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.
And here’s another example, a Swamp Sparrow.
Wildlife watchers have returned, as well. I, for one, visit often both to watch and to photograph birds.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.