learned about goose hunting in “Loose Ends.”

A hunter returns to a dock
Rick the hunter

As soon as I realized all that had happened and why, and to give you an idea how I felt, I texted my wife. “Katie, am at Scuffletown. Hunting season. Just saw my first shooting of a Canada Goose. Heartbreaking.”

The Hunting Party

Since everything is fair game for this photographer, and I’m compelled to tell stories, I gathered myself together and descended down the bank and into the reeds with my gear. I wanted and needed to get some eye-level photos of the hunting party. I thought about the goose that had been my photo target as it flew above Scott’s Creek, and how this other had been a hunter’s target as it flew above Scuffletown.

Here’s my first photo of the hunters. I still have a hard time looking at it.

A hunting party
The hunting party

And This Just In

I posted a little of what I wrote here on Facebook. I heard from some who decried hunting, and I also heard from a few hunters. Everyone understood my response. In my next piece, I’ll share some of those comments as well as more photos of the hunting party. I’ll also share more photos of that other hunter, the Red-shouldered.

Quip, Question, Quote

“But at this beginning of the new year I like to review the beautiful and uplifting events that nature has presented to me over the last year. Centered, of course, on the birds. My life will always be filled with joy and adventure so long as I can go birding. It has been thus for forty years and I can’t help but love my life because of this fact.” A still-relevant 1/1/20 New Year’s Day message Doug Chickering sent to the Massachusetts birding community.


14 thoughts on “The Scuffletown Creek Hunters

  1. What a hopeful story about the possibility of restoring wetlands! I’m wondering how long it has taken.?


    1. Henrietta, The wetlands have been restored. Now the creek needs to be dredged and cleaned up (sediment remediation). That’s the next phase. I think the plan has been underway going back to the late 90’s. All will be completed eventually. Thanks for reading!


  2. Although I’m not a hunter (I’m not opposed to it, just never went that direction), the majority of my wildlife education (UGA Warnell Forestry School) and most my colleagues here in Georgia are involved in hunting. I have to say that I have learned so much about wildlife conservation and enthusiasm from hunters… particularly waterfowl ID and natural history. The stereotype is ignorant barbarians that love to kill; the truth is they are people that appreciate the land and its inhabitants in another form. But I do love teasing them that for me, being a wildlife photographer, I can “shoot” any species in any location at any time and never be charged with poaching! Great post. William


      1. One of my favorite quotes is from wildlife photographer George Lepp and I posted it on my Buck “Hunting” Page (… “Wildlife photography supplies all the primeval satisfaction of the hunt, from the stalk, to the strategy, to the trophy shot. You don’t need a license; you don’t need a gun, a butcher knife, or a taxidermist. And if you shoot another photographer with a 500mm lens, no harm done!”


      2. William, I LOVE IT!!! And am a big George Lepp (and OP) fan myself. Will check out the link. That is such a great quote. I think the neighbors heard me laugh.


  3. Interesting blog and excellent close-ups. My stepson’s side of the family hunts. He always gives me the reasons – culling wildlife, only getting what he will eat, etc., but I can’t imagine causing the death of a beautiful natural creature.


  4. Dave, I’ve been enjoying your posts and this is no exception. I’m an avid bird photographer and share your nuanced approach to hunters and guns; my opinion (and it is just that) is that hunting for food is fine, shooting wildlife just for sport is not and shooting people is a terrible crime. Given this, can you tell us why there are 5 NRA ads in your post? Do you get to choose advertisers or does WordPress insert them according to the content of your post (in this case hunting)?


    1. First of all, Barbara, I’m really glad you’re enjoying my blog posts. Agree with much of what you said, but some, if not most, shooting for sport is done to control and maintain populations and is sanctioned by wildlife agencies. I think I’m correct in saying that. Some ads you see on my site are WordPress ads. They’ll have the word ‘advertisement’ above them. I limit the number of those ads, but generally have no control over which ones appear. I can report ads and do, and I assume readers can do the same. Have never heard of NRA ads on my site. Those are probably search engine marketing ads, since one of the blog themes this time around is hunting. I have no control over those whatsoever. Readers should see many more SEM ads than WordPress ads. I hope that helps!


      1. I realized after I hit ‘submit’ that I left out population control measures, which are, of course, necessary at times. It was just jarring to see the multiple NRA ads in the context of the blog post; the NRA supports many things that go way beyond what you so carefully delineated.

        Keep sharing those wonderful posts. I might add that I get them compliments of MASSBIRD.



      2. I can imagine those ads are jarring, but I’m sure they’re SEM ads. Please let me know otherwise. Great. So you’re receiving the blog courtesy of another Barbara (Barbara Volkle)! All the best.


    1. It is great that the creek is being restored. Was thrilled to find the hawk there and to be able to get so close to it. Yes, it was hard seeing that bird fall and the others keep flying. Were any that kept flying its mate??

      Liked by 1 person

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