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On one of the lovely sunny days we had last week, before this nasty-ass heat wave, I looked out the back window to where my mom was pointing. Two fairly hefty brown birds were pecking at the ground. Turned out they were woodpeckers, but a kind that often looks for ants on the ground instead of (or in addition to, I suppose) in trees: Northern Flickers. This appeared to be a male and a female because only one had any colored markings on it, a stripe of red on his back. I think that would make them Red-Shafted Flickers, but I didn’t look at my Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America until now, so I didn’t know about this variety. They were neat looking and had some real size to them; my book puts them at 13 inches long.

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I just got back from a lovely, relaxing, and mostly Internet-free week at the Jersey shore. It’s built up, congested, and crazy busy there this time of year, as people from all over New Jersey and suburban Philadelphia make the trek to the beach. Even still, there are many wild things and places there. I love New Jersey and stick my tongue out at people who say it’s nothing but malls, because they’re wrong. Yesterday by the side of the road, alongside a small lake where I rode my bike, I saw a Great Blue Heron, this amazing dusky-blue 4-foor-tall animal that seems to be all legs and neck until it takes flight and you see those wings. I also had a hair-raising encounter with a snake INSIDE THE HOUSE. I’ll tell you about both of those things tomorrow because I need to get to sleep soon, but for now I’ll tell you about some of the creatures I saw on a marshlands walk on Saturday morning, before it got blistering hot.

* Looking down as I walked over the sandy path, I spotted two tiny grey speckled toads, one slightly darker color than the other. I don’t want to brag but catching toads is sort of my specialty. I don’t always grab them up though because it usually scares them. I scooped up one of these little guys in my palm for a moment, and sort of communed with the other. They were smaller than one joint of my thumb, and I have weirdly small hands. They were so lightweight that as they hopped around they would land in small tufts of grass and only slightly bend the blades and get stuck there before scrambling and hopping back out. I love those little guys.

* Spotted one duck with seven babies swimming behind her as a little human family of two parents and one bespectacled kid sat on the bird watch platform and looked on.

* Set back a distance away from the path is a large pond, surrounded by rushes, where you can often see a big white trumpeter swan or two gliding around. Today there was a ton of them; I counted 30 but there may have been a couple more skinny necks in the fray that I missed. I have rarely if ever seen this many swans together at once and sure enough our Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America says that they are usually found in pairs or family groups. Wonder what they were all doing together like that.

* Also saw a few lone and young rabbits back in the scrubby underbrush. One was so small and young and unwise to the ways of the world that he hopped toward instead of away from me.

* A family of two parents and a shy young teenage daughter pointed out a black snake about two feet long with a faint diamond pattern on its back gliding over the surface of the water.

* Here’s the best thing of all. We kept seeing beautiful butterflies that are just the same kind as ones my mom is stitching in a counted cross-stitch design. They have a bright orange bar across the top of their wings, contrasted with a patch of black above it that’s flecked with white. I think they must have known my mom was immortalizing them in stitchery because one landed on her t-shirt and we watched it open and close its wings a few times in that slow rhythmic way that reminds me of breathing. We looked at it closely and smiled, thinking the same thing: it’s the butterfly! These are Red Admiral butterflies, according to our Dorling Kindersley Butterflies and Moths identification book. It’s interesting because the picture my mom is stitching is by a British designer, and sure enough the book informs us that we have those same kind of butterflies here. Red Admirals range from southern Canada through the US down to northern Mexico and throughout Europe to North Africa and northen India. Looking at an artistic representation of something in nature is a neat way to learn about it—perhaps teaching you even more than you’d learn from seeing it in its habitat alone.