Some beautiful and delightful things are right out in the open. So long as you happen to be in the right place at the right time, you can hardly miss them.

That’s what I was fortunate enough to experience yesterday with this little fawn, who came bounding up the hill and then paused at the edge of the woods before melting into the brush.

In the Background

But if you’re not observant, a lot of animal activity can go completely unnoticed.

Here’s one recent example. I went on a walk around the garden with my camera, to see what I could see.

As I was cresting the hill, I heard splashing in the birdbath and got this photo of a male robin, taking care of his morning hygiene.

The robin is what caught my eye, but he isn’t the only bird in this photo.

Do you see the Carolina wren in the background?

Here he (or maybe she) is, closer up.

Partially Obscured

This spring, my husband and I were out for a walk when Joel noticed a yellow warbler, which flew from an oak tree in the side yard into the front garden. Joel kept track of the bird and gave me verbal directions while I got the camera out. Here’s the result:

The bird’s there, but he’s easy to miss, blending right in with the sun-dappled, yellow-green, springtime foliage.

Here’s the same photo, cropped to make it easy to see the warbler.

So, what might be hiding in plain sight in your garden? And how do you train your powers of observation?

Stay Open and Receptive

Sometimes you see more when you’re staying still and quiet long enough for animals to have the chance to accept you as part of the background. (Of course, some are much quicker to do this than others!)

Sometimes you see things while you’re out strolling quietly. A month or two ago, I was walking down our woodland path when movement near my feet caught my eye. Looking more closely, I found a lichen-colored tree frog hopping away; my walking had disturbed him. (What thoroughly tickled my fancy was his hopping pattern – think the shape of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and you’ve got it. Lots of vertical movement going on there!)

Sometimes, what catches your eye is a shape or color that seems a bit out of place. It was noticing a knobbly area on an otherwise slim, smooth viburnum branch that identified another tree frog to me, in a different part of our garden.

And it was taking note of a rusty patch on an oak trunk and then strolling over for a closer look that led to me seeing this anglewing butterfly.

I’m not sure whether it’s a Comma or a Question Mark (yes, those really are butterflies!), but I’m 99% sure it’s one of those and it’s definitely in the anglewing family. Either way, it’s a new species sighting for me in my garden and therefore exciting!

Isn’t it amazing just how different that butterfly looks with its wings open versus closed? (It really is the same exact one!)

I see things when I’m not tightly focused, trying to see something. It’s more about receiving, simply staying relaxed and open for whatever makes an appearance.

Once it does, investigate.

What’s Making Noise?

Last year, a young bunny spent several weeks living in the gardens right around the house. Now, no prey animal goes out of its way to advertise its presence. So how did I know she was there?

By listening and then keeping an eye in the direction of the noise until I caught a glimpse of her.

This happened when I was hand-watering some shrubs to help them along through their second season in the garden. She must have been curious about the pattering sound of the water and, as she was able to stay under cover (which made her feel more safe), she came cautiously forward to investigate.

The sound of movement was coming from the ground level, so I knew it was an animal of some sort. Imagine my delight when I caught sight of her little whiskered face peeking out from between some leafy stems!

I don’t know what ultimately became of her, but over the next few weeks, we developed a sort of routine and I saw her frequently when I was giving those young shrubs a drink.

What’s Different?

How many differences can you spot between the bumblebee in the top picture and the bee in the two photos that follow?

Bee One:

Bee Two:

See how the bee in the top photo has a fuzzy (not sharply defined) spot on its thorax? And how the overall texture is velvety?

The bee in the bottom two photos has a shiny black abdomen, a more sharply defined bald spot on its thorax, and has an overall smoother-looking texture.

Another difference, one you might not be able to tell from the photos, is that the second bee is considerably larger than the first one.

I’m pretty sure the top photo shows the common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens). I believe the bee in the bottom two photos is an eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica).

Both are beneficial pollinators.

Getting to Know the Pollinators in Your Garden

Why might you want to get to know the pollinators in your garden?

Well, as you make your yard more hospitable to wildlife, pollinators and other insects are likely to be among the first responders. And because they happily go about their business, undisturbed by being watched, they’re a great place to begin honing your observational powers.

Also, it’s fun to know what it is you’re looking at. 😊

If you’d like to improve your bee ID skills, check out the Beecology Project.

In Conclusion

Stay relaxed and receptive and I wonder what new things you’ll observe in your own garden!

If you care to share, I’d love to hear what shows up for you!