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. ūüėČ 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

Sensitive Girl and the Robin’s Nest

One of our resident robins in the mulberry tree, opening her beak to cool off on a hot day
One of our resident robins in the mulberry tree, opening her beak to cool off on a hot day

Note: This is a follow-up to my post on June 30 about the nesting robin, so if you haven’t read it, you might want to go back and start there. (A Robin Nesting in my Yard!)

This is one of those situations where my HSP temperament is a challenge as well as an asset. Once I discovered the nesting robin in our yard, of course I wanted to watch her progress. Now I keep my binoculars on the kitchen counter so I can look at her every time I go in there. I worry about her in bad weather, which we’ve had a lot of lately. I worry about the squirrels and blue jays that roam our yard, because they’re known to pillage nests like this one. If something happens to the nest I’m going to be heartsick. I already feel a bond with this mama robin and a bit of responsibility for her too.

Robin journal v1This deep empathy with animals is something a lot of HSPs share. It can bring us great joy and a satisfying feeling of connection. But it can also be very painful because we can easily imagine ourselves in their place. I have certain memories of animals in pain or suffering that have stayed with me for years and that can still make me tear up when I think of them. Just hearing an animal crying in pain can make my heart hurt for hours. Even knowing an animal is afraid upsets me, regardless of whether she’s actually being hurt. The vet’s office is like a war zone for me. Sometimes while I’m in the waiting room I can hear cats wailing in the back room while they’re being attended to. It’s bad enough when it’s someone else’s cat, but when it’s my own cat I just want to crawl under the table and cover my ears. Unbearable.

Robin journal v2Sometimes I think animal suffering upsets me more than human suffering. Those tv commercials that show abused animals upset me more than the ones showing starving humans. I know you might be judging me harshly for that, but I can’t help how I feel. I’m very uncomfortable admitting that to the rest of the human species, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that there are many of us out here who feel this way. And the thing is, I’m not exactly sure why I feel differently about them. Maybe it’s because I see the animals as so much more vulnerable and innocent. Yet I realize that lots of humans are also vulnerable and innocent. So what’s the difference?

Robin journal v3Maybe it comes back to my relationships with humans, which, for the most part, haven’t been as fulfilling and¬†pure¬†as the ones I’ve had with animals. For example, animals have never been spiteful or cruel to me, whereas humans have. ¬†No animal has held a gun to my head, but a human has.

Or maybe it’s because I know that animals of all species are completely dependent upon the whims of mankind — we destroy their habitats, we trap and enslave them in prisons (zoos) for life, and we do cruel experiments on them to develop medicines for our own species. They are 100% at our mercy, with far too few legal protections.

Robin journal v4Yes, I think that’s it. I see them as intensely vulnerable, and maybe in some way that reflects on how I see myself. I feel a kinship with them that goes very deep, and I want to protect them whenever I can. So if you see me running across the yard shouting at a squirrel, don’t worry about my sanity — I’m just protecting “my” robin from a nest raider.

P.S. Don’t miss the Nesting Journal entries in the blue boxes above — there’s a surprise in there!

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!

Nature Lovers Are Some of the Best People

Last night I joined some new friends for an evening of watching Bald Eagles and Osprey at Stony Creek park.  Both species have nests with one nestling each right now, and the nests can be seen from the same spot, making it easy to keep an eye on any action at either one.

I’m going to show you a few pics, but I have to say that I didn’t get many great ones, despite using my biggest lens and tripod (400mm with 1.4 extender). I have a lot of difficulty getting my manual focus right with the big lens, so I’m often disappointed with the results, even after sharpening in Photoshop. I guess the conditions were challenging though, with the nests being so far away (200 yards), so maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on my photographer self. The one below was by far my best photo of the evening, one of the adult osprey flying over us on the way back to the nest with some soft bedding material (at least that’s what we presume it would use the grasses for).

Osprey carrying bedding material to nest
Osprey carrying bedding material to nest © Kim C. Smith

That’s pretty neat, isn’t it? At one point the Osprey flew over our heads from the nest, heading directly toward the Bald Eagle nest. We all held our breath as we watched, wondering if the adult eagles would come after him. I grabbed my camera off the tripod just in case there was going to be some drama, but nothing happened. The Osprey continued on to a nearby pond and came back a few minutes later with the grasses trailing from his talons. The Osprey nest is on a cell tower, a common place for large birds of prey to nest in urban areas. It’s always amazing to me that the birds use this particular nest location, because it’s directly adjacent to a busy shooting club with frequent gunshots ringing out. I get more annoyed by the gunshots than they do, apparently.

We were hoping to see the eaglet taking some practice flights, but she stayed firmly perched in the nest all evening, occasionally stretching her wings and giving us renewed hope for a practice flight. One of the parents was in the nest with her at the beginning of the evening, but later moved to a nearby tree to rest. The other parent was in another tree as well. Here’s an article about the eagle nest in a local paper if you’d like to read more about it.

Osprey on cell tower v2
Osprey on cell tower

Of course while we were all chatting during the evening, I was also keeping my eyes and ears open for other birds. We were beside a large pond and marsh, so naturally there were lots of Red-winged Blackbirds around. I was happy to hear the near-constant songs of Marsh Wrens too, although I never managed to see one of them. Here’s the list of species I reported to eBird last night:

15 species +2 other taxa
duck sp.  1
Turkey Vulture  2
Osprey  3
Bald Eagle  3
Sandhill Crane  2
Empidonax sp.  1
Eastern Phoebe  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  1
Marsh Wren  2     (heard them calling in response to each other)
American Robin  1
Gray Catbird  1
Common Yellowthroat  1
Yellow Warbler  4
Indigo Bunting  1
Red-winged Blackbird  X
Baltimore Oriole  1
American Goldfinch  3

It’s unusual for me to go on a nature outing with other people who aren’t birders, so this was a nice change. For once I got to be the person who identified the birds before everyone else! I got to show people Yellow Warblers and a Common Yellowthroat, but most of the other small birds I saw while other people were talking and I didn’t want to interrupt them. I had to keep telling myself that not everyone cares to know the identity of every single bird that flies by like I do. (I think I have OBD — obsessive birding disorder.)

Red-winged Blackbird harassing Sandhill Crane
Red-winged Blackbird harassing Sandhill Crane

One of the most interesting things was a Red-winged Blackbird harassing two Sandhill Cranes on the far side of the pond. At first we could barely see the cranes’ heads poking out of the vegetation, and could see the blackbirds dive-bombing them repeatedly. I imagine the cranes were too close to a nest. I’ve seen quite a few instances of Red-winged Blackbirds violently attacking other birds this spring; they’re extremely protective of their territories and won’t hesitate to buzz a curious human either.

Sandhill Crane with Blackbird on its butt (blurry, again)The cranes slowly worked their way down into the pond, emerging from the vegetation so we got beautiful full-body views of them in the evening sun. And as you can see in the picture here, one of the blackbirds wasn’t finished with guard duty. It was basically riding on the crane’s backside as he walked through the water. The blackbird would flutter up and come back down, and I couldn’t tell if it was actually pecking the crane. But then it just sat down and the crane didn’t seem to mind it hanging on like that. Such an odd behavior. It reminded me of birds that eat insects off of elephants or bison — a tiny bird on a larger animal.

Bald Eagle on bare branchAs the sun got closer to the horizon I started to get chilly, so left the remaining three people in our group and and headed back to my car. On the way back I looked back toward the eagle nest from another vantage point and spotted the other adult sitting on a branch out in the open. I think a Bald Eagle looks majestic no matter how blurry the photo….

I’m really glad I went on this outing despite not knowing anyone beforehand. ¬†Everyone was so nice and it was very low-key, just a group of nature lovers sharing time together at the end of the day. The scenery was beautiful, everyone had something interesting to contribute to the conversation, and the birds were singing and flying all around. ¬†We talked about bugs. We talked about wildflowers. We talked about photography. Now that’s my idea of a great night out!