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Discover the James is your source for adventures on the James River near Richmond, Virginia. Our focus is to educate about the wildlife and history along the banks during our river tours and fishing trips. The James in many ways is as it has been for 15,000 years, but to find it you have to look and listen to the water and the animals around you.

Our website, DiscovertheJames.com, shares information on our programs and adventures of this historic river.  Throughout the pages you can also enjoy beautiful images and read stories about the James. All the photos on DiscovertheJames.com were taken during our programs.  I hope you enjoy this website as much as I enjoy maintaining it.  Keep up on recent stories through the blog below and look for new programming from Discover the James, as our vision of programs and adventures continues to grow every season.

 

For more information or to book an excursion:
Contact Capt Mike at 804-938-2350 or [email protected]
 
 
 
Above, left photo: This is Varina, a resident bald eagle in Jefferson's Reach on the James.  The photo was taken by Lynda Richardson on a Bald Eagle Tour. Varina was perched on one of her favorite branches, and luckily, the evening moon was setting in the western sky, and offered up the perfect backdrop.
--Photo by Lynda Richardson.
 
Below, left photo:  This is Bandit, again, one of the resident bald eagles of the James River. You can clearly see a band on her right foot.
--Photo by Mark East. 
 
 
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The best thing on your stringer could be a photograph.  Capturing a defining moment on a fishing trip can add that “picture worth a thousand words” and spark memories of an outing to last a lifetime.  Your camera may be the most prized of all the gear you take fishing, but only if you have it ready to use at a moments notice.
 
If you anticipate a moment and are ready with your camera, whether it’s a sunrise, a close encounter with wildlife, a great catch, an extraordinary smile, or a special moment during an outing you’ll catch a few defining images to go along with a stringer of fish for dinner.
 
Young anglers, especially, offer plenty of photo opportunities.  In the image above, a young boy just caught his first fish, a nice James River bluegill.  I can still hear the shriek of excitement in his voice. 
 
About eight years ago, at a catfish pond, a thirteen-year-old girl was fishing with her classmates, which happened to be all boys.  Fishing was pretty good and ALL the boys caught fish.  The only girl in the group had yet to feel the tug of a fish.  She was a bit frustrated and was about to move to the other side of the pond when, suddenly, a fish took the bait.
 
At the end of her line was the greatest fish in the world.
 
Excitedly, she reeled, and moments later her first fish … a two-pound, white catfish was flopping on the ground at her feet.  She puffed up with pride at her accomplishment. Her smile was huge (citation sized).  Jumping up and down her arms rose into the air as if they became wings and appeared weightless.  THIS was a defining moment.  That kind of joy is the height of angling and perhaps, at that moment, she was the most excited I’d ever seen someone who had just caught a fish. 
 
Whoops! Where was the camera?  It was nowhere to be found.  By the time the teacher arrived with it, the moment had changed.  Photos were taken of her holding that first fish, but the original defining moment with the young angler swelling with excitement, was gone.  Today, a cell phone camera would have filled in, but the quality of a digital camera is hard to beat.
 
Don’t wait for decisive moments.  Anticipate and help make one happen.  Having your camera “at the ready” can make a difference.
 
During the annual Flatout Catfish Workshop, a program offered through DGIF’s Angling Education Program, a familiar opportunity presented itself.  Anticipating the explosion of water from the caudal (tail) fin of a flathead catfish, upon its release, I positioned myself for a photo. In a split second the flathead erupted, powering its way back to the deep, and the photo opp was there. 
 
The image on the right was snapped at the moment of release by a ‘surprised’ student.  I love the way this angler looks like she is dancing in the river … with flatheads.
 
Take plenty of shots and experiment with timing and subjects.  Upon viewing images from your trip you might notice something unexpected that makes a shot special (click here to see the ultimate unexpected moment – non fishing related). 
 
Keep your camera close and use it.  Don’t forget about cell phones, they work well too.  Pictures will preserve those memories of your fishing trips with family and friends.  
 
To see a few more of my own favorite ‘keeper’ photos, click here.  Happy Fishing (and photo taking)!

  

February 28, 2014 & March 2, 2014.
Osprey are beautiful birds and lead an amazing annual life cycle. Half of which can be seen on the James River. Pandion haliaetus, or osprey, return to the James River in early March from their annual migration spending about six months of the year on the James and the other six in the deep south, migrating as far as Central and South America. Each year, a few new pair of osprey make their breeding home on the James in Jefferson’s Reach as the overall numbers of osprey continue to grow and expand from the historic lows, in the 1970’s, caused by DDT.
 
Osprey are easy to love. They are majestic and even angelic, looking like an angel when they hover, in place, preparing to dive on a fish.  One of my favorite pair nest on the top of an old navigational post on the upriver end of Varina Farms. When they return this March it will mark their third year as a mated pair on the James River.
 
I first noticed the new pair in mid April 2012. They were late getting started. Six weeks after the beginning of osprey season on the James, this pair showed up and it took them an additional two weeks to decide upon a site to build their nest.  They flew along a quarter mile of riverbank, diving low along the trees and soaring high above the bluffs. Back and forth, up and down, they searched, until they settled on an old light pole at the river’s edge.  Long past it's life as a structure used to illuminate the river at night for navigational purposes, the top of the light pole was a perfect manmade structure for their nest.
 
“It sure is late in the year to lay eggs.” I remember thinking, as they were busy constructing their nest … flying amongst the limbs of oaks, pines and sycamores, diving in and around every branch.  Visually inspecting each one, occasionally touching a limb with talons.  When the right branch was located, the osprey would circle around on its flight path and grab it in mid air, snapping it off, instinctively turning the new nest material aerodynamically. Upon their return to the nest site they would carefully weave each stick into an exact location.  Breezy days are my favorite days to watch them build as they fly into the wind to maintain precise control, hover above the nest, then land to weave the next branch into place.  I am in awe when watching nature’s architects at work.
 
April soon turned to May, and every osprey in Jefferson’s Reach was deep into breeding season, some with young seemingly ready to fledge, or fly for the first time. This pair laid an egg in mid May and incubated into June.  The chick hatched in late June and was welcomed into the world with mid day temperatures reaching 102 degrees in it’s first week of life. The attending parent on the nest was diligent in protecting its chick from the heat of the direct sunlight, shading the newly hatched bird with its outstretched wings throughout this period of extreme heat. The parents would shift position around the nest as the sun rose and the heat set in always keeping the young bird in the shade. Miraculously, the young male osprey fledged and eventually headed south, leaving in late September, one of the last osprey to leave on its first migration.
 
In September, young-of-the-year osprey migrate for the first time, spending the next year and half in the southern end of their migration route. They usually find their lifelong mates after their second full year of life, often after arriving to their breeding grounds, like the James River. But maybe they are more romantic than we think? Perhaps they met before leaving their southern range, or along the route of their first migration north; on a beach in Aruba before crossing the Caribbean Sea or a riverbank in South America. Perhaps while crossing hunting flight paths on the Orinoco River in Columbia while looking for a small peacock bass meal.

Or in the midst of millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of shoreline in Georgia’s string of barrier islands a male and female osprey were perched on the same branch when one caught the eye of the other. Seems quite dreamy, but more likely they met on the James, both returning for the first time in 2012 and it just took the male time to entice a female to stay and spend the next fifteen to twenty years together as life-long mates. How and where they met is a part of the story that will always be theirs.    

Knowing what these osprey have overcome, through numerous observations, during their first two migratory seasons on the James is what makes this pair special to me. These observations are the parts of their story, which are ours, and we can share, learn, protect and inspire.

In early March 2013 when this pair came back for their second breeding season they had a bit of a surprise. Their nest remained intact during a mild winter, but an unexpected visitor had taken it over. A large female Canada goose was sitting on eggs.  Lots of eggs! It was not long before the multitude of eggs hatched and goslings were packed around mother goose, on top of the 30’ pole.
 
So they waited … patiently.
 
Normally Canada geese nest much closer to the ground, and in this case “Mother Goose” chose poorly.  When the goslings left the nest they had to jump out and down about 30 feet to the water. The goslings must have made their break at low tide and instead of hitting water at the end of their skydive, they smashed into the sand, rocks and mud of the river’s bottom at the shoreline. One day Mother Goose had a dozen chicks chirping tightly around her and the next day she was swimming with only one tough gosling near her.
 
Canada geese taking over an osprey nest happens more than you might think, and the osprey will wait for the geese to leave, take back their nest and prepare it for nesting. Unfortunately for the osprey (and Mother Goose) the lone gosling was gone less than two days after it jumped out of the nest, forcing Mother goose back up onto the nest to attempt another clutch of eggs. I don’t know if she ever laid eggs or not, but she sat in that nest for weeks, and no chicks ever appeared. The action of Mother Goose forced the osprey to build another nest, choosing to build on the next light pole downriver, about 100 yards to the east. So even though they were ‘on time’ in 2013, they were still late laying eggs.
 
They quickly built a large, sturdy nest, laid eggs and began incubation, which takes about six weeks. Although impossible to tell how many reddish-brown spotted, cream-colored eggs were in their clutch, they were most certainly sitting on one to three eggs.  Both male and female took turns incubating. Over time it was apparent that something had gone wrong, as neither parent ever made any attempts to feed young, indicating the eggs never hatched. They failed to hatch any eggs, and were one of two osprey pair that had a failed breeding season in Jefferson’s Reach in 2013.
 
By September they were unceremoniously gone. The female left first, in late August, followed by the male within a week or so. Female osprey generally leave first followed by the males and the young-of-the-year within a few weeks. The males spend those last couple of weeks ensuring the young osprey know how to hunt and fend for themselves to increase their chances for survival on their treacherous first migration. A young osprey, making it’s first migration, has a 50% chance of survival its first year. Factors of survival include getting lost at sea, hurricanes and just bad luck, like finding themselves in the Dominican Republic. Dominicans have been known to shoot osprey because they believe them to eat their chickens.
 
If an osprey makes it to South America, it will stay for a year and a half before returning to the area it was born to breed, marking another new beginning in the adult life and annual life cycle.
 
This year, In March 2014, adversity is waiting for them on the James. When they return they will again find a new visitor in that original nest, where Mother Goose was the year before. A pair of great horned owls have taken over the nest and are sitting on eggs.  The owls took the nest in late January and laid eggs in early February.  The time it will take too long for the young owls to fledge, and will most certainly force the osprey to use nest number two for the second year in a row.  It also may prove that the second nest location is too close to the owls and force them into a third nest location, as owls have been know to kill and eat osprey.
 
Regardless, perhaps the osprey will have learned something in year two that will help them have a successful breeding season in 2014. It is these kind of stories that can only be known through observing nature over time, and its these stories that drive me to share, write and hopefully educate.  --Capt. Mike 
 
Photo Credits: Top, left: A female osprey in flight with some fish in her talons, above the James River.  Female osprey can be identified by the patch of dark feathers on the neckline.  Males have no dark feathers in that area.
 
Middle, right: An osprey comes down onto the river to snatch out a fish from the river's surface. Osprey also crash down, into the water after hoving above like an angel.  Photo by Ricky Simpson.
 
Lower, right: This photo was from 2012, the last time a pair of great horned owls took over an osprey nest in Jefferson's Reach. Here, two young (pre-fledge) great horned owl chicks sit waiting for one of the adults to bring back a meal.  Photo by Linda Stoneham. 
 
Note: March 2, 2014
Saw the first osprey of the season today about 7:25am. The female osprey was perched on the 146 channel marker on the James River, as her nest name is 146 Osprey Way. She has been the first sighted osprey on the James for the last three seasons, including 2014. Also, the owl is still nesting is nest number one (from story above) and guess who is back in nest number two? The osprey? Nope ... it's Mother Goose from last season!!  Who would have thought it, but she is back. No eggs, just standing on the nest with Daddy Goose protecting from the ground.  --Capt. Mike
 
Note:  March 8, 2014, about 10:00am
This morning, the male osprey came back to the 146 Osprey Way nest. He announced his return by showing off high in the air, sqwaking and chirping while diving up and down in areal acrobatics. Once he finished, he came down and landed on the channel marker.  Soon there after, the female osprey came down and perched wing to wing with her mate. It was obvious they are mated for life as it just seemed like they were happy to see each other.  They didn't leave each others sides for quite some time until they both left their nesting site to go begin gathering branches for their nest together. 
 
The female began building last week, March 2 but a storm must have blown out her work. The nest barely had any sticks in it the early morning of March 8, but by mid afternoon, they was noticeably more branches and sticks on the channel marker.  They also now have names, which is a story for another time .... Ann & Walter.  --Capt. Mike
 
 

A Few Interesting Observations on the James

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Sun, 11/10/2013 - 01:10

November 9, 2013.  Yesterday evening we observed something interesting. At the downriver end of Jefferson's Reach, near Jones Neck, we saw five bald eagles ... none of them were resident eagles.  There were three immature and one mature eagle, or very close to adult age.  The fifth was inconclusive as it was pretty far off but looked to be another young eagle.  

I believe the winter migration of bald eagles has started with the arrival of these birds yesterday.  Usually, in the middle of November, when the first blast of cold air arrives, so do the migratory eagles from the north.  This observation occurred on Friday evening, around 4:30pm, November 8, 2013.

Another interesting observation over the last month is the daily presence of osprey.  In the middle of August, the summer resident female osprey began to leave the area, heading south on their annual fall migration.  By early September, just about all the female osprey were gone and many of the male osprey had left. By the middle of September, the rest of the males and all their offspring were our of the area and on their migration.

There were no osprey sightings on the river for a couple of weeks ... then all of the sudden osprey were present again.  

These late run osprey were probably migrating through the area.  I assume they were from the New England area as well as Canadian osprey moving through, also heading south towards the Gulf of Mexico and South America.  Interestingly, there have been osprey observed from the Discovery Barge II (my pontoon boat) nearly everyday I've been on the water over the last two weeks.  Some days we saw up to three.  Three of the last four years, one pair of osprey wintered over at the hot water discharge area behind Farrar's Island, also known as Henricus.  Not sure they were there two years ago, but last year, three years ago, and four years ago they were present.  I think it's pretty interesting osprey are still being observed on the tidal James ... and we saw one today, November 9, 2013, about 10am, on the east side of Varina Farms.

Personally, I can't wait for their return in the first week of March 2014.  

To the left is a wonderful image of a resident eagle taken today by photographer Kay Rankin.  A flurry of cowbirds swarmed around this eagle (named Varina) who just left her perch high on a bluff, from the top of a loblolly pine tree.  Great shot Kay!!!  

In this photo, Varina is in the process of expanding her territory.  

Over the last year and a half, between November and early January, before the resident bald eagles lay their eggs, resident eagles have been testing their boundaries, looking to potentially expand where they can.  It only happens where a large buffer zone is present between two occupied territories, or there is an unoccupied area next to an eagle's territory (there is only one of these unoccupied areas that I know of).  I would have to say the difference between a 'large buffer zone' and an 'unoccupied territory' would simply be the size. A large buffer zone would not be large enough to become another eagle's territory where an unoccupied territory would be large enough to become home to another pair of mated eagles.

Varina is the female eagle that resides just east of the Varina-Enon Bridge and she was seen flying upriver, beyond the bridge and into the pine tree about 1/8 mile to the west of the bridge, beyond her normal boundary.  This was observed today, November 9, 2013 around 10am and it's the first time I have seen Varina or her mate, Enon, "perch" on a tree west of the bridge. Late last year, early in January of this year, and over the last couple of weeks, Varina & Enon have been observed flying west of the bridge, outside of their normal territorial boundary.  I believe they are in the process of extending their territory, west, towards the River's Bend Golf Course. There is a creek mouth on the James, and a creek that runs up into the golf course and leads to a lake.  I do believe they are claiming this area as their territory. Technically, it's the east side of Bandit & the Duke's territory, but they never use it.  They just do not fly that far east.  So that area really is a 'Large Buffer Zone' between the two occupied territories.  

As for whether or not Varina & Enon's territory will expand ... time will tell and I will keep my eyes out.  Good stuff!!  

Note: Baba & Pops, the resident pair of bald eagles near Deep Bottom, seem to be extending their territory downriver of Four Mile Creek.  They are potentially expanding into an unoccupied territory.  (More to come as both stories develop).  

Capt. Mike

Great Email

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Wed, 07/17/2013 - 21:33

Sometimes you get an email that makes your day start off just right. I recieved this yesterday from a man who took a Bald Eagle Tour this past Sunday with his family ...

"I want to say thank you for a great time Sunday morning.  Myself, my wife and my daughter had the pleasure of taking your Bald Eagle Tour Sunday morning.  It far exceeded my expectations.  Everything was perfect! We've lived in the Richmond area for 20+ years and the Bald Eagle Tour is easily in the Top 5 things to do around town. I haven't stopped telling people about it.  I really appreciate everything."

                                                                                                                                                                               --Brian T.