The Kindness of Strangers

Today was turning out to be a stressful one for me and I was dreading my monotonous trip to the grocery store, as I always do. I felt on edge and tearful about a couple things and just didn’t want to go out in public. The fridge is empty though, so I had no choice. But as a delaying tactic on the way there, I stopped at a drive-thru to get a fish sandwich. The young girl who handed my food out the window actually made eye contact and smiled at me, which immediately and unexpectedly lifted my spirits. I ate the sandwich while watching some sparrows in a nearby shrub, and when my stomach was full I felt better about facing the grocery store. So I went in, planning to make a quick trip through for the bare minimum to get us through a few days.

Within the first two minutes a stranger stopped me and we had this exchange:

Him: Did anyone ever tell you that you look like Laura Bush?

Me: Yeah, all the time.

Him: Really? She’s a very attractive woman, by the way.

Me: Oh, how sweet, thank you.

Him: Really, you could almost double for her.

Me: (laughing) I’ve actually heard it a lot more in the past couple of weeks….

Him: Did you get a new hairstyle or something?

Me: Yes, I did!

Him: I’m sure that’s it.

I think it's the eyes....
I think it’s the crazy eyes….

LauraI’ve been hearing this comment off and on for more than a decade, since Mrs. Bush became nationally-known as the First Lady way back in 2000. I didn’t like it at first because I thought she had a sort of quirky-looking face. But then I realized that I have the same quirky-look about my face, so I totally see why people comment on it. (I really hate every picture ever taken of me, but I’m showing this so you can see what I’m talking about here. I’m not sure if the resemblance will come across in a still photo the same way it comes across in person, but here it is anyway.)

I just wish I had told that nice man how he’d made my day. I almost went back to do that, but I still felt sort of weepy and was afraid I’d burst into tears and make a fool of myself. Have you ever felt like crying when someone was nice to you? That’s how I felt right then. (Menopause is such a joy…)

Then on the way home I remembered what I’d posted on Facebook about a week ago: “The rudeness of people around here is astounding.” I generally try not to write depressing stuff like that on social media, but that particular day I really needed to get it off my chest.  It had been one of those days where other drivers were aggressive and rude, fellow shoppers let doors close in my face, and store clerks were not appreciative of my business.

These two incidents remind me of what a profound impact we all have on each other as we move about in the world. Even casual interactions can make someone’s day better or worse, can’t they? If you’re like me, you may be finding it harder to tolerate the increased rudeness in our society these days. Small kindnesses have become so unusual that they are much more appreciated. Imagine what the world would be like if we all tried to lift each other up in our daily interactions instead of just viewing everyone else as someone we have to “put up with” to get through our own day. We all have bad days when we don’t feel like being nice to strangers, including me. But that 30-second conversation today was a good reminder to me of just how much difference you can make in another person’s day, and it reaffirms my goal to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

“Pure” Michigan? Not Quite.

Helium-filled balloon with ribbons tangled in the lake
Helium-filled balloon with ribbons tangled in the lake

Remember my post about picking up balloons in the lake at Bald Mountain a few weeks ago? I’ve picked up more than a few since that day. So you’ll understand why I was discouraged today when I found out about a big festival in the city right next to us that will include a mass balloon release this week. That’s right, Sterling Heights, Michigan, apparently does this every year at their Sterlingfest event. They send a large number of latex balloons into the environment, less than ten miles from beautiful Lake Huron.

Of all the states that have laws against balloon releases, you’d think the state with a motto of “Pure Michigan” would be one of them. But no. And that’s really too bad. A balloon release isn’t good anywhere, but so close to a large waterway seems to be one of the worst possible places to do this.  Along with lots of other people who have joined the effort to stop this event, I’ve spent some time today sending emails and calling the various entities associated with the balloon release, asking them to cancel what amounts to a mass littering event. And I’ve got more calls to make tomorrow. I feel discouraged because it’s such short notice. I don’t think they’ll respond to the public outcry this year, but I have lots of hope that this will raise their awareness level enough that they’ll plan something else for next year’s festival.

And after watching the promotional video on the Sterlingfest website, I can tell that this is a fantastic community event, just the kind I love to attend. Art, music, food…fun for the whole family. It’s just too bad it has to be marred by that balloon release.

The organizers keep deleting all the comments on their Facebook page, even though the comments are (were) overwhelmingly polite in tone. So I wanted to write about it here in hopes that people will find this blog post when they search the web for “Sterlingfest” or “balloon release.” It might not help stop it this year, but this post will be sitting out here in the ethernet to be found later, so it’s worth a few minutes to write this.

Another one of the ways used to encourage change in a situation like this is to contact the corporate sponsors of the relevant event. Often the sponsors’ names are printed on the balloons as a marketing tactic. Seems clever, but I don’t think the corporations have yet realized what happens when their “branded trash” washes up on lake or river shores far from home. Take a look at the Wall of Shame at BalloonsBlow. I’d hate to see any local businesses show up on that page. Nobody needs that kind of publicity!

So I’ve also been sending messages to the sponsors listed on the festival website. Believe it or not, one of the sponsors of the event is Waste Management, a local trash and recycling company. That, boys and girls, is the definition of irony. I have yet to get connected to a live person on any of my calls though, so I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of how the message is being received. I’ve seen some of my friends on FB reporting that the City Manager seems receptive, so that’s very good.

Photo by Jerry Downs, licensed via Creative Commons
Photo by Jerry Downs, licensed via Creative Commons

But in the midst of all my frustration over this event, I have to keep reminding myself that only a couple years ago I was ignorant of the issues with these balloon releases too. So acting holier-than-thou isn’t a morally honest way to teach other people about the issue. They just haven’t thought about it yet, that’s all. We have to be calm and logical when we explain the reasons this is a bad idea: it pollutes the land and water; animals often eat the balloons or become entangled in the ribbons, resulting in slow and painful death; helium is a resource in short supply and needed for lots more important uses than this, etc…..see the BalloonsBlow website for the whole story. I believe that if we just keep speaking up, people will eventually realize that they don’t want to be part of something that’s really no different than buying a box of balloons and dumping them in the street in front of your house. It’s littering, end of story. No matter how pretty the balloons look as they float up into the sky, they still pollute the environment and kill wildlife. People are generally shocked when they find out that these balloons sometimes travel hundreds of miles from the launch sites. I think of it as throwing your trash in someone else’s back yard. Sure, they’ll decompose….eventually. But before they decompose, they’re litter, plain and simple. Just because you don’t have to see it on the ground doesn’t mean it isn’t trash.

Ok, I think I’ve said what I needed to on this issue. So now that I’ve had my say about balloons, I can get back to watching the baby robins in our nest. They’re very active now! We’ve got our spotting scope set up in the kitchen so we can watch their little fuzzy heads pop up when mommy and daddy arrive to feed them. I’m trying to get some more pictures to share with you too, so stay tuned!

P.S. If you want to help convince Sterling Heights of the error of their ways, you can send a polite email to them at cityhall@sterling-heights.net. 🙂

Moss is the Boss!

As I’ve mentioned before, we live on 2 heavily wooded acres with a small lawn of about 900 square feet beside the house. Only about a quarter of that lawn area gets full sunlight in mid-summer, so you know what that means for our lawn, right? Let’s just say it’s not a carpet of lush green grass.

Moss in yard for blog (800x611)
Lush moss in my yard

When we had some weedy ground cover torn out of the sunny hillside several years ago, we had the area covered with fresh grass. Just because…well, because that’s what Americans do with a patch of dirt: We plant grass on it. We also took the opportunity to re-seed some of the areas nearer to the woods where moss was starting to spread out into the sparse shady lawn. I’d noticed when I mowed the lawn up there, the mower blade wasn’t even touching anything because it was almost completely moss in some spots.

But I recently did some reading about moss and I’ve now decided to stop raking it out. I found many articles stating that a moss lawn is nothing to be ashamed of (see links at the end of this post). If we lived in a subdivision with rules about lawns, we probably couldn’t get away with letting our yard go to moss. But since we don’t, it’s full steam ahead with our new low-maintenance moss carpet. Heck, I’m even starting to take pride in it and I might try to convince Eric to let me tear out more grass so the moss can have free rein. It might help my argument if I show him this list of books about moss gardening I found on Amazon; the existence of so many books on the topic helps legitimize the whole idea, don’t you think?

Close up of the moss, with a few strands of grass still hanging on.
Close up of the moss, with a few strands of grass still hanging on.

And have you ever walked barefoot on a bed of moss? You would not believe how good it feels on the toes! So much softer than grass. The color is a nice change from what you expect to see on a traditional lawn too — from chartreuse to apple green to the color of broccoli, there’s a broad palette of mosses to choose from.

Moss may not be the cultural standard — in this country at least — but it provides the same air-cleaning services as turf grass does. It filters carbon dioxide out of the air and retains moisture. Easy peasy. And moss only needs a tiny fraction of the water a turf lawn needs; just a couple minutes in the morning will keep moss happy, while lawns need extended deep watering several times a week. And if it gets dry, moss will just curl up and wait for the water to come, when it revives itself. Just try that with brown grass.

What I love about it: reduced lawn mowing (less noise, gas money, odor, time & effort), no fossil fuels required, reduced water usage, and best of all: more incentive to walk barefoot in nature!

Articles about moss lawns and gardens:

http://seattletimes.com/html/homegarden/2012154338_mossgarden19.html

http://www.southernliving.com/home-garden/gardens/planting-a-moss-lawn-00417000079162/

http://ecolocalizer.com/2009/03/09/go-green-with-a-moss-lawn/

Herps and Odes, Dragons and Toads

Have you seen any herps lately? Not sure? How about odes? I’m sure you have, they’re hard to miss right  now. I’ve seen tons of them, but if you’d asked me those questions a couple years ago I wouldn’t have had a clue what you were talking about. As I know now, “herps” is a term for reptiles and amphibians; “odes” is short for odonata, the dragonflies and damselflies.

Mid-July is a rather quiet time in the world of birdwatching: the activity of migration is over, there’s not as much boisterous singing to attract mates, and everybody is either sitting on a nest or busily raising young. So to celebrate these fun words — and to give me an excuse to stay inside where it’s relatively cool — I thought I’d show you some of the herps and odes I’ve seen lately.

Ebony Jewelwings - damselflies (800x533)I almost deleted this first picture because it wasn’t in focus, but then I realized it was still interesting. These are mostly Ebony Jewelwing damselflies (and one other type I’ll show you better below). They were swarming over the river at Wolcott Mill Metropark on a recent visit and I sat on a rock in the shade to snap a few photos of the aerial symphony they were creating. Isn’t the blurred background almost like an Impressionist painting? I love it.

Since I’m a newbie at identifying dragon- and damselflies, I sat down with my “Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies” to put names to the ones I saw. I hope you’ll tell me if I have any of these wrong.

American Rubyspot damselfly male

I wasn’t sure about this one at first, but then I found this next photo of it with wings spread and was able to figure out that it’s an American Rubyspot damselfly. I think we can figure out how it got that name…very distinctive, isn’t it?

American Rubyspot damselfly
American Rubyspot (above) and Ebony Jewelwing, both damselflies.

There were also lots of Eastern Pondhawks, a type of dragonfly. The males and females look very different, as you can see here:

Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly, female
Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly, female (click to enlarge)
Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly, male
Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly, male

I like the green female better. 😉 And guess what else I just learned? Within the order Odonata, dragonflies belong to the suborder Anisoptera which means “unequal wings,” while damselflies belong to the suborder Zygoptera, which means “equal wings.” This is because all four wings of damselflies are the same size, while those of dragonflies are different.

If this sounds familiar, you might be remembering my explanation about woodpecker feet being zygodactyl (“equal toes”), as contrasted with the feet of most other birds which are anisodactyl (“unequal toes”). Here’s that article if you want to refresh your memory (scroll down to the green box on that page).

I can feel my brain getting bigger by the minute, how about you?

And then there was this beautiful Widow Skimmer dragonfly, another male. Apparently the males (of dragons and damsels) are very territorial at the water, and females are thought to hang out elsewhere to avoid the aggressive males until it’s time to lay eggs. I don’t blame them one bit.

Widow Skimmer dragonfly, male
Widow Skimmer dragonfly, male

After an hour or so trying to photograph those speedy fliers, it was a piece of cake to snap pics of the frogs in a nearby pond. I’m not proud to reveal the extent of my lifelong disconnect from the natural world by telling you that I’d never seen a frog with those big flat discs on its head before. At first I thought it had a button stuck to it…seriously, I had no clue. I now know that these are its ears, and if you tell anyone about my ignorance, I’ll say that I knew it all along….

Green Frog, waiting for lunch to fly by
Green Frog, waiting for lunch to fly by

That was a Green Frog, and this next one is a Bullfrog. I’m sure both of them were hoping to have some nice crunchy odes for lunch.

Bullfrog
Bullfrog

Those of you who are paying attention will be thinking, “Hey, where are the toads you promised us?” You, my friends, get gold stars for staying here this long! Here’s your toad:

Eastern American Toad
Eastern American Toad

This guy and his girlfriend almost gave me a heart attack last month when I was moving some bags of mulch in the yard. They didn’t seem to want to move from their moist, shady spot, but I gently herded them to a safer location so I could finish the yard work. I know they can’t hurt me, but something about an animal that jumps unpredictably freaks me out, so it took me an hour to get them far enough away that I could get all of my mulch moved without fear of them hopping onto my head. Geez, what a baby.

Well, this was fun for me, and I hope you learned something too. There’s one last frog to show you. This is One-eyed Joe who lives in a planter beside the garage. I’m not afraid of him.

One-eyed frog

A Robin Nesting in our Yard!

Friday: About a week ago I’d noticed some robins flying in and out of a particular oak tree in our yard; I was curious but didn’t think they were doing anything of a permanent nature in there and I quickly forgot about it. But I looked out the kitchen window this morning and saw a robin repeatedly going into that area again. Grabbing the binoculars, I quickly located her sitting on her nest and felt a tingle of excitement go up my spine.

As I wrote last time, I treasure any opportunity to see a bird on a nest because it’s such an intimate look into their fascinating lives. And this is the very first time I’ve ever found a nesting bird in my own yard! Every year I get to see parent birds feeding their adorable fledglings, but this is just too awesome for words.

The nest is about 35 feet from the house and 10 feet above the ground. It’s situated so far out on a branch that I’m surprised there’s enough support for it. It’s pretty well hidden by the surrounding leaves, but I found a vantage spot in the yard where I can see it better. Hoping to document this special find, I took my camera out and stationed myself behind a big tree about 40 feet away.

Female robin with a beak full of something, just before entering the nest
Female robin with a beak full of something, just before entering the nest

In this picture you can see her beak is full of something… maybe mulch or dirt for adding to the nest. You can also see a bare spot on her upper breast. It seems pretty high for a brood patch, but I think that’s what it must be. (A brood patch is a bare area where the bird’s body heat can be transferred to the incubating eggs easier.) Update: An experienced birder tells me that’s probably just muddy feathers from gathering nesting materials.

I don’t think any eggs have hatched yet because I don’t hear any babies chirping when she comes back to the nest. I guess I don’t even know for sure that she’s laid any eggs yet. She flies off the nest about every couple minutes and pecks in the yard, then goes back and settles down again. I wonder if she’s just getting food for herself? In some species the parents take turns on the nest so each can go eat and rest, but in others the male will bring food to the female as she remains on the nest.  Hmm, wait here a sec while I go read about this in Birds of North America….

Robin sitting on nest
Robin sitting on nest

Ok, I’m back. It turns out that in robins, the male does not bring food to the female on the nest. She takes brief breaks during the day to feed herself. Aha, that explains it. And this is possibly her second brood of the season because this nest is located in a deciduous tree; BNA says the first nest is usually in an evergreen tree. Interesting. And we’ve seen a recently-fledged robin being fed in the yard lately, so perhaps this is the same parent, starting her second family of the summer.

The female incubates the eggs for 2 weeks. After they hatch, the babies remain in the nest for 2 more weeks. Then they leave the nest (fledge), but are still unable to fly well for 10-14 more days. That’s going to be the time I worry most, because of this:

Bird- and chipmunk-killing cat
Bird- and chipmunk-killing cat

This is the cat I wrote about last year, which has been back stalking birds near our feeders again. Birds that can’t fly are going to be easy prey for this experienced hunter. You’ll notice a white tag hanging on the cat’s collar; I wrote a note to the owners that said: “Your cat is killing our birds. Next time I’m taking him to Animal Control.” I feel a bit like the Wicked Witch of the West for that (“I’ll get you my pretty…and your little dog too!”). But I figured I’d give them one more chance to be responsible and keep the cat indoors.

Anyway, back to the robin. I went out to run some errands and got caught in a thunderstorm as I was heading back toward home. My first thought as I entered my driveway was for the robin’s nest. I felt so bad for her being tossed around by the wind and battered by the rain. I worried that the nest might be destroyed. I pitied her sitting there in the elements, just enduring it. What choice does a bird have, after all? She can’t grab an umbrella and pull on a jacket. She can’t go indoors and sit by the warm fire with a cup of tea to wait until the storm passes. No, she has to keep those eggs warm constantly, rain or shine.

I’m thrilled to have this life drama playing out so visibly in my yard, but it’s already made me realize something: Considering the hazards of their lives, every single baby bird that survives is a miracle.  And that alone is a reason enough to love and respect birds.

Sunday update: After the storm on Friday I didn’t see the robin all day Saturday. I was worried that she’d abandoned the nest. Then today I glanced out the window and saw two birds in an altercation below the nest. I grabbed the binoculars and saw the robin and a female cowbird. Holy nest parasite, Batman! Maybe the cowbird was trying to lay an egg in the robin’s nest. (That’s what cowbirds do, by the way. It’s a way to get other birds to raise their babies for them.) As the cowbird flew off, the robin also attacked a chipmunk that was too close to her nest, stabbing at it with her bill. It took a few tries before the chipmunk got the message, but it worked. And a few minutes later, after judging it safe again, the robin flew up and sat on the nest! I’m so glad to see her there again, but see what I meant about the dangers of a bird’s life? Wow, I don’t know how they do it….

Robin back on the nest after fighting off a cowbird and a chipmunk
Robin back on the nest after fighting off a cowbird and a chipmunk

Kayaks, Nesting Birds, and…Trash

Even my kayak has a birding bumper sticker!
Even my kayak has a birding bumper sticker!

We finally got our kayaks in the water this weekend, and it was looong overdue. This spring has been so full of birding and travel that we had let our beloved kayaks sit neglected in the garage. When I realized last week that it was almost July and we hadn’t been on the water yet, that was all the motivation I needed to plan an immediate outing.

When we first got our kayaks three years ago I started a notebook where I write about each lake we kayak on — how big it is, how busy it is, if there are motorboats there, if there’s a beach, if it’s noisy, if there are shady banks for taking refuge from the sun, if the birding is good there…stuff like that. That might sound like a weird thing to do, but when you go to so many different lakes you start to forget the details of each one. I also look back through photos I’ve taken on each outing to help refresh my memory when we’re trying to decide where we want to go that day. My notes for Bald Mountain’s Trout Lake said: “70-acre lake with great birds, few other boats, lots of dragonflies, small beach. Water at boat launch sort of slimy.” (That last bit matters because with kayaks you have to walk them into the water, so if the water is gross it can be unpleasant.)

We knew the day was going to be very hot, so we headed out as early as we could manage; we were on the water at Trout Lake by 9:30. Luckily the water at the boat launch was much clearer this time. And there was nobody at the beach either, so it was nice and quiet. Well, except for the constant rifle shots from the nearby shooting range…sigh. I’ve noticed a theme in Michigan state and county parks: Wherever there’s a nice nature area, there seems to be a shooting range nearby. I think there should be a law that shooting ranges have to be indoors so they don’t disturb the peace. I don’t see why they have to be open-air shooting ranges, do you? But I digress….

There was one other couple launching kayaks right behind us, but aside from them there was only one other boat on the lake. Very nice. As we started to paddle out, I immediately saw the resident pair of Mute Swans with their two adorable cygnets. We gave them a wide berth and headed to the far shore.

Mute Swan with cygnets. The other parent is just out of the photo frame.
Mute Swan with cygnets. The other parent is just out of the photo frame.

I remembered a little cove where I’d gotten lots of good dragonfly photos last year, so that’s where I went. As I rounded the bend into the cove, the first thing I saw was this:

Helium-filled balloon with ribbons tangled in the lake
Helium-filled balloon with ribbons tangled in the lake

Yes, that’s one of those horrible mylar balloons floating in the water. Just in case you don’t know about the dangers of these balloons, you might want to take a look at BalloonsBlow, an organization dedicated to making people aware of the harm these balloons do to the environment and to wildlife. I’ve seen some very sad photos of birds and other animals who died after getting tangled up in the ribbons or after eating pieces of the balloons. It just shouldn’t happen.  I doubt that anyone who’s aware of this issue would plan a balloon release, no matter what the occasion. There are always environmentally-friendly options for celebrations that don’t involve litter and unnecessary death; you just have to care.

So I made haste to the waste and grabbed that balloon out of the water, stashing it behind my seat for disposal at shore. And not 10 feet away I saw a fishing lure dangling from a tree snag (you can actually see it in the photo above). I started to wonder if my entire morning would be devoted to picking trash from the lake instead of birding and enjoying nature. So I untangled the fishing line and stashed it behind my seat too.

By this time Eric had continued on exploring the lake, no doubt wondering what the heck I was doing back in that little cove. I caught up with him and he had just spotted an Eastern Kingbird sitting on its nest overhanging the water. My photos didn’t turn out, but he got some good ones with his new Canon SX50 — this is his pic. What an amazing thing to see! I wonder about the survival possibilities for any eggs laid in a nest exposed to the hot sun like that; it doesn’t seem the best place to build a nest. I hope they manage to fledge some babies there.Nesting Kingbird bald mountain 01 by Eric (800x600)

I always feel so privileged to get such an intimate glimpse into a bird’s life that it’s hard to restrain myself from getting too close or staying too long. But I forced myself to move along  after less than 30 seconds, afraid that I might scare her off the nest.

The beach started to see some activity around 10:30 or so, but it still wasn’t too noisy. We paddled the full perimeter of the lake and saw more great birds: more kingbirds, some Baltimore Orioles, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, a gorgeous Red-tailed Hawk, a Gray Catbird singing boisterously, and even an Eastern Bluebird. I also watched a male Red-winged Blackbird feeding his recently-fledged young in the grass along the shore. I couldn’t get a photo of that but did manage to shoot a pic of the second youngster waiting up in the trees.

Fledgling Red-winged Blackbird waiting to be fed
Fledgling Red-winged Blackbird waiting to be fed

We headed for shore around 11:30 as it started to get uncomfortably hot out on the lake. We got another look at the cygnets as we passed, but didn’t dare get too close to those ferocious swan parents.

Trash I pulled from the lake
Trash I pulled from the lake

This is a photo of all the trash I collected from the lake: the orange mylar balloon, the fishing lure, a green inner tube floating toy, and a soda can. As sad as it was to see all this junk in the water, it felt really good to pull it all out of there. Next time maybe I’ll leave the binoculars at home and just take a trash bag….

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Sparrow Quest

The meadow was filled with mostly purple and yellow wildflowers, and smaller numbers of white ones -- so pretty.
The meadow was filled with mostly purple and yellow wildflowers, and smaller numbers of white ones — so pretty.

Late one evening a few days ago, realizing that I had a completely open schedule the next day, I decided I’d head out in the morning to Orion Oaks County Park to try to find some sparrows. In addition to lots of wooded trails, this park has a huge open meadow that always has lots of sparrows singing in the tall grasses. I’ve been frustrated by sparrows in the past, having trouble telling them apart by sight or by sound. So you’d think I would have listened to some songs of the likely species before I got out in the meadow, right? Nope. It didn’t even enter my mind. So, as poorly prepared as I was, it’s not surprising that I got frustrated again.

Chipping Sparrow watching me watching him
Chipping Sparrow watching me watching him

Sure, I heard plenty of birds singing. But the only ones I could identify were the Chipping, Field, and Grasshopper Sparrows. I could have used my Audubon app to listen to some songs while I was out there, but it’s so hard to see the menus on the screen in the sunlight that I didn’t even try. I’m going to spend some time doing the song quizzes on Larkwire before my next outing, and hopefully I’ll start making some progress toward mastering the sparrows. If you’ve never tried to find sparrows (other than the abundant House Sparrows at the fast food drive through), you might not appreciate how hard they can be to see. They have this maddening habit of singing while they’re hidden in the tall meadow grasses, only popping up briefly and usually too far away to see well. And even when you do see them, they all look like, well, “little brown jobs” (birders even refer to them as LBJs). Until you begin to learn the differences in body shape and size, and habitats, and songs, that is. Only then can you start to make sense of them all in the field. It’s a challenge that I considered not even bothering with two years ago, but as I slowly learn more and more birds I find that it’s not as daunting to add some of the harder ones to my knowledge base. I’m still not ready to tackle gulls though…talk about difficult birds!

Despite my lack of sparrow success, I had a very nice afternoon with lots of other interesting sightings. There were butterflies:

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

And dragonflies:

The only dragonfly to sit still for me that day!
The only dragonfly to sit still for me that day!

And deer:

Young buck deer watching me watching him
Young buck deer watching me watching him

And this mama turkey with her six little poults (you can only see four of them here I think):

Wild Turkey and six poults (1024x683)

I just loved how the meadow looked with the vast expanse of purple and yellow. I tried to get some photos of a Mourning Dove on the grass with the flowers in the background, but the bird didn’t want to cooperate for that one.

Winter Vetch, aka Hairy Vetch
Winter Vetch, aka Hairy Vetch

And let’s not forget the curious Grasshopper Sparrow either. I really love the little bits of yellow above the eyes and on the leading edge of the wing (you can barely see that part in this photo).

Grasshopper Sparrow to edit v4
Grasshopper Sparrow

Massasauga rattlesnake sign (533x800)The other birds I saw that day included Tree Swallows, Cooper’s Hawk, Baltimore Orioles, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Kingbird, and a few more. And even a little garter snake that scared the bejeebers out of me when he slithered across the path in front of me. I’m always a bit on edge in that park because of all the signs warning about the Massasauga Rattlesnakes that breed there, so my brain was on high alert. I’d love to see one of those rattlesnakes, but just not too close up. Heck, I feel brave just walking past the warning signs!