Dear Nature Notes Friends, Due to budget constraints, my contract at the Arboretum is not being renewed this year. Unfortunately that means that this is my last blog. In my last blog I want to make a plug for diversity and encourage all of you to consider tearing some turf out of your yard and planting more native wildflowers, grasses and shrubs. Monarch populations are down this year. As the monarchs go, so go other cogs on the wheel of life. Part of the reason for that is that more habit continues to disappear every year. Open space is great! Around the metro area we continue to have much green space, but we really need to be more conscientious about the quality of that green space. Each of us can do our part by diversifying our personal space. I have been busy in Bloomington ripping up sod all over the yard (it's a new yard for me). I made a trip up to Landscape Alternatives a couple weekends ago and bought some prairie wildflowers. I am so excited for next spring to see the yard liven up with wildflowers and the butterflies, bees, birds and all sorts of other interesting life that will find these natural resources I planted for them! Thanks for reading!
Matt spotted something of interest near where we stood on the hillside above the Gatehouse. He called and waved me over to share the find. He had found a patch of the fuzzy basal leaves and a single neat flower of orange hawkweed. I think it is the first time either of us has seen orange hawkweed at the Arboretum. Orange hawkweed was the sod forming equivalent of creeping Charlie at my Grandmother's house in northern Wisconsin on her heavy clay soil and in the sun instead of in shade, but I have never seen it much around here. While we were pondering the hawkweed at our feet, Matt spied a freshly emerged cicada. Its was clinging to one of the fuzzy leaves near its shed exoskeleton. Its wings were soft and not yet fully expanded. There were green drops of liquid on them. As Matt held the cicada, its instinct was to begin to buzz. Matt could see the muscles move, but its warning system had not yet hardened enough to make the noise we are all familiar with high in the trees.
We were on the hillside above the Gatehouse with Eagle Scout Will B., his parents and a few friends helping Will build a chimney swift nesting tower. The tower should be completed on Friday this week and we hope to attract chimney swifts to the tower next spring when they arrive back in the area to nest. The tower imitates a chimney, which imitate hollow trees. Chimneys these days are capped so animals can't invade the house and dead standing trees, or snags, are often removed from the landscape. The tower-like nesting structure is one way to compensate for the lack of other natural or man-made cavities that these sleek bullet-shaped insectivores can utilize for nesting. We eagerly anticipate next spring (all in due time though!) to see if Will's work will pay off with a breeding colony of chimney swifts. Thanks Will!
We found a few frogs in the patch of weeds we were pulling today. The first was a very large leopard frog that came bounding into the area and sat briefly in the open dirt before leaping away in long leg flopping leaps. There were also a couple of little tree frogs. One of these we had to rescue. It had gotten picked up in a pile of weeds and tossed into the bed of the truck. I didn't see it until we were about ready to head out onto the highway. In my rearview mirror I saw the tiny frog clinging to the rear window. We carried this little frog back to a green space where it could find cover.
A new prairie restoration is a place of some frustration, but also of hope. Today I walked through the field above Spring Peeper Meadow that I had seeded a few years ago. From afar it looks like a large patch of Canada goldenrod - there's the frustration. But the hope comes from being in the restoration, where I could see that big bluestem is establishing along with several wildflowers that are blooming now including bottle gentian, blazingstar, smooth asters, New England asters, and heath asters among others. This restoration needs a little bit of timely management and it will come along and be quite beautiful in another couple of years.
The Dayton Wildflower Garden is a calm respite from anything you need respite from. You can enjoy soothing sun or breezy shade with banks of flowers blooming all around and some fruits of the spring wildflowers still lingering on their stems. A background chatter of songbirds in the trees was complemented by the chitting of other birds hiding amongst the flowers. I peered into one patch of wildflowers, but only got a glimpse of the bird browsing in the thicket of stems. The stream babbles beneath a patch of cardinal flower. For me, cardinal flowers and touch-me-nots always hold the promise of a hummingbird experience, but that promise wasn't fulfilled for me today.
A flock of at least four dozen Canada geese were flying overhead this morning with a backdrop of gray stormy clouds.
Bottle gentians are beginning to color up in the Bennett Johnson Prairie and Spring Peeper Meadow.
Down in Spring Peeper the arrowhead plants are covered with gray aphids. All over the plants near the groups of aphids you can find ladybug beetles, their predaceous larvae, and pupae. The ecosystem on the plants is interesting. The leaves are shining with honeydew and bald-faced hornets and other bees are gleening the sweet food off the leaf surfaces with their jaws.
There is some early fall color in the shrubs planted on the slopes above Spring Peeper. The fruits of dogwood, cranberry bush viburnum, American plum, elderberry and sumac are ripening and cedar waxwings are whistling around the area to eat the harvest. New England asters and sneezeweed are blooming in the prairie and wet meadow.
When I looked around the wet meadow in which I was standing, I could not help but appreciate all the blooming wildflowers. This wetland had been invaded with reed canary grass up until about 2001 when I began spraying out the invasive grass. I was pleasantly surprised when a diverse bouquet of native wildflowers began to bloom in the void made by the absence of the reed canary grass. Today Joe-pye-weed is blooming profusely along with the jewelweed. The small pink blooms of willowherb and the white flowers of tear thumb smartweed add to the mix. Down below near the ground I found a few of the bright blue tubular flowers of skullcap. Out in the middle of the area a few white blooms caught my attention. The rounded tubular flowers of turtle head do indeed remind me of a turtle's head as it rounds off to the sharp beak-like mouth.
A couple of monarchs were visiting the fuzzy joe-pye-weed blooms. I heard a hummingbird buzz through and when I looked up, I saw a pair of hummers zipping around nearby. A couple dozen blue darners were surfing the breeze about 20 to 30 feet above the ground. I'm happy if all the pesky little bugs are up there being eaten by the darners. Now and then the call of a tree frog squeaked out from somewhere in amongst the lush vegetation. I saw several frogs today clinging to the foliage as they basked. One frog was apparently leaping for safety, but instead landed on me. Sometimes this causes a brief panic in me when I don't see the frog coming and its moist toes and body cling to me, but today I was calm and didn't overreact and fling the frog away. Instead, the frog hung on and I watched as it walked up my shirt sleeve. I also found my first black and yellow argiope spider. They are the large spiders that build their webs in late summer in meadows and grasslands. I nearly walked into the spider's web, but saw it in time, probably in part because the large spider had an equally large grasshopper wrapped in silk in the middle of the web.
A hummingbird was hovering around in a large patch of spotted jewelweed. The orange blooms are an attractive nectar source for the long-tongued hummingbirds. A couple of places to find jewelweed and perhaps encounter a hummingbird are along the edge of the wetland below the Snyder Building, on the Wood Duck Trail behind the sugar house, and in the wetland below the grove of birch trees out along the North Star Trail. Matt saw a couple of woolly bear caterpillars today.
I found a quiet spot up in the overflow parking area this morning in advance of the heat. The breeze blew through refreshing me. A pair of chickadees flew through. A goldfinch passed by in its undulating flight. And then it was quiet until a pair of ospreys appeared just above the treeline chirruping insistently. A third osprey entered the stage and together they all circled and soared, flapping occasionally to stay aloft. As I watched the ospreys, I realized the half moon was still high in the sky. It must have risen very late last night.
There was a bit of fog in the low-lying areas this morning. When the bright sun burned the fog off, the moisture still clung to the plants. With the sun glinting through the fog droplets, I had a premonition of frost. A little rabbit sat in the middle of the trail down at Spring Peeper with shining droplet laden plants as a backdrop. We paused in our tracks and it sat so we could appreciate what looked like a magical scene. I saw my first red admiral butterfly this afternoon flying around the cupplants.
Some of my best days for nature notes are when I am backpack spraying around Spring Peeper. Today was a pretty fun day that way. Away in the distance, I had been hearing some crows cawing consistently for quite awhile. They were still cawing when I eventually made my way to the Oak Knoll at the back of Spring Peeper. When I looked up to find the crows, I also found the object of their disdain. A barred owl was sitting calmly - well, it looked calm - in an oak tree on the edge of the hillside. The owl rotated its head around to keep an eye on the gangsters behind it, but when it turned back and took a look at me standing there below it on the trail, it decided to take its chances with the crows and flew off with them in hot pursuit.
While I was scouting out some purple loosestrife in the back corner, I found a single bald-faced hornet on a stout dead stem from last season. I was studying it quite intently, hoping it would not become hostile, when I realized I could hear it chewing on the stem. When it flew off, I could see that it had rasped off a layer of the dead tissue in a neat rectangular spot. Shortly after that I saw a male goldfinch fly out of a shrub. I could see a nest inside the shrub, so I had to take a look to see what stage this nest was in. Since I had just seen several goldfinches in a thistle patch yesterday, I thought perhaps the male was still building the nest. Instead, I was surprised to see three tiny bald nestlings and another 2 eggs to hatch yet.
Back near the overlook I heard a crashing in the brush behind me and turned to see a hawk flying back up out of the shrubbery. I can only assume it was diving on some little creature and missed. It had to fly a few circles around to gain elevation again and soon it was soaring high overhead. There are some new mole tunnels in the woodchip trail near the east end of the boardwalk. As I was standing there, I was startled to see the trail lift up just 2 feet from my leather boots! For a few seconds I watched the woodchips lift gently and settle slightly, then I decided I should see if I could find this mole. I stuck my hand into the soft woodchips and flipped out a few handfuls. I tossed up a very large grub, but no mole. I understand they are really very quick, which is why homeowners can get very little satisfaction when their lawns are being tunneled over!
When rain is scarce, it is much easier to appreciate it regardless of how inconvenient it may be at the moment. The thunder and lightning that rolled in last night at bedtime were not inconvenient and I really enjoyed the show even though it was a brief one act play. This morning, and I guess even last night, the local wildlife were appreciating the puddles left by the storm. The muddle of tracks left in and around the puddle on the gravel road leading to compost hill were evidence that a raccoon somehow benefited from, or at least enjoyed the rain! This afternoon butterflies were puddling at the edges of the puddles and in the damp gravel road. They obtain moisture and minerals by this behavior.
Joe-pye-weed and prairie blazingstar are both in full bud right now. Not full bloom, but full bud. These are just a couple of the species that I appreciate nearly as much when they are in bud as when they are in bloom. As the buds begin to expand, they are full of vibrant color with the pigments concentrated in the folded flower parts. Ironweed is also in bloom now and that is another vibrant color addition to the wet meadow around Spring Peeper. A more subtle bloom are those of whorled milkweed. Each individual ivory bloom is smaller than is typical for our other local milkweeds and the ivory color doesn't jump out at you either. But they are an interesting plant to get up close to anyway with their diverse insect entourage. I have not yet noticed any monarch caterpillars on the couple of populations at Spring Peeper. When the caterpillars are on the plant, you wonder that they won't completely devour the plant, since there really isn't much leaf tissue there to begin with. Whorled milkweed also tends to attract large black wasps which also seem oversized for the plant.
The Bennett-Johnson Prairie is worth a visit right now - well, it is always worth a visit! But now there are so many species in bloom that I will not try to name them all. A few of the highlights might be the queen-of-the-prairie that is blooming along the edge of the prairie pond. A member of the Rose Family, it will remind you of spiraea, which are in the same family. In the back of the prairie the small hillside near the pothole is filled with the blooms of rattlesnake master and flowering spurge. One of my favorites are the lavender purple spikes of hoary vervain. It turns out that as beautiful as hoary vervain is, it is nearly a weed. At Spring Peeper it came in thick on one of the unused wood chip trails. Many of the yellow flowering species are blooming now including gray-headed coneflower, black-eyed Susans, rosinweed, and even the first of the Canada goldenrod. So go and check out the prairie and see if you can come up with a list of at least 40 blooming species. Matt was close!
The cliff swallows are feeding babies in the nests they built under the eaves of the Apple House. Matt thought that these swallows had only paused briefly here and would soon be moving on despite their nest-building activities. Ospreys continue to build up their nests on the nest platforms through the summer. While Matt was out in the prairie, an osprey flew through. It ducked into the canopy of one of the old oak trees where Matt heard a branch snap. The osprey flew out of the tree trailing the large limb behind it.
I had a handful of weeds when my hand began chirruping. I opened up my hand and had to pick through the weeds to find the source of the chirruping. I was surprised to find a cicada in my grasp. They are not that small and I had not felt it at all. It reminded me of a toad in distress. If you pick up a toad during the mating season, it will give a similar distress call. The cicada stopped calling when I released my grip. I gently placed the cicada on a plant where I was able to appreciate his green camo outfit and large bug-eyed face with its Darth Vader mouth parts.
Later I was watching a yellowthroat with dragonfly (or maybe it was a damselfly) in its mouth. It's amazing how they can still sing with their mouths full. He was hopping up and down in the vegetation - a little bit nervous about me standing nearby. I was surprised when he went down one more time out of sight into the veg and then came back up without the bug. Its nest must have been down there somewhere. I have yet to find a yellowthroat nest, but I didn't pursue this one today even though I had a great clue as to where it must be. Other times when I have seen yellowthroats with bugs they have not been comfortable going to the nest and I would soon leave them in peace so they could feed their babies.
Earlier this spring, Matt was worried that there was only a single pair of barn swallows back to nest at the HRC. Now in mid-summer his worries are over. In the rain this morning I was pleased to hear the low chatter of our now normal population of barn swallows. We leave the doors open on either end of the tub cellar to accomodate these swift little birds, but they are nesting under the eaves as well as in the basement rafters. I counted 16 nests under the eaves of this one building and another 14 nests inside the building. I flinched a few times when the birds came swooping in and out. I think that a couple of them flinched also, as they were surprised to find me there. They have fledged at least one brood already. Some nests had ready-to-fledge young perched on the rim of the nest. In other nests, I presume there are smaller nestlings or eggs. In flight the young can be identified by their lack of a deeply forked tail and I did see some of these swooping around.
I was working out in the research basins when a pair of ospreys flew toward me. One of them was carrying a fish. I noticed that its load also included a bit of aquatic weed. I wondered if the milfoil problem in our local lakes has had any negative effects on the osprey's hunting efficiency. A third osprey was flying toward me as well, and I could tell that it also had a fish in its grasp. The first pair flew south and disappeared behind the woods at Spring Peeper. The third osprey turned and headed back to the nesting platform where it landed. The babies on this platform did not survive and we suspect that their parents may not have been feeding them adequately and they starved. That's just a theory, but I sure saw plenty of food fly by today!
One young osprey was removed from his nest platform this morning to be banded. This nestling is probably a male judging from its small size. Although he was generally calm during the procedure, he let his frustration be known by biting the fingers of his handler. Apparently his bites do not hurt as much as his talons, which were carefully contained the whole time. The rusty red eyes of the nestling will begin to turn yellow like those of his parents. We were told that his mother had been transplanted to Iowa for their reintroduction program before she fledged, but that location did not imprint strongly on her and she soon moved back to Minnesota. The information on the leg bands of the ospreys lets researchers follow the where-abouts of our growing osprey population and begin to understand more about their nesting, mating and migration behaviors.
Watch your step out on the trails! Little toadlets are all over the place now on the woodchip trails and elsewhere. Joe-pye weed is blooming around some of the wetlands, but even the large clusters of pink buds are very showy. John T. has been finding a large number of annual cicadas hanging from his grape vines in the vineyard. Their abandoned exoskeletons as well as the cicadas themselves are numerous right now.
The tall naked stems of prairie dock are now topped with their coarse yellow composite flowers in the Bennett-Johnson Prairie. Michigan lilies are beginning to bloom in Spring Peeper Meadow. Only one flower is blooming but the buds are plump and bright orange as they hang suspended waiting to open.
We were back out in the wetland this morning and I saw all sorts of fun stuff. The first little baby western chorus frog I found was a dark one, just a centimeter long, down on the saturated mat beneath a dense cover of burreed. The next two were tan to match the dry dead leaves, but were just as minute as the other. They had climbed up on the vegetation and I was lucky to see them at all because they looked as though they were poised to launch themselves as we came crashing through.
All of the marsh wren nests I found today were occupied. I found eggs in two nests. Since I was feeling gently inside the domed nests, I can only estimate, but I think it was about a half dozen eggs in each. The eggs in the other two nests I found were hatched, so my fingertips sensed what felt like tiny rubbery featherless nestlings. At the one nest, the parents were coming in with food in a pretty quick turn around time. Unlike most other songbirds, that sneak quietly into their nests to feed their young, the marsh wren sat just below the top of the burreeds singing its heart out on each trip in and out.
Monarda, or wild lavender bergamot is blooming in the prairie and around Spring Peeper Meadow.
Three young ospreys at the HRC were removed from their nest platform in cardboard pet carriers and taken to the ground to be banded. The banding takes place at a time when the nestlings are too young to try to leap from the platform when the big cherry picker with the humans in it sweeps up from the truck parked below. After being banded, the nestlings are returned to the platform.
I love being down in the wetland doing our every four year vegetation surveys. We do them every few years to try to get a quantitative picture of how the plant community in Spring Peeper Meadow is changing over time. This year it appears that there are fewer annual species in the meadow and the data may show that the lake sedge has expanded its range. While I am down in the wet prairie, the meadow or in the marsh zone, I am easily distracted by all the goings on around me. Today there were marsh wrens singing just beside us in a few places. They are curious little birds and they will come very close, but they stay out of sight, so you wouldn't know they were there except for the rustling in the rushes nearby or from their vigorous singing. We found 2 wren nests. They make a woven ball of dead leaves hanging in the rushes over the wetland. It looks a lot like a messy basket with no opening. I found the opening on the first nest. I felt with my finger, but there were no eggs or nestlings. On the second nest, I could not even find the opening. We were thinking the wren that built that nest might need some basket weaving lessons!
A couple times I saw a tiny flash of movement on the damp ground beneath the sedges and knew that it would be a western chorus frog. There was also a large toad hanging out in the cool damp understory. I wonder if it might be eating some of the many small snails we saw. I assume the tiny spiders I see this time of year in the small boxy spider webs are baby spiders. There seem to be a zillion of them all crowded together in a marble-sized cluster in the center of the web. If you disturb the web, they scatter. This seems like a defense mechanism which would prevent all the baby spiders from being eaten all at once.
Water plantain and arrowhead are both beginning to bloom. The inflorescence of water plantain reminds me of an aquatic version of baby's breath. The two plants are related and you can see that by the white three-petaled flowers which are large in the arrowhead and tiny in the water plantain.
The list of flowers blooming out in the meadow and prairie around Spring Peeper is getting long. Some of the species are more showy than others and I am still anticipating some of the showiest species to be in bloom by the end of the month. I still found some blue flag iris, golden alexanders, tall meadow rue, and Canada anemone blooming. Mountain mint, cup-plant, leadplant, marsh milkweed, blue vervain hoary vervain and Culver's root are beginning to bloom. There is a beautiful little ground cherry blooming right on the edge of the trail. Its yellow hanging flowers are easy to miss. Black raspberries are ripening now. I enjoyed a few handfuls while I was working today. Mother songbirds are still feeding their babies. We saw several today with beaks full of juicy bugs.
I was able to watch one of the new generation of mourning cloak butterflies nectaring on a milkweed this afternoon. Its wings were so fresh and crisp, not at all worn like they get when they have been weathered a bit out in the elements. At one point I got a quick glimpse of a mourning cloak and a viceroy chasing each other over the meadow. Cupplants are blooming. They have large yellow sunflower-type flowers that will remind you of an actual sunflower. Culver's root and Canada tick trefoil are also blooming in the meadow. Treefrogs are in the uplands around the meadow basking on the plants.
Painted Lady butterflies are out now along with the second generation of mourning cloaks. A green frog has been calling from the wetland at Spring Peeper Meadow. His deep "gunge" call is pretty recognizable.
The potter wasp lays its egg in a little "pot" it makes of mud. The pot is mostly spherical with a short neck on one end that the wasp plugs with more mud after she lays her egg inside and stocks the pot with an anesthetized caterpillar for the larva to eat. Eventually the larva will open the chamber from the inside. John found one of these mud chambers attached to the back of a grape leaf in the vineyard.
We were pulling a few weeds along the trail at Spring Peeper, minding our own business when we found ourselves being buzzed by a pair of tree swallows. It took them a few passes to get my attention, despite their annoyed call at each pass over my head. When I finally looked up to see the tree swallows, I wasn't sure why they were buzzing me. We were attracting a small swarm of gnats, so I briefly thought they might just be using me. However my second thought was that there might be babies nearby that they were protecting. I moved along a few feet down the trail and they did stop buzzing me. Soon I did see the babies. They were fledged and were flying among the adults. The two babies landed next to each other on the old head of a goldenrod stem. It but barely held them up. As their parents flew near, they fluttered their wings as if mom and pop needed a reminder to feed them.
New Jersey tea, butterflyweed, black-eyed Susans, giant blue hyssop and purple prairie clover are blooming at Spring Peeper Meadow and in the Bennett Johnson Prairie. The first orange sulphur butterflies were seen yesterday. Baby ground squirrels can be seen running outside of their holes. Joe spent more than an hour observing the great crested flycatcher at its nest box. Finally his time paid off when he saw the parent fly into the box with a bee to feed its nestlings.
There numerous butterflies, skippers dragonflies and damselflies flying all around the natural areas now. Matt first saw great spangled fritillaries today. There were several of these large orange butterflies in the Bennett Johnson Prairie. There were also several smaller butterflies and skippers challenging us to ID them on the wing. Dragonflies are flying overhead sweeping small insects out of the air. The wild white indigo plants are besieged by a swarm of blister beetles right now. When we stood in the part of the prairie where the indigo is most dense, we could easily hear the rattling of the beetles wings as they flew from plant to plant. Ricky says that the beetles were only eating the flowers on one side of the trail yesterday. They nearly finished off those flowers though, so now they have crossed the trail to eat on the other side.
Jerry H. noticed a couple of cedar waxwings today and last week in the gardens. We heard them out in the prairie as well. Matt says that they will be nesting soon. They are late nesters, so this will be their first brood for the season unlike several other of our nesting songbirds that are on their second broods now. The ospreys up on their platforms are standing over their nestlings to shade them from the heat of the sun. I imagine they are panting with their mouths hanging open like the lone turkey hen I saw out in open this afternoon.
We startled a mother raccoon and her babies out in the edge of the prairie. She scrambled up a tree calling to them and they obediently followed, although they were not as efficient getting up the tree as she had been. Matt checked the cooper's hawk nest and was able to see the heads of the four chicks sticking up over the edge of the nest.
Blooms to check out in the prairie and the prairie garden include prairie phlox, hoary vervain, prairie coreopsis, flowering spurge, indian hemp, and butterflyweed. Common milkweed is also blooming. Both the common milkweed and butterflyweed are fragrant, so be sure to stick your nose in the vicinity of the flowers and breath in the heavy scent. While your nose in near the flowers be sure to check for any insects stuck in the blooms. Small insects can get caught in the trap of the milkweed's pollen apparatus. Only an insect large enough to pull the package of pollen out of the flower can help cross pollenate the plants. The pollinia, as this package is called, gets caught on the foot of insects attracted to the blooms for nectar. If the insect is large enough to pull the pollinia out of the flower, it will insert it into the next milkweed flower it visits. A couple of times, I have seen small insects trapped on the blooms by the pollinia that they were too small to pull from the flower.
An ant was hauling a still twitching butterfly across the ground when Matt interrupted it to identify the little beauty. The shimmering brown wings of the banded hairstreak are accented with white edged black marks. There are a few orange spots near the tailed edge of the hind wing. The hairstreak's head is striped with white. The butterfly is small - only about 1/2 inch with wings folded. A magnifying lens helps to see all of its lovely detail. The butterfly's eggs were laid on oak trees last year and the butterflies are just beginning to fly now.
Ricky has found one rather scrawny kittentails plant out in the back of the Bennett Johnson Prairie. Kittentails are on the threatened plant list, so this is pretty big news for native plant lovers. Prairie phlox is blooming in Spring Peeper Meadow.
For bird lovers, the news of 81 bluebirds fledged and 63 eggs or nestlings still to come is also exciting. Without any big storms early in the season, survival has been good in our nest boxes.
A pair of downy woodpeckers are feeding their nestlings in a hole in a tree near the Green Heron Trail below the Snyder Building. Chipmunks have started "munking". This territorial call is very familiar to me from spending time in the woods, but still I have to stop and remember that it is the chipmunks calling. Young chipmunks should be out and about now, becoming independent and beginning to disperse. Matt was enjoying the song of an indigo bunting and a common yellowthroat when he looked down and found that a young gray squirrel had approached to within a few feet of him. It was too young to know it should be at least cautious of people. When he followed a bunch of chattering up into the canopy near the same spot, he found a whole family of 7 gray squirrels all in the same tree. Apparently the red-winged blackbirds are getting a bit fiesty. Matt saw one chase a green heron clear across Green Heron Pond. Later at Tamarack Lake, he saw a red-wing chase a belted kingfisher and literally knock the kingfisher into the water with a splash! Red-spotted purple butterflies have been seen back along 82nd Street. These butterflies are black with a blue accent and red spots. Their caterpillars feed on willows and birch trees.
Matt paused for a moment on his tractor this afternoon to watch the Osprey feeding its young on the platform at the HRC. The adult had a fish that it ripped pieces off of to feed to the chicks.
Snapping turtles are coming up out of the wetlands to lay their eggs. They have been seen in the Wildflower Garden and along the edges of the field above Tamarack Lake at the HRC. Matt reports, unhappily, that deerflies are biting now.
Morning in the meadow. I was down in Spring Peeper Meadow early this morning while the dew was glistening on the grass. A few mosquitos were biting with no breeze to blow them off, but the sun was shining and it was hard not to appreciate the beautiful day. Everything looks different from "down in the meadow". I was scouting out some reed canary grass, which gives me a chance to catch up on the goings-on around the wetland. There were dozens of small ethereal damselflies catching the light when they flew. They fly so slowly that it is possible to see how their wings on one side beat opposite of each other - one wing up while the other is down. Mostly they were still resting on the dewy grasses, staying out of the way of hungry birds. I found 3 red-winged blackbird nests. All of them were well up into the meadow. The parents clue me in by their distressed behavior and usually from a short distance I can pick out the tuft of vegetation the nest is tucked into. All of these nests still had eggs, although I also saw a couple of fledged babies flopping around. One of the fledglings still had little tufts of downy feathers on its head. Some of the tree frogs are climbing up and clinging onto leaves where they can bask in the sun. Tall meadow rue is not blooming yet, but it is already taller than me - that is, more than 5 feet tall! Cow parsnip is blooming along the wood edge. The delicate white umbel of honewort is blooming in the understory of the meadow plants. The sedge wren's bubbling song is nearly constant, while the coarse conking call of a single yellow-headed blackbird can be heard periodically from one of the patches of rush just north of the boardwalk. A pair of geese are ensconced on the boardwalk. Arlene, one of the meadow's regular visitors snuck by them, but two little girls and their mother who were more intimidated by the hissing geese waited for me to shoo them off.
A couple of guests to Spring Peeper spotted a wood duck hen and her 5 ducklings. The butterfly kids from St. Hubert's were out looking for signs of monarchs. They showed me the tiny, tiny capsule shaped egg of a monarch on the back of a milkweed leaf. They had also found a tiny caterpillar, about 2 millimeters long. They explained that they start out grey when they first hatch, but after they have eaten a pinhead-sized hole in the milkweed leaf, the pigments of the leaf turn the caterpillar green too.
Jenny came face to face with a star-bellied orbweaver spider today as she worked in the vineyard. The spider, sitting still and with its muted colors, looked very much like an expanding bud on a grape vine.
You won't want to miss the elegant spires of the wild white indigo blooming right now in the prairie. The flowers bloom before the plants have fully leafed out. Later in the summer these will look like dense shrubs topped with the black seed pods. Butterflyweed and Common ox-eye are also blooming in the prairie this week. Cow parsnip is blooming in the low damp soils. Showy ladyslippers are deep pink in early bloom before the flowers have completely expanded and diluted the pigments.
Now is time to look for the scraping their shallow round depression in the gravel at the bottom of the lake. They lay their eggs in the depression, then guard the depression against predators. Matt notes that the sunfish in Tamarack Lake behind the HRC are beginning to scrape their nests. Yellow pond lilies are also blooming now.
A nice sized buck with his reddish spring coat and velvet flocked antlers was quite a lovely picture grazing in the tall grasses beneath the tree collection in the Berens.
Matt took an eight-spotted forester for a ride on his tractor this afternoon. An eight-spotted forester is a beautiful black moth with four large white spots on each set of wings and a yellow patch on the fore-wing near the body. This one hung onto the hood of the tractor as Matt made a pass through the field. Spittlebug spit can be found on plants in the fields and prairie now. If you gently wipe the spit off the plant between your fingers, you can find the green nymph inside where it is peacefully sucking plant juices, since no one really wants to play with spittlebug spit. In addition to providing cover from predators, the spit keeps these soft-bodied nymphs moist. Spittlebugs are partial to clovers, and the adults, which can hop around at will, lay their frost resistant eggs in the fall on the plants.
There were 4 eggs in the killdeer nest I looked at yesterday out on a mound of wood chips at the Red Barn. Today Virge visited the same nest and instead of finding 4 eggs resting with their narrow pointed ends together in a neat circle, she found 4 fluff balls of baby killdeer with their beaks neatly pointing together in their shallow depression in the wood chips.
The Cooper's hawk in the nest by the Crabapple Parking Lot is still incubating her eggs. She is sitting low with just her head above the rim of the nest. When I went to get a photo of the chipping sparrow nest, the sparrow slipped quietly off the nest and snuck away on foot. She sat quietly in a nearby shrub until we left. A chickadee nest was discovered sometime last week in an old woodpecker hole only about 2 feet above ground in an old rotting crabapple tree. No one would have been the wiser if the tree hadn't snapped at that weak point, exposing the nest and eggs. The chickadees abandoned the exposed nest and today when I went to check it out, bits of the nest material and a couple broken eggs were laying on the ground around the base of the tree. Only one little egg was left in the nest in the open cavity.
Common ringlet butterflies were flying all over in the hayfield along 82nd Street. They are so plentiful that they are easy to spot despite their dun coloring. They have a weak floppy flight that might give the impression that they should sit down and rest a spell, but they do not sit for long when they do stop.
Wild roses are beginning to bloom. I found one out in the back of Spring Peeper. It's flowers were such a deep pink, I had to walk over and stick my nose in a bloom. The buds are classic rose with folded pink petals surrounded by tapered sepals. Combinations of the yellow, purple and white flowers of golden alexanders, vetch, and Canada anemone look like bouquets out in the meadow. Figwort are blooming on one edge of the meadow. The purple-green flowers are small and not showy, but the bees have found them anyway. They are sticking their heads deep into the hooded flowers to retrieve their reward of pollen or nectar. Showy ladyslippers are blooming in the Wildflower Garden.
Golden alexanders have grown in very thick and dense in the mowed strip that was the ski trail around Spring Peeper Meadow. They are in full bloom now. The crisp white flowers of Canada anemone and the subtle blue flowers of blue flag iris are also beginning to show around the meadow.
Hooded merganser hens with chicks will do a feigned injury act much like a killdeer. Today as I approached the middle of the boardwalk out at Spring Peeper I flushed a merganser hen. She flew over the boardwalk and landed again on the north side. She then scuttled across the water using her wings like oars to propel herself away from me. I have seen this act once before, so I thought she must have babies that she was trying to distract me from finding. I was not so easily distracted though, despite her swimming around and calling out with a hoarse quwauking noise. I sat down to lower my profile and hoped that I would soon see the chicks. I first heard them peeping back to her from near the boardwalk, but on the opposite side. After a few moments, one of the chicks swam out from behind a clump of sweetflag. It was followed by another six little brown puffballs of baby merganser. I left the way I had come after I had a chance to count the chicks and hoped they reunited quickly.
Matt enjoyed the song of a Henslow's sparrow today. He has seen them before, but has never had a chance to appreciate their song on his previous encounters. While he was out along 82nd Street behind the Arboretum, he put together a nice little bird list which included cooing mourning doves, a red-bellied woodpecker drumming, and a few turkeys gobbling. Out along the fields on 82nd Street is a great place to see both bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks. Wild white indigo, beardtongue penstemon (large-flowered beardtongue) and spiderwort are blooming out in the prairie and along the top of the wall along Three Mile Drive near the prairie. The large lavender pink flowers of the beardtongue are set off nicely by its waxy bluish foliage. These plants are normally found in sandy well-drained soils, which is why Rich planted them on this steep slope. It is as close as we can get to well drained in our heavy clay soils.
Matt was able to sit in the cab of his truck and watch a grasshopper sparrow sing its buzzy tune from the top of a tall weed stem. The sparrow flew back and forth a few times. They have really weak flight which makes you wonder how they could possibly migrate long distances. Matt also saw his first common ringlet butterfly today. While he was springtoothing one of the farm fields, Matt met up with a nervous killdeer. He stopped his tractor and got off to locate the nest. He found it with four eggs, and was so close that he had to back up to go around it. Now he will have a small messy unplanted spot out in the field, but it will have been worth it!
Matt thinks the osprey eggs on the platform at the HRC may have hatched today. He saw both birds on the platform, but not incubating.
I heard a lot of splashing around beneath the boardwalk when I stepped onto it this afternoon. I stopped in my tracks and waited to see who might appear from beneath. Soon a mallard hen poked her head out and sat in the shadow of the boardwalk. After a moment assessing the situation she swam calmly out into the wetland. Her ducklings, on the other hand, scrambled across the water heading in at least 3 different directions. I felt bad getting them all agitated and then separated from each other. I felt even worse when I walked further out onto the boardwalk, assuming the coast was clear, and then hearing another little duckling still peeping from beneath the boardwalk. Mom and the rest of the family were away across the wetland already. I could only move along and hope they reunited. A merganser hen and her brood were swimming in and out among the reeds on the north end. Merganser babies dive, and are really cute as they pop back up to the surface. It's often difficult to count the brood since they are all diving in and popping up at intervals. There are lots of tadpoles swimming through the water alongside the boardwalk now. I saw my first blue damselflies today. A friend of mine has always called them needles. I thought of him when I saw a couple flying around.
The mosquitos were out in force in the woods today when I walked through quickly to see what was in bloom. Wild geranium, Virginia waterleaf, jack-in-the-pulpit, nodding trillium, baneberry and columbine were all in bloom. I looked quickly for wild leeks, but they are still in bud.
The first turkey chicks were seen today out along the Berens Trail by Bill who was unable to count how many there were, but it was a bunch!
An eastern kingbird has a nest near the prairie parking lot. A great crested flycatcher is using the kestrel box near the Wildlife Food Garden. It was seen carrying some nesting material to the box. Matt says the spiny baskettail is a new species on his list of Arboretum dragonflies.The eastern phoebe which nests at the pumphouse at the HRC every year is sitting on 4 eggs.
Karen S. writes: "Today my daughter and I spent the late afternoon in the wildflower garden. There had been an emergence of hundreds of dragonflies near the pond at the western end of the garden They were clinging motionless to branches and old stems. One tall flower stalk had 15 perched along its length. Unfortunately I did not have my camera. I think that they were spiny baskettails. At one point we looked upwards towards a swarm about 20 feet off the ground and high overhead two vultures soared into view. The contrast was remarkable.
Birdwise there was much singing high in the canopy. We had nice looks at orioles, rose breasted grosbeaks and red eyed vireo by the prairie. A turkey was calling loudly in the woods up by the old coopers hawk's nest."
A pair of scarlet tanagers and blackburnian warbler were singing in the Wildflower Garden this morning. Matt also saw an indigo bunting feeding in the canopy. The pewee has returned and is singing. Red-eyed vireos are also back. Matt was watching an olive-sided flycatcher hop around in one of the trees when it raised a whole lot of immature 12-spotted skimmers from their resting place in the canopy. The skimmers were then flying around the garden. When one of the skimmers flew just near Matt's ear, he recalled how his older brothers teased him and his twin brother mercilessly when he was a child by telling him that dragonflies were ear sewers and they would sew his ears shut. Matt says there were summer days when the dragonflies were so abundant on the farm that he wouldn't even go outside for fear of the ear sewers.
The leaves of the wild leeks are beginning to fade and as the same time their flower buds are emerging. Soon the white umbel of flowers will bloom, standing alone leafless on the forest floor. Large flowered yellow ladyslippers are in full bloom in the Wildflower Garden.
Earlier this week, Pete M. was eating his lunch out at Spring Peeper. He enjoyed watching some of the goslings slurping up pond weeds that their parents were pulling up from below. He thought the whole scene was as much fun to watch as kids slurping up spaghetti noodles - less messy I'm guessing!
Today Matt and I both noticed that there are pearl crescent and he thought spring azure butterflies out. The pearl crescent is a small orange and black beauty just about an inch across. The spring azure is a lovely dusty blue butterfly even smaller than the pearl crescent. I noticed that there were also a couple additional species of dragonflies at the meadow. It appears that a hooded merganser hen has taken the wood duck house on the north end. She was sitting in the opening surveying her surroundings for a minute or so before flying out to the wetland.
Karen S. spent some time in the back part of the prairie today. She heard a pewee- calling frequently, saw an indigo bunting , and heard the song of a clay colored sparrow. She saw a flyover by a pileated, and notes, "On several occasions I have seen one or a pair of pileateds flying across the prairie towards the woods behind the prairie. I wonder if they have a nest". Karen says there were many house wrens along with the expected species. She also heard crickets singing for the first time this year. On a note related to our below average rainfall for the past month and a half she thought the prairie was extremely dry, "seemed more like August than May".
Bobolinks were seen on the powerline along 82nd Street this afternoon.
While Matt was working the fields at the HRC, he spotted a fledged horned lark. He was able to approach quite close to it before it flew to safety. While I was out closing up the lid of a wood duck house that had come open, I had a close encounter with a sora rail. I had waded into the wetland and was not more than 3 feet from it when it flew. I wish I had noticed it while it was still on the water. It would have been a nice look at this elusive bird. That had me thinking that it would be nice to find a rail nest again. I haven't found one in a few years. I took a different route out of the wetland and was gingerly poking around in the rushes and sedges and against all odds, I did happen to find a nest. This one was covered over with a canopy of dried lake sedge and fresh sprouts of sedge were growing up around the nest, but tucked neatly inside I counted 7 brown-spotted buff colored eggs of a Virginia rail.
On the Oak Knoll at the back of Spring Peeper, I enjoyed the antics of a pair of house wrens. They were in the throes of their chattering, wing vibrating display. One of the birds disappeared into an old woodpecker hole in one of the several dead or declining trees along the old fencerow. I also spotted my first indigo bunting of the season. The male was in the lower canopy of one of the old oaks on the knoll. It was silent today, but I am sure I will soon be hearing its sweet song from a prominent perch in a snag.
A Philadelphia vireo singing down along the trail below the Snyder Building was one of the highlights of Matt's birding walk today. It is the first time a Philadelphia vireo has been recorded at the Arboretum. Many warblers are still feeding in the treetops including Canada warbler, black and white warbler, American redstart, and yellow warbler. A hooded merganser hen is incubating 11 eggs in the house alongside Green Heron Pond. The phoebes have 4 eggs in their nest at the pumphouse. Rose-breasted grosbeaks are singing. The group also found a snapping turtle that had come out of the pond by the Berens Cabin. It was so covered with duckweed that it was initially hard to recognize what it was until it stuck its head out and then one leg. This snapper is one of the old veterans, being much larger than a dinner plate according to Matt. Both large and small flowered yellow ladyslippers are blooming in the Wildflower Garden.
Nine painted turtles were basking on the pipe near the pumphouse on Green Heron Pond when I wandered by today. A green heron had set up on the edge of the pond waiting for a morsel to swim by. A great egret took to the air chased by a red-winged blackbird. Along the path the seedlings of touch-me-nots have started to grow. They are annuals that will be a popular nectar source for hummingbirds in late summer. Baneberry, columbine, and Virginia waterleaf are all blooming now. Look for them in the Wildflower Garden, but also along the trails through the woods. Heart-leaved alexanders are blooming in the Prairie Garden.
Maury reported seeing a mallard hen on her nest under a honeysuckle shrub behind one of the cabins at the HRC. She is a little bit of a walk from water, but will probably eventually make her way with her ducklings down to Tamarack Lake. Stan bumped into a pheasant hen on a nest under a gooseberry shrub.
Now is a great time to take a walk out on the back loops of the trails through the Bennett/Johnson Prairie. The fall burns have cleared the thatch and the early spring prairie flowers are easy to spot. Only a couple of the trails right along the back edge go by the good spring wildflower spots, but when you get there you will find several species typical of open woods and savanna such rue anemone, violets, columbine, pussytoes, hoary puccoon, violet wood sorrel, bluets, and blue-eyed grass. When I walked the trail today, I flushed a bird out of a small tree right beside the trail I was on. I watched its zig-zag flight away from me and realized by the white spots on its wings that it was a common nighthawk. It landed in a larger oak tree nearby and I was able to see it perched on a large horizontal limb in that low profile posture typical of all the goatsuckers. I was quite pleased, since I have never seen any of the species of the goatsuckers on a perch before.
Matt and his group had a great bird list from their walk today. They saw 40 species including green herons, great egret, ring-billed gull, hummingbird, pileated woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, great crested flycatcher, least flycatcher, house wren, catbird, blue-gray gnatcatcher, gray-cheeked thrush, oriole, swamp sparrow. Several vireos and warblers are in the area including yellow-throated vireo, blue-headed vireo, Tennessee warbler, yellow warbler, American redstart and common yellow-throat. Matt found a chickadee nest with babies in the jagged broken end of a large branch. A phoebe has her nest under the bridge near the Green Heron Pond. Bob reported finding a brown thrasher nest in the shrub collection. It already had one egg in it and the parent bird was quite disturbed with Bob poking around.
Bluets are blooming in the Prairie Garden. False solomon's seal is blooming in the Wildflower Garden. Matt found one emerged June bug, while I found a couple still emerging from the ground as I was digging some weeds at the HRC. They will soon be bumping against the screens of our house windows on mild June nights.
The wind is whipping across the wetland and the ripples on the surface are running into each other from different directions. A few western chorus frogs and Cope's gray tree frogs are calling as well as an occassional sora rail. But you need to be down near the wetland to hear them as the wind is drowning out their from too far away. Tree swallows and barn swallows are whipping around in the wind. They seem to be enjoying riding the wind currents, but I am sure they are all business. In the quiet of the bog, Matt encountered a pileated woodpecker feeding on trees and logs low near the ground. It spent at least a half hour in the area flapping from tree to tree to log, tearing the bark off with its strong beak. A yellow warbler was singing somewhere in the background. Matt first thought he was hearing a chestnut-sided warbler who's song is similar. In giving it some thought, he knew that it would be a yellow warbler singing in the lowlands, while the chestnut-sided warbler's song would be heard in upland forests.
A black swallowtail butterfly was observed floating around the Arboretum.
From the trail in the woods at Spring Peeper, I heard a robust "wheep" call and knew that I was hearing my first great-crested flycatcher for the season. They are a beautiful bird, so I took the time to find it up in the trees. They have a tangy yellow breast with a brown-black back and rusty tail. Its head is a little bit squared from the crest that gives it its name. Its beak is quite stout and is used in typical flycatcher fashion to catch insects on the wing.
Wild strawberry and Greek valerian are blooming in the Wildflower Garden. Elderberry, prairie smoke and golden Alexanders are blooming at Spring Peeper. Matt lists the common yellowthroat at Green Heron Pond, a catbird at the Ordway Parking Lot, and a yellow-throated vireo in the Wildflower Garden, while over at Spring Peeper Meadow we saw the first Eastern kingbird for the season. The kingbird was exhibiting typical behavior, "hawking" or in other words, flying off a perch to catch a passing insect in the air and returning the same or a nearby perch. They have nested in some of the small trees in the forest restoration and seem to like the habitat in its current young stage. The group I was leading also had a nice long look at a sora rail. Typically very shy and reclusive, this particular rail spend several minutes foraging out in the open on a mat of dead vegetation, its pert upright tail bobbing as it alternately walked or swam over the mat. I heard my first and second tree frogs of the season. The first was calling from the edge of the woods across the street from the Spring Peeper parking lot. They overwinter in the uplands, so it will probably soon make its way to the wetland to breed. In the afternoon I heard another tree frog actually calling from within a wetland, so they will soon be adding their abrupt buzzy call to the trilling of the toads and the clicking of the chorus frogs in Spring Peeper.
Karen S. was birding along the new trail in the new property west of Wood Duck Pond. She was not able to find any of the yellow-rumped warblers or little kinglets today, but she did manage to spot some "very whiny" blue-gray gnatcatchers that she noted look a lot like mini mockingbirds. She also saw an ovenbird and a house wren to add to our spring repertoire.
American plums are blooming over at Spring Peeper Meadow. It is so windy today that I cannot smell them from a distance away like I often can on a calm day. Amelanchier or serviceberry is also blooming. Identify it by its elongated white petals and the reddish-bronze emerging leaves. Jack-in-the-pulpit is blooming in the low spots in the woods, but our soils are heavy enough that it will bloom up on the hillside as well. Matt saw the first tiger swallowtail today as well. The masses of tent caterpillar eggs that were glued tight to twigs last fall have hatched. The first webbed "tents" of the tent caterpillars have been spun in the crotches of cherry trees. The leaves of the cherry are barely large enough to sustain the centimeter long caterpillars yet, but some of the trees will be nearly defoliated by the fast growing caterpillars. I like to poke a stick through the web and open them up, exposing the caterpillars to birds and other predators that might put a little pressure on the population.
Matt often makes many of his most interesting nature finds when he is out plowing the fields around the Research Center. Today as he was plowing on the south side of the Research Center he saw a small flock of what some people might describe as rather nondescript brownish birds. He first thought of horned larks when he saw them, but soon put their behaviour and description together and realized he had a new bird on his life list. They were water pipits which can be found in plowed fields or on muddy shores as they migrate back to their breeding grounds in the tundra.
Karen S. writes that she had a good day birding at the Arboretum. Her species list for the day had 28 species including Nashville warbler, palm warbler, black and white warbler, a swamp sparrow and a broad-winged hawk. She reports that yellow-rumped warblers and ruby-crowned kinglets are everywhere. She also saw a goose down in the stream channel between the wildflower garden and the prairie and thought is was quite unusual to see a goose in such a wooded habitat.
Blue cohosh and wild geranium are blooming in the Wildflower Garden. The green flowers of cohosh are not very showy, but none-the-less it is one of my favorite spring flowers. I think it is because it is such classically simple plant with its 6-petaled flowers and in summer, its blue fruit. Although it is in the barberry family, its leaves resemble those of meadow rue or columbine, being divided and lobed. Wild geranium spreads by rhizomes, so it can provide quite a splash of pink in areas where it is well established.
Tom turkeys are still displaying to an ever dwindling flock of females. I saw this flock in the Berens near the North Star Trail. They kind of meandered along to different areas throughout the morning. The killdeer gave a call when I neared its nest site today. I could not find the nest the first time I looked, but as I retreated the bird went back and settled on her nest giving away its location. Even then they can be hard to actually find because the eggs are so well camouflaged. I usually put a flag near the nest if I have to work nearby so I won't accidentally step on the eggs.
It's the last day of May and spring is in full bloom. The trees have that soft blush of green as the leaves begin to pop. This stage of spring doesn't last very long, so get an eyeful of it now. Toads were trilling for the first time down in the research basins north of Spring Peeper Meadow. I saw my first green heron of the season. It squawked as it flew over and I knew to look up for this compact little heron. The pair of barn swallows at the HRC are building their nest under the eaves of the Old Apple House. They are taking beaksful of mud and the odd bit of dried grass from the sloppy spot in front of the tool shed for building materials. We used to have more pairs of barn swallows when the Old Apple House was in disrepair and several of the windows were broken. The civilized barn swallows flew in and out at will. Probably the first batch of goslings were being escorted out of the staff parking lot by Bill who was concerned that they should not be run over or even stressed during the rush of traffic at 10:00 break. They were fluffy and awfully cute yet as they followed their parents who hissed at Bill's kind gesture. Matt and I both note the arrival of the first red-winged blackbird females. The males have been waiting for a couple of weeks now. A clay-colored sparrow is singing back along 82nd street near the red barn. The meadow larks are chorusing there as well. Pussy-toes are blooming.
Matt and Rich have compiled a list of all the spring flowers blooming in the Wildflower Garden today. The list includes twin leaf, cut leaf toothwort, large-flowered bellwort, celandine poppy, rue anemone, wild ginger, white trout lily, dwarf trout lily, yellow trout lily, blue violets, white violets, marsh marigolds, Dutchman's breeches, snow trillium, large-flowered trillium, Virginia bluebells, bloodroot, hepatica, woodland phlox, and spring beauty. The cooler weather is definitely prolonging the bloom of some of the early species for our enjoyment.
On this rainy day Matt has had a chance to browse the blog. Consequently I have to make a correction! A few days ago I noted blue darner dragonflies at Spring Peeper Meadow. It turns out they are green darner dragonflies. They do happen to have a blue abdomen and a green thorax, so that can be confusing. Green darners are migratory. They head south in late summer and the offspring of the migrants head back here in early spring. There are several species of "blue darner" dragonflies and most of these will not appear until June or July when their larvae metamorphose into adults around our local wetlands. If you are a fan of dragonflies, a great book that Matt and I highly recommend is 'Dragonflies of the North Woods' by Kurt Mead. It's available in the Arboretum Gift Store and it's full of really cool information and great pictures.
Matt heard a field sparrow while spring-toothing out in the fields today. There have also been a few cabbage white butterflies floating around the grounds.
While the weather is overcast and cool, the bloodroot and hepatica flowers remain closed to save themselves for a brighter warmer day when their pollinators will be more active. Wood anemones and blue violets are beginning to bloom on the Oak Knoll. The buds of elderberry are quite ornamental in their tight bud stage. They are a lovely deep purple on a green background. Down in the wetland a few yellow-rumped warblers are hopping around on the floating mats of vegetation. They seem as much at home there as in the treetops. A goose is nesting on top of the muskrat lodge that not more than 2 weeks ago I was watching the muskrat build. I wonder if a goose and muskrat using the same lodge at the same time is a compatible relationship? A Virginia rail flushed from beside the boardwalk as I stepped on it from the pathway. The virginia rail looks much like the sora rail when in flight, except that the Virginia rail has a long bill. They are both rather gangly in flight with feet hanging out the back and fly only a short distance before dropping back into the wetland and disapearing into the vegetation.
Marsh marigolds are in full bloom in the Wildflower Garden. Out along the Green Heron Trail there is a particular hillside with a canopy of oaks and a reasonably nice ground cover of woodland sedge. I love this little hillside in spring when the rue anemone is blooming. Today the flowers, surrounded by their whorl of lobed leaves, were kind of a washed out pale pink or white. I was surprised that the flowers were so pale because I have really only seen these flowers as pink and I think that is why I take such pleasure in them. They really are adorable. White rue anemone didn't match my memory, so that sparked me to check the field guide. The two guides I referred to say the flowers are white. However, my technical key does describe the flowers as white to pale pink-purple. I think that is more accurate. I might point out that the showy part of this flower are not really petals at all, but rather showy sepals. This is typical in the buttercup family.
In early evening, from a perch high above a brushy patch of sumac where they like to nest, a brown thrasher was singing his diverse repertoire of twice repeated phrases. I had to stop to appreciate the concert given by this long-tailed rufous-brown songster who's verses include a range of warbles, chuckles, whistles, and all manner of creative bird music.
Spring Peeper Meadow is really starting to come alive. This morning the call of the western chorus frogs was rising up the slope from the wetland. They sound great from the Overlook. Also from the Overlook, I could hear the call of the Virginia rail. This is the first I have heard them this season. Their call sounds like a couple of rocks being clicked together under water. It's kind of subtle, you have to listen closely. Several blue darner dragonflies were zipping around the meadow and even up in the forest restoration. I saw one pair mating already. No time to waste! The leopard frog was calling with his snoring call. Pasque flowers are still blooming in the parking lot.
If you don't get outside now, you could miss spring! Everything happens so quickly and it is all so delicate and lovely that these warm windy days really take a toll on the longevity of the flowers. Lately, I find I procrastinate for all of spring on getting out for a run. Later when the summer flowers arrive I don't feel the same urgency to take my camera with me everywhere I go; the blooms last longer. Today I found many things in bloom in the Wildflower Garden. Some flowers are on the tale end of bloom and their petals grace the ground beneath their rapidly developing seed capsules. many of the bloodroot, twinleaf and hepatica have dropped their petals already, but you can still find a few fresh flowers. Toothwort, dwarf trout lily, white trout lily, wild ginger, Dutchman's breeches, isopyrum and spring beauty are blooming in various places around the garden. If you find it past bloom in one spot keep looking. The Wildflower Garden offers many micro-habitats - warm spots and cool spots where the blooms may be earlier or later by a few days. While the blooms of the snow trillium are lying wilted on its leaves, the buds of the large-flowered trillium are beginning to pop. Around the grounds skunk cabbage and large-flowered bellwort are blooming. Matt saw his first bumblebee today. As I was observing the spring flowers, I noticed a variety of pollenators on the blooms including bees, bee flies and other assorted pollen eating insects.
The Three Rivers Park District tech who is monitoring the three osprey platforms says that the ospreys at the Research Center are incubating eggs now. On Farm 2 the male is still adding sticks to improve his nest.
Most of the marsh marigolds are beautiful little mounded piles of green leaves right now despite having to grow up out of really cold saturated marsh soil. Matt found 2 blooms on a plant in the stream in the Wildflower Garden. Soon the stream will be punctuated with the bright buttercup yellow of marsh marigolds.
The snow trilliums in the Spring Peeper woods still look fresh and bright. The cooler weather these past two days will help prolong their blooms. From the trail with binoculars I was able to count at least 200 blooms yet. I'm pleased at the survival of this group of plants salvaged from a woods near Mankato prior to a landfill expansion. Emerging wild leeks and the regrowth of the woodland sedges add a fresh green touch to the forest floor. Elderberry is leafing out. It is always one of the earliest shrubs to leaf. Wild cherries are also pushing out their buds. The tiny leaves circle a dome of tight flower buds. Boxelder is also beginning to blush green on the edges of the woods.
The osprey continued their courtship this morning. I heard screaming first, and looked up to see the male flying with another fish. He was quite high over the field above Spring Peeper and heading west. He alternated altitude gains with short altitude losses; flapping quickly on the ascents, then folding his wings and tucking slightly on the dips. His mate was at an even greater altitude than he, soaring nearby. The male with his fish continued his undulating flight and soon made his way back to Spring Peeper, landing in the old snag on the Oak Knoll in the back. Later in the morning I saw the pair on the nest platform. One was on the perch and the other was in the nest. Later just one was in the nest. I'll keep watching to see when they start laying and incubating.
Matt and his guided walk group saw the first for the season birds including: barn swallow, hermit thrushes, yellow-rumped warbler, golden-crowned kinglets, and brown creeper. Matt notes that the juncos are still here. Ospreys are occupying all three of the platforms that have been erected for them on Arboretum property. The 3rd platform can be seen from Bavaria Road south of Hwy 5 about 1 mile. Matt's note about dinner in the owl's nest created a very odd picture in my mind. He wrote, "dead turkey in owl's nest with legs sticking out". Sounds like Thanksgiving gone wrong to me! In the wildflower garden the group appreciated the blooms of bloodroot, dutchman's britches, round-lobed hepatica and even skunk cabbage.
Les was just telling me that earlier this week they watched the male osprey on Farm 2 present a gift to his mate. Don't try this at home guys. The gift being presented as a part of the osprey's courtship ritual was a very colorful red koi. The male flew up to meet his mate in the air, bringing the koi with him in his talons. He apparently returned to his perch with the koi and still had the koi in his possession much later. Perhaps she would rather have a walleye!
I just happened to catch a movement in the little woods beside Spring Peeper and turned to catch a wood duck hen flying into the woods. The more colorful drake soon followed her. They landed on separate perches near each other. I watched for several minutes while they flew from one perch to another up in the trees. At each perch they craned their necks and turned their heads, peering around the woods. I've never seen wood ducks in a tree before, so I enjoyed watching this behavior. It seems that they were looking for a natural cavity to use for nesting. There are 8 wood duck houses around the meadow, but perhaps those don't rate when a natural cavity might be available. Wood ducks in a woods can be hard to follow and when I last saw the female fly from her perch, I was distracted by another gray-brown form flying within the woods. I turned my attention to this new bird and followed it as it flew out over the north end of the wetland. It was a Cooper's hawk. I wondered if it had been taking a shot at the wood duck hen or if it was just coincidence that it flew through at the same time she left her perch. At any rate, the last I heard of the wood ducks their wings were whistling away out of the woods.
Egrets are back on Wood Duck Pond and a ruby crowned kinglet was spotted behind the sugar house.
I found a half dozen owl pellets beneath an old snag on the Oak Knoll at the back of Spring Peeper Meadow. They were full of bones. I couldn't identify the animal, but there were mandibles, bits of skull and many other bones. Many of the bones were larger than a mouse or vole. Matt may have some ideas of who was eaten after he has a chance to see the pellets. I had found pellets beneath this same snag previously, so I have been keeping an eye out all winter. The number of pellets suggests that this is a favored perch for the owl, at least lately. Ohhh, I also found my first wood tick today!
There are buffleheads on Wood Duck Pond today and Matt spotted an eastern comma butterfly. Round-lobed hepatica and skunk cabbage are blooming in the Wildflower Garden.
There was an eighth to a quarter inch of ice in the edge of Spring Peeper Meadow this morning. It didn't seem that cold, but I had to break through on my way to the water control structure. I saw my first meadowlark with its bright yellow breast and black bib sitting on the powerline along 82nd Street this afternoon. I look forward to hearing their sweet song out in the fields this spring. From what I could tell, there is just one fluffy white baby owl in the great horned owl's nest. Use caution if you try to see it; the parent that is always hovering nearby flushes easily and I imagine it is stressful when she is chased by the mob of crows that seems to be waiting for her to leave the cover of the pines. A muskrat in Spring Peeper was busy this afternoon making repeated trips up and down the outside of its lodge depositing more plant material to its domed domicile.
A painted turtle was basking in one of the Ponds along the Berens Trail. Matt has heard a leopard frog calling. I would describe their call as a low snoring sound. They can be difficult to hear if they are in a mixed chorus with other high-pitched calls such as that of the western chorus frog. Dutchman's britches are blooming in the Wildflower Garden.
Greg M. heard a sora rail call at Spring Peeper Meadow. I saw my first tree swallow and cowbirds of the season there as well. Bloodroot is blooming in the Wildflower Garden. A mourning cloak butterfly was basking on an up-turned sun-warmed plastic pot behind the greenhouse this afternoon. Its yellow edged, dusky black wings were laid open to catch the sun. Chris G. went to check out the great horned owl. Apparently it was easy for her to find because the owl was being mobbed by several crows at the time. Crows will mob and harass any bird of prey. They have an innate antipathy toward these large birds which may or may not be deserved.
The cooper's hawk is back near the wood edge by the crabapple collection parking lot where it has nested in the past. A great horned owl nest has been found in a pine tree near the dahlia collection. The female owl appears to be sitting on eggs yet. Matt heard the first phoebe singing today. Rich found a few red-bellied snakes coming out of their hibernaculum (den) in a rock wall in the Wildflower Garden. There were a couple of garter snakes coming out of the same den.
Water striders are out on Spring Peeper Meadow, where an American coot was also seen poking around the edges. A goose appears to be on the nest already on the west edge of the meadow. One male hooded merganser was parading around with his black-edged white crest extended. I could see another in the reeds. Soon the 2 males were chasing a single female. She tried to elude them by diving, but as they persisted in their pursuit of her, she flew from the wetland. The trio did a lap around the meadow, flying almost directly over my head, before heading east over the highway and out of sight. The action around the new muskrat lodge is a little calmer, where a muskrat was seen mildly chewing on some aquatic roots. Wood frogs and western chorus frogs are calling with full vigor these past couple of days. The call of wood frogs sounds a bit like garbled duck quacking. Both snow trilliums and hepatica are blooming in the woods at Spring Peeper and in the Wildflower Garden.
Wood frogs are singing in the prairie pothole in the Bennett Johnson Prairie.
The pair of ospreys that have previously occupied the nest platform overlooking Tamarack Lake at the HRC have returned. Les notes that they both returned at 12:30 pm.
Snow trilliums are blooming in the Wildflower Garden. One of the ospreys arrived back at the nest platform on Farm 2 (near Hwy 5 and 41). Les described the osprey doing what appeared to be a flight of joy as it dove and circled with much flapping of its wings near the nest platform.
Mid morning more than a hundred swans flew over heading WNW. They were in several V's of varying sizes. Some V's only had 5 or 6 birds and others had 40 to 60 birds. Their gentle honking alerted me to look skyward as their large white masses moved through the big blue sky.
I am keeping an eye on the ponds for ice out. Wood Duck Pond is open today, but Green Heron Pond, the Iris Pond, the ponds along Hwy 5 and Lake Minnewashta remain ice covered for the most part.
Something I thought was kind of interesting that you can keep an eye out for is a crow with a single white wing feather. I saw it yesterday and again today. The crow hangs out on the lawn and in the general vicinity of the area between the Hedge Collection and the Maze. Somehow the follicle that produces that feather has turned off its black feather mechanism and the feather is clean and white.
Virge saw a white pelican flying over this morning. In late morning there was still a thin skim of ice around the edges of Spring Peeper. The ice had delicate radiating feathered patterns in it, which I may not have noticed if I were not walking through the ice in water up to my knees. By 1:00, despite some scattered remnants of the ice, a handful of western chorus frogs were singing here and there around the perimeter. The stakes are high for wild creatures to pass along there genes and that was the source of a mallard melee that caught my attention on the north end. A ratio of 3:1 drakes to hen caused a ruckus of splashing and quacking mallards. Calm was soon restored and the hen floated off quietly into the rushes ignoring the three drakes. A hooded merganser hen was being quietly followed around the wetland by her beau. He preened his breast as he drifted along behind her. As he tipped his head to reach his breast, the white feathers of his crest were raised giving a hint of the beauty he would turn on during a mating display. She dove silently and he followed her lead. They reappeared on the far side of a clump of rushes moments later.
A trio of turkey vultures flew above Spring Peeper Meadow this afternoon. In the strong winds they were dipping and swaying side to side as they were buffeted around. I had seen turkey vultures two weeks ago near the wildlife refuge in Bloomington and yesterday there was a kettle of about 20 vultures circling over Chanhassen, but these three today were the first I have seen at the Arboretum this spring.
I turned from my work this afternoon in time to see a large bird of prey fly by. It's white rump patch gave it away as a northern harrier. It was flying low; working over the old field above Spring Peeper. It disappeared, heading toward the Red Barn, but I saw it again later. This time I was a little uphill of the beautiful bird and I had a nice vantage point to see its gray plumage and black wingtips. The gray harriers are the males, while females are brown.
While I was checking the staff gauge in the north end, I heard about three cold hoarse clicks over my shoulder. I walked closer to the fenceline north of Spring Peeper to have a better listen. After a few moments the single cold western chorus frog called again. The chilly weather has slowed his call so that each click is enunciated and clear. I expect that there will be an actual chorus of chorus frogs as soon as the sun comes out again.
I heard western chorus frogs calling for the first time in a couple of the shallow grassy wetlands in Hyland Park in Bloomington yesterday. Today at the Arboretum the weather is a little less springish and many of our wetlands, being larger and deeper, are still locked up in ice. Spring Peeper is open today, except around the edges where there are remnants of ice amongst the lake sedge. I think it is too windy and overcast for chorus frogs to be singing, but they may not be out yet here in the cooler outer metro area regardless. I did flush 11 wood ducks out of the north end of the wetland. They landed back around on the south end. A song sparrow was singing in mid-morning. A pair of red-tailed hawks were circling above the Oak Knoll. In the afternoon the clouds were beginning to thicken up and just as I was leaving the meadow, I noticed a single red-winged blackbird hunkered down below the tops of the lake sedge. It may have to pass a few blustery days before we have our next spring spell.
The ice that has reformed on Spring Peeper Meadow is about 3/4 inches thick and is even with the deck of the walkway. A few fronds of duckweed that rose to the surface during the thaw are now embedded in the ice. Six mallards did a fly-over scope out of the situation and then circled around to land with a skidding stop in the middle of the wetland. As the three pairs of ducks waddled over the surface, one found a gap of open water next to a patch of old sweetflag and plunged in for a swim. A pair of phoebes are hawking for insects from their perches in the back corner. I flushed a small plump bird from amongst the prairie grasses. If I had to guess from its long straight bill and rusty rump, I'd say it was a common snipe. Back near the parking lot a chickadee in the aspen tree was responding call for call with another chickadee across the road in the woods. Their melodious fee bee's say spring to me!
Today was the first day for cooking down the maple sap. The steam is pouring out the stack on the Sugar Shack. Inside, the shack is already rich with the steamy sweet smell of maple syrup. Matt has been appreciating all the spring bird song. He predicts that the pine siskins, tree sparrows, and juncos that are singing their mating songs here now will be gone by tax time to their nesting habitats up north. The pheasants I saw this afternoon will be staying. The long-tailed plain brown hen ran briskly across the road between my vehicle and an oncoming car. We both slowed. Just as she got to the curb the brilliant cock came running after!
A little more winter today. The wood chip trails are crunchy underfoot. The veneer of ice that has formed on the wetlands is not thick enough to support the geese that are loitering about. The wind is whining in the treetops as it drives a few snowflakes through the air. Beside the trail along Green Heron Pond a small flock of fox sparrows are foraging in the leaf litter. Their habit of kicking the leaves with both feet is as telltale as their heavily streaked breast and sides and rust-colored tail. A blue jay startled me with its warning cry from 15 feet away in a tall shrub. Across the wetland another blue jay responded, evoking a further exchange between the birds. In the sugarbush later, I saw my first eastern phoebe for the season perched on one of the sap lines with its tail bobbing. Over the wetland three crows pursued a fourth crow. The pursued crow may have had some food item that the others wanted or perhaps it had strayed into their territory. It eluded them with an agile display of rolls and quick changes of direction.
After a brief lovely taste of spring we're back into a short spell of wintery weather. This morning I arrived at work in a sleeting precipitation and there was a light dusting of snow at the HRC. By afternoon the precipitation had changed to a drier snow. Pussy willows that have emerged along the edge of the wetland are a bright highlight against the gray overcast skies. Even a bluebird that caught my eye up on the powerline looked like a jolt of bright color.
I met the turkeys behind the Snyder building again today. Although they can run as fast as 15 to 30 mph, this flock is habituated enough to people that they only ambled away from me. I was able to get close enough to see more details of the toms in all their seasonal finery. I was surprised at just how blue their faces were, with a bright red snood hanging over their beak and bright red wattles to match. The four toms did not stop displaying. They ambled off with body feathers raised, wings dropped, and tails fanned. The hens accompanying the toms were distinguishable by their muddy red heads. It is unclear to me if these large mating flocks are just toms and hens or if the jakes and jennys, or first year males and females, are in the flocks as well.
Matt developed a nice list of phenological occurrences today. The Cooper's hawk is at its nest site. Honeybees are nectaring on the snowdrops that began blooming last week. A pocket gopher is kicking soil out of its burrow. Although song sparrows are just back from down south, they have already begun singing. Bluebirds are also singing. The red shouldered hawk is active and calling. Crows are making their gutteral mating calls. The first chipmunk was seen out of hibernation.
The buds have broken on the pussy willows around Green Heron Pond. The pussy toes looked like shining white fruits up on the high sunlit branches,but as I approached I could see it was the silky hairs reflecting the light. A flock of twenty turkeys were scattered about under the old willow tree along the edge of Green Heron Pond below the Snyder Building. They were not very concerned about me approaching them and only moved off slowly out onto the matted down reed canary grass. The four toms continued to fan their tails and fluff their body feathers while the hens milled around them going about their business. Although the tree sparrows weren't singing today, the rustling in the grass gave away their position down in the meadow beside the trail. When I pished at them, they came up to perch on the tops of the grasses where I could make out their rusty caps and unstreaked breasts with a large brown spot in the center.
Karen S. writes that on her quick walk this afternoon she saw a couple of bald eagles, one of which was an immature, a kestrel, and from a distance what was probably a red-shouldered hawk. Down in the Wildflower Garden she saw pine siskins and redpolls, as well as the usual flock of robins. There was also a handsome purple finch in the cedars by the waterfall. Rich also noted the red-shouldered hawk 2 days ago. It was screaming very loudly over the woods near the Wildflower Garden.
While I was working in the north end of Spring Peeper Meadow this afternoon, I was serenaded by the soft calls of bluebirds. It took me awhile to spot them, but eventually a couple flew by flashing their blue backs at me.
The geese are loitering in pairs or small groups around the grounds today. They are hanging out on the remnants of ice in the ponds seemingly willing the ice to melt through. Another couple pairs I saw were resting on the brown lawns biting listlessly at the dry blades of grass. Waiting. Waiting for spring.
Les and Jim reported the first killdeer for the spring while they were out in the orchard. They also saw a pair of bald eagles circling above the osprey platform in the Farm 2 orchard. Rich and George saw a beaver on the ice at the west end of the Wood Duck Pond. There was a hole in the bank over in that area earlier this winter, but it looked more like muskrat size. Perhaps it is large enough for the beaver to use. John and Jenny saw a woodchuck out of its den this afternoon.
The first flowers of the season, snowdrops, are blooming in the Hosta Glade.
The first red-winged blackbirds have arrived back.
As I wiped the snow off my car this afternoon, I realized that the snow crystals were short and linear, not the usual 6-sided ornate crystals. After rain all morning, a slight drop in temperature produced these needle crystals. I was reminded of pick-up sticks or chopped straw. The flakes falling on the slushy puddle in the parking lot were absorbed almost as soon as they fell, but on the cooler surface of my car they persisted long enough to appreciate their unique shape.
A fog shrouded landscape seems to have some added mystery. I could feel droplets of mist on my face and the air had a damp chill to it. The low fog hung in the trees obscuring my view of the forest activities. In the woods behind the Snyder Building I could hear a pileated woodpecker calling from a tree, another smaller woodpecker was tapping away nearby and a few crows were calling back and forth to each other. In front of the building another crow landed in the top of a pine with a small branched twig in its beak. It's nest building season for the crows.
Down at the Wildflower Garden the two-toned orange fruits of bittersweet were frosted, dulling their brightness. It was calm in the sheltered garden. In the understory, the leaves on the ironwoods were shifting slightly in a light breeze that I couldn't really feel through all my layers. The leaves weren't blowing enough to cause them to rustle against each other and the quiet of the thick fog was reinforced. Looking up, I could see the treetops swaying gently. The calm was broken by the nasal calls of nuthatches and a trio of downy woodpeckers gathering on a bough overhead. Nearby another woodpecker was pounding - 3 rapid tat tat tats, pause, repeat. I heard a Canada goose approaching overhead. It appeared out of the fog and continued honking as it disappeared back into fog.
I paused beneath the Serbian spruce in the Pillsbury Shade Tree Exhibit to note the many needled branch tips laying on the ground beneath the trees. They had probably been nipped off by a squirrel. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a large bird fly 15 feet from one tree to another. At the same time some soft fuzzy stuff drifted by my face. Distracted by the fuzzy stuff, I realized it was feathers floating by. Turning back to the bird, I saw that it was indeed eating something - I presume the bird whose feathers were flying. The banded tail of the predator told me that it was a Cooper's hawk. The gray feathers on the snow suggested that it was a junco that was the prey today. I watched for a couple of moments until the hawk had finished its meal. It hopped a couple feet over on the same branch, wiped its beak several times back and forth on the branch, waggled its tail multiple times as though to get everything organized and back into position. Then it settled onto its branch to digest.
The green moss sticking out the hole of the chickadee roost box in the wildflower garden may be an indication that the box was used for nesting last season. If you've never seen a chickadees nest, they are lined with moss and look very soft and inviting, albeit a little on the small side for comfort!
The sugar maples are being tapped this week at the Arboretum. Several lines were up and running today. While the sun was out there were as many as 70 drips per minute from some taps. The recipe for a good maple syrup season is a period of warmer days with nights below freezing. Soon the cooker will be fired up and the fragrant smell of maple syrup will drift out of the sugar house down in Frog Hollow.
The honey bees were also out of their hives behind the Sensory Garden today while the sun shone. They were noticeably absent yesterday during the cooler foggy day. Laying below the hive are the bodies of hundreds of bees that made exploratory cleansing trips out of the hive on too cold days in January and early February. Their flight muscles were overwhelmed by the cold and the bees were unable to stay airborne to get back to the safety of the warm hive.
While checking out the tree tapping activities, I could not help hearing the bird symphony down in the Wildflower Garden. Robins, chickadees, nuthatches, and a downy woodpecker on percussion were all part of the chorus. A soft tse tse tse that I did not know may have been pine siskins or redpolls. Without binoculars I could not find the source of that gentle sound. The barred owl was sitting in the tree hollow again today. Another barred owl, probably its mate, was sitting on a branch in a tree up the hill from the hollow tree. As I left the Wildflower Garden, the owls began a fracas of hooting.
The sun rose through a light fog this morning. The sun was not able to overcome the fog to throw its fiery red rays on the clouds hanging just above the horizon. The overcast has persisted all morning. The light drizzle we got in mid-morning will not impact the snow cover as much as the warm temperatures will today.
Today was not the first time that I thought I saw a large dark dog and had to do a double-take only to realize I was seeing a large dark turkey instead! Today a small flock wondered through the yard at the HRC and I did the usual double-take. They don't wander into the yard on a real regular basis, so it is still a bit unusual to see them right here. Two winters ago one of the large birds was standing precariously in the 6-branched canopy of a sapling crabapple tree right next to the building. It was quite a balancing act as it reached for the few fruits left hanging on the tree in mid-winter. Branches were broken as the turkey made every effort to stay in the tree. Today the five birds were more dignified as they walked in their stately manner beneath the pines next to the parking lot.
Temperatures rose well above freezing today. I needed to get out on my skis one last time. By early evening the meltwater was pouring off the south and west facing hillsides all along the trail. Several times my skis schlurped through yellow-brown slush where the snow melt met the ski trail. Just a section of the trail had been freshly groomed and I could tell that Rich had taken the groomer on one last ride to the Red Barn where it will be stored in the off-season. The skies are brilliant today with parallel strings of little cloud puffs against the blue. I had to take a break from skiing out in the prairie to appreciate the architecture of old oaks and maples that have grown into broad spreading canopies out in that open landscape. Under a blue sky with varying light cloud cover and with the warm light from the setting sun, the oaks couldn't be more beautiful.
As I was gliding around the corner on the ski trail beside Green Heron Pond, I saw a hawk take off flying out over the pond. It circled back and landed in a tree up ahead of me. As I continued skiing, I came upon a spot of blood and a dead squirrel on the trail. Putting two and two together, I assume I startled the hawk off the squirrel. It wasn't a fresh kill, as it was cold, but it had recently been eviscerated. I'm sure that if I went back tomorrow, the squirrel would be long gone. Looking up, a soaring eagle caught my eye. If the hawk or the eagle don't take the prey, a coyote or fox will be around soon to nab it.
Bob and I trudged through the deep fresh snow today to clean out and renew the wood chips in the wood duck houses around Spring Peeper Meadow. There are eight houses around the meadow; some tucked in the wood edge and others out in the open meadow. They are used by both wood ducks and hooded mergansers. I have even seen bluebirds and starlings exploring these human-made cavities although I have seen no evidence of them using the houses. This past season seven of the eight houses were used by wood ducks or hooded mergansers. This time of year I toss out the old wood chips along with any down, shell fragments, shell membranes, and even unhatched eggs. This is the first year that I haven't had to evict a gray squirrel from any of the houses in the wood edge. They typically would scramble out of the house as they hear me set the ladder up below, then I have to toss out their nest of leaves. Last year I took the pole saw with me and cut away the branches they would use to enter and exit the houses. Later this spring, when the wetland thaws and the waterfowl are back, you can observe the houses in the edge of the woods with binoculars from the Overlook .
At 7:03 a.m., just as the sunrise was vividly streaking through the cloud cover on the horizon, two of the turkeys flew off their roost tree into the orchard below. Most of the flock were still in the roost tree under a gray sky dimmed by the clouds bringing our impending winter storm.
I found a sunspot on the walkway in the Wildflower Garden and basked in the increasing warmth of the February sunshine with chickadees flitting around in the swamp white oak beside me. I could have been a little better bundled against the wind today. If my hands had been warmer it would have been a nice day to find a bench in a sunspot and let the chickadees and nuthatches happen all around me. They were both exploring the tree branches in the very thorough manner of a small creature exposed to an upcoming long winter's night - peering at all the angles of the branches, flicking off a piece of bark here or there. One chickadee grasped a remnant of a leaf that had been barely attached to the twig. It held the leaf briefly between its feet as though it were a sunflower seed to break open, but then let the leaf loose to flutter to the ground. Four white-breasted nuthatches had congregated in one small space above the Wildflower Garden. Two of them were walking around a very large grape vine. It's shredded bark was likely to host several small insects.
On a sun-drenched melted slope above the Wildflower Garden I had the sense that the open forest floor was seething with life. I had heard the ruckus of a lot of birds as I approached, but somehow seeing and hearing didn't match up right away. Flocks of robins and starlings in close proximity to each other were each contributing to the bird voices I was hearing. The starlings were primarily perched in the treetops or flying in their well orchestrated flock between trees, but the robins were on the ground tossing and flipping the leaf litter about as they searched for invertebrates to diversify their winter diet of fruits. I estimate there were as many as three dozen robins in the patch of leaves and together their random movements reminded me of a bucket of active worms. These thrushes are behaving in a more thrush-like manner when they are tossing leaves aside to look for worms, but once our lawns are thawed they will be happy to forage there as well.
The remains of a giant puffball from last summer have emerged all tattered, from beneath the snow. A tap with my toe still sent a green cloud spores into the winter wind.
I explored the Tschimperle property a bit more this afternoon. I was in an area thick with signs of turkeys; both tracks in the dirty snow and droppings. Soon I found myself in a thicket of buckthorn growing around several old oaks. There were many large and sometimes deep piles of turkey droppings under these roost trees. Some of the piles of droppings were under smaller trees than I thought the turkeys would use. From the patterns of the piles you can tell that some branches are well favored perches. Ominously, there was also a scattering of turkey feathers laying on the snow. In one random turkey dropping I found several pieces of pebble that must have been ingested for grit in the turkeys gizzard. I surmised that the turkey roost trees I had discovered on 2/3 must be used only casually by turkeys compared to the ones I found myself under today.
As I was heading down the hill in the woods toward Wood Duck Pond, I found a pair of deer antlers bound together with a rope. A hunter must have dropped them and now the mice have been chewing on the antlers to recover the calcium for their own dietary needs. From the west edge of the pond I could see where the beavers have cached the twigs that they have been feeding on all winter. The twigs are anchored in the mud and are mostly submerged in the pond. The cold water keeps the bark fresh and the beavers can safely access the twigs from beneath the ice. Walking back along the slope in the woods, I got a quick glimpse of a white squirrel. I tried to get closer for a better look, but it had already scrambled up a tree and disappeared.
As I drove out of the HRC this evening a bird sitting at the top of one of the apple trees in the demo block caught my attention. With my binoculars, I could see that it was a shrike. Cars are often heralded as the perfect bird blind, but as I drove my bird blind slowly closer to get a better look, the shrike flew off over the vineyard.
I walked from Spring Peeper this evening into the Arboretum via the North Star Trail. Since it was evening on a cloudy gray day, I hoped to find one of the Arboretum's turkey flocks at their roost. Along the way I flushed a pair of crows out of the pine they were roosting in. They left quietly, but the rush of their wings alerted me to their presence. Only when they were a short distance clear of me did they give off a verbal alarm. After the thaw and refreeze, there are many distinct tracks of coyote and deer in the ice on the trails. I saw several "snow snakes" that have been exposed as the snow retreats. The snow snakes are the remanants of tunnels in the snow made by rodents and other small mammals that appear as winding upheavals in the snow. In the woods I found the tips of indian pipes sticking out of the snow. Then I saw what I thought was an animal on top of a broken off tree about 25 feet above me. It turned out to be finely shredded nesting material that was probably overflowing out of the rotten heart of the broken tree.
On my loop through the Arboretum, I didn't see any turkeys in the trees, so I detoured out toward the highway to see if the Farm 2 flock were up in their roost yet. It was 6:11 pm and by their large silhouettes, I could see that the turkeys were on their roost. As I approached the north end of Spring Peeper, I heard an owl hooting from the windbreak. I stopped in my tracks to take it in as the owl continued to hoot. I walked toward the north boardwalk and the owl's hoots were even louder. The great horned owl suddenly appeared out of the darkness of the trees and flew to a perch at the very top of one of the red pines where it was silhouetted in the pink glow of the intruding lights reflecting off the low clouds. Soon it flew silently back into the cover of the pines and I heard it no more.
Well, I have to say that I am really disappointed that winter has gone away. Nearly overnight we lost our snowpack under pressure of the mild nighttime temperatures and the wind blowing in from some warm clime. It is too early for the promise of spring to come true. Instead to me, the weather and the damp gray landscape are now reminiscent of November and the promise of coming winter! Les and Jim have pointed out that the mouse population in the orchards is thriving. I think they worried less when the little tree nibblers were buried out of sight under the snow. Now that their cover is gone, the foxes and coyotes may have a heyday.
Les and Jim came upon a possum eating old apples out in the orchard this morning.
Glanced out the window just in time to see a red-bellied woodpecker hopping up the trunk of the walnut tree with a large walnut in its beak. It secured the walnut in a hollow knot and began hammering on it. Meanwhile a red squirrel is running down another tree with a big walnut. There may be some musical walnuts going on here!
Today I got out into woods along the Wood Duck Trail. Since it is quite cold, I was surprised to see a few gray squirrels out and about. One was fluffed up so big that I thought it must be some other larger animal and tried to sneak up on it to find out what it was. There is a ton of deer sign in this area including a few well traveled trails. Leaves driven by the wind have settled in the deep recess of the trails. On the side of the slope within the shelter of the woods, I found 3 deer beds radiating around a young tree. Two of the beds had been used sometime since the last snowfall, but the light snow we had last week looked fresh and undisturbed on the third bed. A woodpecker tapping on a tree sounded so loud that I thought it must be a pileated. I searched the tree trunks around me until I detected the movement of the bird's head from behind the fork in a dead tree. It must have been a magnificently resonant tree, because the woodpecker was just a modest hairy woodpecker. I have been able to spot lots of nicely rounded holes that the woodpeckers have created in the trees throughout this patch of woods. I watched as a red-bellied woodpecker landed briefly at a perfectly rounded hole with freshly tapped edges. Around me the trees were snapping and popping in the cold. I jumped when a tree right beside me cracked loudly.
As I followed one of the deer tracks along the edge of the slope, I came upon what I would describe as a mess in the snow. At first I wasn't sure what I was looking at. What I saw were brown splotches and splats on the snow. There were holes through the snow in the middle of some of the brown splots. I realized I was looking at the nighttime defecations of wild turkeys while they were in their roost trees. Nearby was another meter by meter sized area of the same brown soiled snow. I have never been beneath a roost tree before. This spot overlooking Wood Duck Pond seems to have some advantages, being isolated from human traffic and sheltered in the woods. A little further along, I found several more areas with turkey droppings beneath trees that might even be a little more protected from the winds. While I was lingering over the turkey droppings, I realized I had flushed an owl. I moved forward several steps to see where it might land and although I was still far from the owl's original perch, a second owl also flushed and flew silently to a new perch over the shoulder of the hill.
It was more than just a little brisk today. Not the kind of weather where you expect to see a rainbow. But Jim reports seeing a partial rainbow in the western sky at about 4:00 in the evening. Although there were only a few scattered light clouds in the sky, it was sleeting lightly. So I guess that was the requisite precipitation typically associated with a rainbow.
Some of my favorite places at the Arboretum are discreet areas of the Arboretum's 1000+ acres, and walking into some of those spaces is like walking into a particular room of a natural history museum. Each room has its own interesting flavor. The "room" I visited today is the wooded slope along the North Star Trail on the edge of the Berens. I walked from the old field into the forest. The trees growing on this east facing slope are predominantly sugar maples which thrive in the coolness of north and east facing slopes. There are a few large mature trees whose major limbs have a somewhat spreading habit, but by number the majority of the trees are straight saplings and young trees. The forest isn't crowded, but feels spacious with a high ceiling. Running from north to south following the contour of the slope there is an old fenceline. The posts are set firmly in the ground, but the wires are sagging or detached from the posts. I enjoy pondering the puzzle of the history of agriculture on the Arboretum grounds. I believe cattle were probably grazed in this particular area since it is a slope and would have been less desirable for cultivation. An owl flying to a new perch on the slope above me caught my attention. Its rounded head told me it was a barred owl. I took a few steps forward until I was able to see the owl on its perch. Its large dark eyes were watching me, but at the same time the owl repeatedly turned its head to look behind it. I thought it might be assessing the threat from me and picking out its escape route. It soon lifted off in silent flight and disappeared over the crest of the hill.
As I contoured along the slope through the maples, I came to another fenceline, this one perpendicular to the other and running east-west up and down the slope. Most of the posts are metal t-posts, but one was a massive sturdy timber post that was nearly half of the trunk of a good-sized tree. It was so large I thought perhaps it was a tree that had split in a storm, but the marks of the saw where the tree had been milled were visible on the old post. There was a smear of rust where a wire had oxidized on the wood and several nails holes indicated where the wires had been attached. I stepped over the fenceline and began to walk down the south-facing slope of the hillside. Now the large trees over my head were oaks which can tolerate the drier aspect of the south and west facing slopes. The understory was now a thick mass of young buckthorn trees that I had to push my way through. Animal tracks have been abundant in this little bit of forest and the buckthorn does not inhibit their mobility; their tracks through the buckthorn are as dense as through the open maple forest. I followed an animal highway down into another corner of old field below and continued my evening meander.
The sky was just beginning to brighten as I pulled away from the intersection of Hwy 5 and 41 on my way west to the HRC. It was just after 7:00 am and I remembered to look for the turkeys in their roost trees on the edge of the woods at the west end of the apple orchard on the north side of Hwy 5. Their massive dark forms were still dotting the couple of trees that they use on the northeast corner of the little woodlot. It still strikes me as odd to see such large dark forms perched in a tree.
This morning as I drove into the HRC, I was struck by all the "pine" cones lying on the ground beneath the trees in the yard. I was quite sure that all these cones hadn't been on the ground last Friday. I believe these are white spruce, which apparently do drop their cones after the seed has ripened. I picked up one of the cones which was perhaps just longer than one and a half inches. Most of the seeds were gone from the open cone scales, but a few winged seeds fell out onto my palm.
Karen S. writes "In skiing this week the main obstacle other than oak leaves has been scat. Is coyote the main suspect? Earlier in the week many appeared to contain crab apples. Yesterday I saw a rather large (>1 foot length) mass of fur. Most of the scat is on the Forest and North Star Trails and some is quite voluminous. My husband calls it the litter box trail. Who should we blame? Is there an estimate on the size of the coyote population and its effect on the fox? It would be interesting to have a camera on some of those trails to capture the evening visitors. The critters seem to appreciate Rich's grooming and tramping down of the snow."
Julia replies: I have been seeing a lot of scat myself. Some of it containing fruit and other more fur. Coyotes will eat fruit, so their scat can contain bits of fruit skins and seeds, but I think some of the scat which is predominantly fruit may be either possum or raccoon. I don't think we have a good sense of the coyote population out here, but I sure have been seeing a lot of tracks. I think most of the tracks I see are coyote versus fox, but occasionally I see smaller tracks that I attribute to fox. See the entry for 1/21 about the remains of what may have been a raccoon I found in the Berens. I'm not sure it was killed by a coyote, but they were at least scavenging off the carcass. Yesterday while I was skiing at Carver I found the back foot of a rabbit laying in the trail. So, it seems like there has been some hunting success!
This morning I have been appreciating the fog brought on by the mild temperatures clashing with our luxurious snow cover. As I drove out this morning, the fog had a "London mysterious" quality as it hung about the street lights. As the sun began to rise the fog remained; lingering in the treetops. The sun shining through the fog was a discreet perfect pale orange sphere. No rays could penetrate the fog to radiate into the surrounding sky. As the morning went on I watched the fog ebb and flow. My sight-line into the fields across the way were longer or shorter as determined by the density of the fog which was really quite thick at times. The moisture in the air has crystallized on the cold surfaces of the trees, grasses and wildflowers creating a frosted wonderland.
In the afternoon I came upon a flock of birds feeding in the prairie up above Spring Peeper Meadow. I didn't have my binoculars along, so I was unable to make an ID at the time, but I sure enjoyed watching the behavior of these LBBs (Little Brown Birds). Sometimes they were on the snow beneath the standing prairie grasses. Mostly I saw them alight on the stems of the grasses, which bent under their weight. Periodically one of the birds would fly nearly straight up just a few feet above the top of the plants and shift to a new location in the stand of grasses. It was a bit like being surprised by a jack-in-the-box. Generally I was keeping track of the birds in this small flock by watching their shadowy forms within the tangle of big bluestem. My camera is modest, but I was able to zoom in enough that this morning when I looked at the photos, I see I have one clear shot that shows the unstreaked breast with a dark central spot and the two-colored beak of a tree sparrow.
As I walked into the Berens this afternoon, a complicated story was laid out in the snow before me. I first followed the individual tracks of a coyote in the packed snow of an old vehicle track. As I walked up the hill in the vehicle tracks myself, the single coyote tracks became multiple sets of tracks. I counted three piles of scat containing coarse hairs along their route. The tracks of a deer bounded down the hill in great leaps of nearly 12 feet through the deep snow. As I crested the small hill I noticed a great swirl of tracks beside a small cattail-ringed wetland. I went over to read that story in more detail. The tracks themselves were unclear in the soft snow, but the other sign hinted that some animal had met its demise and become dinner for a coyote. Parts of the internal organs were laying in the snow. One of the tracks led from within the ring of cattails, so I pushed my way down into the little wetland. There I found a couple tufts of fur that supplemented the story above. On the edge of the wetland I noticed a tall old crabapple tree. Beneath it the snow was trampled and scuffed and bits of the dried apples lay on the snow. A pile of poorly digested apples were in the trampled area on the other side of the wetland, so it seems that the apple tree may be important in the telling of the story. The summary of the story is like that of all the stories in nature - life is sustained by a series of tragedies and successes.
We've had a couple days of pleasant winter weather. Today I was appreciating the sky while I skied in the evening near sunset. As I glided along with the setting sun behind my back I felt I was being enveloped by its rays. Just before the sun went down, while it lingered low in the January sky, it lit the snow in a warm mellow glow. Later I noticed the clouds (which may have been cirrocumulus or altocumulus) were small rounded puffs of cloud nearly stacked horizontally one on another. They seemed to be calving off of a narrow thin band of cloud high in the middle of the sky and filled the sky to east, losing their form and melding with each other the further they were from their source. As the sun dipped below the horizon the clouds were suffused with a soft pink bloom.
On days like today when it is really bitterly cold, it is nice when nature comes to you just outside your window. For that reason I have in my home landscape tried to make the space just outside the window an interesting and diverse habitat to attract wildlife. But today I just happened to glance out the window at the HRC and noticed a large bird on the ground at the base of the nearest walnut tree. At first I thought it would be a red-bellied woodpecker, but as I looked more closely, I saw that it was a northern flicker. To my knowledge, it is unusual for a flicker to hang out in Minnesota in the winter. They are partial migrants, which means the northern populations typically migrate to points further south. According to the MN Ornithological Union website the average date that they arrive back in this area is the end of March.
This northern flicker was kicking and flicking debri out from the base of the tree as it foraged. In the summer flickers eat ants, but they do supplement their diets with nuts and fruits, so I guess this one was looking for nuts to feed on. If it is lucky, it might happen upon a squirrel cache. The bird looked very large, but of course it looked larger than they normally look since its feathers were all fluffed to increase the insulating layer of air in its feathers. Flickers are sexually dichromatic, which means that the sexes have color differences in their plumage. The males (and immatures of both sexes) have a very handsome black "mustache" that the adult females don't have. They are gorgeous birds with their speckled breasts and barred wings. I was close enough to appreciate all the birds details including the brown face with gray head and neck. The nape of the neck has a bright red bar across it, while a broad black bib decorates the breast.
The 3 red squirrels that occupy the walnut and conifer trees outside my window here at the HRC have been using their subnivean (beneath the snow) network of tunnels again this winter. I first saw them using the tunnels last winter. Maybe it is a common practice for red squirrels, but I had never noticed it before last winter. The tunnels center around the birdfeeder we stock in the space beneath the trees. It is about 50 feet from the walnut tree to the chestnut tree on the other side of the feeder. I can see about a dozen holes in the snow around the feeder. There is a long trench in the snow leading from the walnut tree to the first hole. Today I watched a red squirrel jump from the tree into the trench, dive into the first hole and then intermittently run beneath the snow from one hole to another, poking its head up randomly in one opening or another. It appears that they are doing some new exploration underneath the cover of snow. I did see it poke its head out through the unbroken snow near a previously developed hole. Seconds later a dimple appeared in the snow from below, but the squirrel did not break all the way through the snow cover. Sometimes, as the squirrel would duck back into the tunnel after popping up for a quick look around, it would do a neat little dive with the tip of its tail being the last sign of these red snow divers for several seconds. Presumably, the tunnels provide cover for the tree dwellers when they would otherwise be more exposed to their terrestrial predators. While all this action happens on the ground below, the chickadees are flying in for a sunflower seed to eat back on a twig in the chestnut tree and 2 male cardinals are shining brightly in the clear brisk sunlit day as they take turns on the feeder.
Karen S. writes that the winter world was quiet today as she skied the Arboretum trails, except for a hairy and downy woodpecker that she encountered along the way. She also reports a "none too happy" song sparrow hanging out near the birdfeeders on the terrace.
I was out for a walk myself today and I was also struck by the silence. First I had to mentally subtract out the noise of cars on the highway, but then it did seem like the natural world was muffled by the snowfall. I stopped on the ice in the middle of Spring Peeper and listened attentively. The hush was more intense when I faced, as I was naturally inclined to do, downwind. Then I turned into the weather and listened to the wind in my ears and heard the refreshing splot of snowflakes on my face.
Earlier a pair of crows had been "shouting" at each other from across the meadow. One was in the orchard and the other was in woods. The crow from the orchard made a trip across the meadow and did a fly-by of the crow in the woods, but then headed directly back over the windbreak to the orchard. It is really unclear what they might be up to. I would like to have more time to study crows. A couple of chickadees were calling up in the forest restoration as I walked through and there are a few starlings hanging out near the highway, but otherwise I didn't see any other birds today during the steady snowfall.
It was quiet and calm on the north end of the meadow. I sat on the north boardwalk for a moment to take my sock off. All of it was under my foot instead of on my foot, so I decided to relieve myself of the distraction. As I sat there, I noticed one single blade of a burreed quivering in a breeze that I couldn't feel; nor could I find a single other leaf quivering in that sheltered corner of the wetland. Behind me I could hear the snow rattling on the oak leaves and rustling through the pine boughs. I'm happy for this sustained snow that has so quickly disguised the tracks I just made with a fresh layer of snowflakes.
Winter sign of insects past and future. When walking through Spring Peeper today we were still able to find the dirty tattered remains of the webs of tent caterpillars on the cherry trees in the forest restoration. I have spent a little time doing biological control on the caterpillars by poking a stick in the web and tearing holes in it to expose the caterpillars to birds that might eat them before the caterpillars completely defoliate the cherry trees. For the past several years the number of webs have increased and the trees have gotten taller, so I can't reach all the webs anymore. But I can tell you from my experience with the ones I can reach, I am not surprised there are still tattered bits of web hanging in the angles of the trees. The strands that make up the webs are incredibly tough. I might be exaggerating a little bit, but I think if they were fishing lines, you'd have enough pound test to catch a lunker northern! The shiny silver egg masses are glued tightly to the cherry twigs ready to hatch a new batch of caterpillars early next summer.
It has been a beautiful winter week and I took advantage of it to get out in the evening on the Arboretum's ski trails. Skis are a great way to take a little nature jaunt. One thing that was reinforced immediately and frequently along the way is how much the trails are used by wildlife. Coyote and deer tracks frequently followed the firmly packed ski trail. In a few places along the trail I encountered a confetti of brown birch seeds that had blown onto the ski trail and were being pressed into the ski track by passing skiers. When skiing along the line of spruce trees back near 82nd Street, I noticed that the spruce seeds are being dispersed now also. Sometimes I also found a cone scale or two, which makes me think that the squirrels are up in the trees trying to eat some of the seeds before they all blow out onto the open snow.
As I skied through the prairie, a large bird flew in toward me. I thought it was a crow until it turned 90 degrees upon detecting me. Then I saw that it was a pileated woodpecker, although it was uncharacteristically quiet as it approached. It landed in one of the large spreading trees slightly uphill from where I had stopped. Its silhouette was blacker than that of the tree. I could see the crest on its head as it rested on the side of the trunk. It peered around and tapped dully on the tree a few times before it flew away toward the woods at the back of the prairie. I could see it arest its flight in preparation for landing in a tree along the edge of the woods. Then it called, breaking the winter silence with its big voice. I skied on.
In the shelter of the woods beneath the Red Barn, I found a large hornet's nest hanging high in a tree. It was attached by a long thin slip of a twig which did not look like it should support such a structure. The nest was completely intact which I attribute to it being in the middle of the woods when other more exposed hornet nests I have seen since fall have been torn apart by the wind. A cottontail bounds for cover as I ski toward it. It must feel a false security at dusk, as it only sits at the edge of its sheltering pile of brush near the trail. I get close enough to notice the patch of rufous fur at the back of its neck. It only hops into deeper cover when I ski away. The moon at 3/4 full is a lovely scene when I view it as the backdrop to the grove of birch trees along the North Star Trail out in the Berens. The composition of black and white birch trees in a landscape of white snow with a pink dusk replacing the blue sky was all highlighted by the moon. As I looked up the hill through the network of fine dark birch twigs, I had to stop to take it all in. Of course resting up to get up the hill was not a bad idea either!
The moon was half full when I walked at Spring Peeper last night after dark. A bright planet, perhaps Venus, was in the sky to the west of the moon. The western horizon had a pale blue wash from the setting sun. Overhead the few stars that were visible were caught in a streaked web of thin clouds. The night was calm and mild, just a breath of air stirred the leaves on the oak trees. In the moonlight, I could see the tracks of rabbits and other meadow inhabitants. On the Oak Knoll the oak trees were silhouettes in the moonlight; the large mature oaks seemed to be reaching into the sky and grasping for the stars. The shadows cast by the oaks laced the patches of snow in a network of gray threads. The snow crunched under my boots, my toes caught under the crust on each step.
Today during a windy blustery day Les noticed that a European starling had taken refuge in a barn swallow nest under the eaves of the old apple house at the HRC. The nest is tucked way up under the peak of the building and may have felt like a reasonably comfortable hideaway from the flurries for this cavity dwelling bird.
Ahhhh, winter. When you are prepared for it and dressed appropriately, it can be a real pleasure. Today I got out and kicked around in the snow. With the cold temperatures, the snow flakes have not lost their sharp edges and loft. Down in the meadow the snow was up to my knees. It will be insulating all the little animals deep down inside. The snow is mounded over the bent sedges in the meadow creating soft shadows and illusions of larger rolling landscapes. The snow that fell overnight and early this morning is still clinging to the plants. The milkweed pods appear to have snow crusted beards. Goldenrods and monarda seedheads are topped with shining crystals. The sun was beginning to glint through the cloud cover. Although the snow has stopped, the wind is blowing the snow off the trees limbs creating the effect of snowfall. The puffs of snow are catching the sunlight as they fall.
A few crows were cawing in the distance. A downy woodpecker on the dying tree in the corner of the wetland "peeked" as it flew off to the windbreak. I was surprised when 4 bluebirds flew over calling as they went. A chickadee chattered over my head as it flitted around in the boxelder in the wood edge. Although they may have been coyote tracks, I thought of the fox trot when I saw a set of tracks crossing the snow covered ice. The tracks were old; they too were covered with the fresh snow.
I found some wild grapes still hanging in clusters on their vine along the wood edge. I thought to taste them, knowing they would be icy cold. I pucker up when I eat wild grapes in the fall, but these have already been sweetened by winter and had a pleasant mild grape flavor.
Only a couple of folks joined me today for a walk through the woods. The snow was beautiful and fresh. The snowflakes were sharp and crisp, not having been dulled by the mild heat of the sun as yet. The snow cover was dry and light and formed of large conglomerate flakes. The snow is clinging to the tree trunks on any given side; there is no clear pattern to define which way the snow came from. We found coyote tracks almost everywhere we traveled this morning. Many of the tracks were not distinguishable in the light snow, but every now and then we found a print with distinct toe pads and claws. There were few squirrel tracks. The grays are holed up for the most part during this cold spell. The tapping of woodpeckers up in the treetops gave away that they are out and about. We saw a couple hairy woodpeckers and a few chickadees today.
This morning on there was a beautiful pair of sun dogs flanking the sun. Sun dogs are bright spots that occur on either side of the sun when atmospheric conditions are just right. I craned my neck to see the phenomenon better and I could see that the sun dogs were associated with a halo surrounding the sun. The halo looked much like a faint rainbow, except that it occurred all around the sun. In ancient times bright sun dogs were often mistaken as a second and third sun and were usually considered an ominous sign. Now we know that these bright spots are caused by sunlight reflecting or refracting through the ice crystals that make up cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. Technically, a sundog is called a parahelion which means "beside the sun". Informally, sun dogs are also known as mock suns.
Careful to stay off the ski trails which have been given a base grooming, I got out for a walk this morning at Spring Peeper Meadow. I was glad to have my coveralls and big boots on today, but the winter cold did feel good on my face. I headed up into the forest restoration in the southeast corner. As I passed the plum grove there, I noticed that a small gray-brown bird had met its demise. Some of the feathers laying on the ground were tinged with blood. Later when I walked back past the plums, a larger robin-sized bird flew from there and landed in the large elm on the west side of the meadow. I believe it was a shrike, but I was not able to confirm it since I had forgotten to carry along my binoculars. Les did see a shrike in the orchard on Wednesday this week.
There are many tracks in the snow. Deer tracks lead here and there all over the meadow. Usually it was difficult to pick out a clean hoof print in the fluffy dry snow, but the deer were leaving very distinct toe drag marks. Rabbit tracks abound particularly on the east side near the forest restoration edge. Several rabbit tracks led to holes under the Overlook. A coyote appears to have been scoping out the hunting opportunities from a vantage point on the boardwalk. The rabbits also use the cover of the boardwalk to escape their predators. A pair of pheasants ran from me as I approached their resting place in the cover of the shrubs. As I walked on, I could hear them clucking and calling to each other in alarm.
I think that crows are fascinating creatures. I'm really interested in the crows as well as their relatives the ravens and blue jays. I have a couple of books about ravens that I need to read to learn more about them. But in the meantime, I enjoy my casual observations of them. I think particularly at this time of the year at dusk, I see streams of crows heading towards their evening rookeries. I have never followed them, but I have heard that they head to the trees lining the Mississippi River in Minneapolis where they roost for the night. This week I saw a large number of crows, somewhere between 50 and 70 of them hanging out along Victory Memorial Parkway on the west side of Minneapolis. Some were on the ground, others were in the street, and many of them were perched in the hackberry trees that line the parkway. I'm not sure what those on the ground or in the street were finding, but I could see several of the crows in the trees reaching for the hackberry fruits, which I presume they were eating. This morning I saw a crow flying over the highway with a vole in its grasp. Crows have such a versatile diet, which is probably partly why they can survive so well in our human modified environments.
As Les and Jim were in the orchard pruning this morning they were able to enjoy the flocks of geese and ducks flying overhead. Les estimated that nearly 900 geese, flying northwest to southeast, flew over in a window of about 2 hours. They were flying over in multiple smaller flocks. The ducks went through much faster, flying from west to east, in just 3 large flocks. This may be a sign that the last of the lakes are freezing over.
While pruning the apple orchards Les and Jim regularly find dead rodents hanging in the trees. These stashes are the work of northern shrikes or butcher birds. Shrikes nest in the taiga of far northern North America. In the winter these gray and brown birds with the black mask migrate to the northern United States. They are an uncommon bird and can most readily be found in semi open habitats with a few scattered trees. I have occasionally seen one at the Arboretum and I have seen one at Hyland Park in Bloomington. But I think the evidence that Jim and Les find in the orchards points out that they are here, but that they are a difficult target to spot. They eat small mammals, small birds, insects and occasionally reptiles or amphibians. Les and Jim once found a western chorus frog that had been hung in a tree. Shrikes don't have strong feet to hold their prey while they eat, so they impale it on barbed wire, the thorn of a tree or lay it in the crotch of a tree, so they can pull it apart. They also cache food for later use in the same manner.
We have received just enough snow to go out for a walk and begin to decipher all the animal tracks found in the dry snow. On our walk today we found a few deer tracks and a whole mess of turkey prints. We also saw some mouse tracks with a dragging tail mark between as well as a "snow snake", the tunnel made where they travel under the snow trying to stay under cover through an otherwise exposed area. Squirrel tracks often disappear near the base of a tree where the arboreal acrobat has either leapt from or to a tree trunk to use the tree highway.
The barred owl in the wildflower garden was sitting just outside of his cavity basking in a sunspot. The light was perfect to see his beautiful streaked breast. On my way back to the research center, I noticed a bald eagle soaring over Lake Minnewashta. The ice has not closed entirely over the lake yet, so there was a chance it might get a meal from this body of water yet this winter.
I found several goldenrod galls that had been pecked into by woodpeckers or perhaps a chickadee. The larvae living inside the gall must provide just enough reward for the birds that they will peck their way into the gall to extract the small larvae. When the larvae leaves the gall by itself, the hole is pinhead sized. When a woodpecker pecks into the hole to eat the larvae, the hole is larger and funnel-shaped.
Purple finches have been seen feeding on the seeds of ash trees. Bucks are rubbing their antlers on small trees and saplings around the Arboretum. Sometimes the trees have been so abused by the bucks, that the tops are broken from the aggressive rubbing. Rich and Richard saw a weasel in the woods at Spring Peeper.
I walked around Spring Peeper today to open up the birdhouses. I am always entertained by the white-footed (or deer) mice that quickly take up residence in the houses when the weather turns cold and the tree swallows and bluebirds are absentee landlords. Opening up the houses helps them get cleaned out by the weather. If I left the houses closed, the mice would live there all winter - and they are not very good housekeepers! I have found as many as 8 mice in a single house. The plant down they bring in and their own small body mass helps them stay warm. But unfortunately, I have to put them out so that the birdhouses can be cleaned by the elements. When I go to put them out, they don't go willingly. I have to nudge them a bit. Some leap to safety with legs splayed, while others climb out of the house and down the pole the way they came up. I chuckle at them every time, but I do feel bad sending them out to live in nature like a real wild mouse. I am just thinking now that perhaps there is a house in a less than ideal location for bluebirds that I could leave closed up for the mice.
We've had a nice stretch of ice forming weather. In the little bay of Lake Minnewashta along Hwy 5 the ice has formed among the cattails and is spreading out into the water of the bay itself. Today there was a little lip of white along the edge of the ice sheet where it meets the open water of the lake. The wind from the northwest has been pushing up ice and freezing water onto the advancing ice.
Karen S. notes that a flock of pine siskins were feeding at the feeders at the Arboretum today. There was another flock up in the trees in the wildflower garden. Two yellow-shafted flickers were also spotted yet in the north country.
The barred owl in the wildflower garden was eventually disturbed by the large group of naturephiles that Matt brought out this morning. When it flew from its perch in the hollow, it was mobbed by several crows.
As we transition to winter, our local wildlife are turning to their winter behaviors. The beavers are chewing down trees and some shrubs around the inlet by the pumphouse on Green Heron Pond. They have been caching the smaller limbs from the canopies of the trees in the mud of the wetland to be eaten later this winter. Gray squirrels can be seen in large numbers as they forage for acorns and hickory nuts in the leaf litter in the woods. An albino squirrel was seen recently behind the Learning Center. Wild turkeys normally use their strong legs and feet to scratch through the leaf litter looking for food, but they won't pass up an easy meal either. They are regular visitors to the bird feeders on the Morgan Terrace.
Any color in the landscape is really appreciated at this time of year. We have to rely on the beauty of stems and fruits for their contribution to the landscape. Highbush cranberry shrubs are loaded with red fruits now. They do not have good food value for the birds, so unlike many other tree fruits that have long ago been picked off the stems, these will hang on the plants until spring. Red-osier dogwoods also contribute to the color palette in winter with their attractive red twigs. Less colorful, but equally interesting are the many varied seedheads that adorn the dead standing herbaceous plants. The fuzzy seedheads of virgin's bower are also known as old man's beard. These will persist on the vine well into winter.
The barred owl has been seen again in the same hollow of one of the large trees in the Wildflower Garden where it was seen last spring. It will sit very still as you walk by within 40 feet of it, so if you scout the trees very carefully, you may get a good look at it. A pair of bald eagles were seen circling above the Arboretum. They are probably seeking dead fish in the lakes below as they migrate by.
There are a few crabapple trees here in the yard at the Research Center and this morning they were filled with the activities of birds trying to sustain themselves against the burst of winter we've had the last few days. There was both a large flock of robins and flock of cedar waxwings. The trees they were in are a couple of the very large old cultivars of flowering crabs. One of the trees had large fruit about 1 inch in diameter. The birds were not at all interested in those fruits. Instead, they were congregated in the neighboring tree that was loaded with fruits smaller that were much less than 1/2 inch in diameter. Several birds were sheltering in the nearby spruce, so there was a bustle of activity around the little group of trees on this sloppy morning.
We've really had a blast of wintry weather. This morning the ice on Spring Peeper Meadow is 1/2 inch thick. The ice patterns show that the strong winds over the last few freezing days were blowing from the northwest. The seeds and other plant debri have been swept into bands that have been frozen into the ice. Duckweed is also frozen into the ice. It looks frozen in time as well, being an unseasonal bright green. Snow persists down in the nooks and crannies of the tall standing grasses in the meadow even late this afternoon. The wood chip trails crunch underfoot. The cold has caused them to frost heave and every footstep crunches the frozen soil and chips back down.
Today is a great day to be outside and begin to get acclimated to the cold. Although the temperatures are only in the 30's, the sun is shining and the day is calm, making the cold less intrusive. Now that most of the leaves are down you can get out and practice your seeing skills. I found a few nests in the trees and shrubs that I had not noticed all season. In the shrubs at Spring Peeper there were two nests very near each other. One was a goldfinch nest and the other a catbird nest. I find several nests each summer, but I hadn't found these two. Earlier this fall I had found a paper wasp nest in an ironwood tree in a branch that hung just over the trail. The nest was a small one by paper wasp standards. Today when I saw it again, I found that it had been torn apart by the intense weather we've had over the past few days. The protective outside layers of the nest had been ripped off by the wind to expose three layers of comb inside. Several of the cells were still capped.
I saw my first tree sparrow today. It was sitting nicely in a shrub facing my direction with its large brown breast spot in an otherwise unstreaked breast very obvious. They will be one of the many birds that fly up from the brush and grasses when you pass by on the trails.
The temperatures dropped enough last night to let the snow accumulate on the ground and plants. It is the first persistent snow of the season. A wet snow hanging on the boughs of the trees is one of the most beautiful winter accents. I especially appreciate the broad horizontally spreading limbs of oak trees covered in snow. The robins and starlings are still active here at the Research Center where they are feeding on the fruits still hanging on the trees and shrubs. The apples left hanging on the trees are not frozen yet, so they are fair game. The worms that crawled out of the ground and onto the pavement in the warm rain yesterday are trying to find their way back to a pervious surface into which they can burrow back to safety. Although the break in the clouds that occurred in late morning did not materialize and the snow continues this afternoon, I am certain that there are plenty of mild November days ahead.
I'm in today watching the world outside the window. The leaves have fallen from the walnut trees and the rain is pelting down. With no leaves to intercept the rain, it will soon soak into the dry ground. The bark of the trees is black, darkened and rain soaked except for a dry gray strip on the lee side. The branches are dripping. A white-breasted nuthatch that is spiraling around a narrow limb stops to ruffle the raindrops out of its feathers. A few bluebirds are perched in the trees. They seem to be waiting calmly for the rain to stop. The house finches are less patient. Three are perched on the empty birdfeeder, looking fruitlessly for a meal. The feathers of their wet crowns are standing up on their heads. I can take a hint. I'll have to make a trip to get some bird seed this week. A red squirrel is hanging head downward on the protected side of the tree trunk waiting out a sudden downpour. It too shakes the rain off its head with a quick flick. In the light rain later the squirrel is frisky, running energetically up and down the lanes of its arboreal highway.
After a string of a few balmy sun-filled days, we are in for a string of more November-ish weather filled days with clouds and low temperatures. Today we had a combination of both with a rather pleasant late season sun-shower. This rain event lacked the humidity of a typical summer sun-shower, but it was none-the-less very beautiful.
The autumn landscape has lost the brilliance of the maple canopy. And now for lack of the dazzling red and orange fall display, I am able to appreciate the bronzes and rusts of the oak trees that accompany the maples in our local forests. Today as I was working I walked beneath the canopy of a red oak and felt like I had walked into a space with well designed lighting. The sunlight was glowing through and reflecting off the rustling orange-bronze leaves into the space beneath. I had to pause for a moment, leaning on a low branch and soak up the experience.
It feels like the tail end of a summer that swelled with life. When the days of October are balmy and not stormy and the sunshine beckons and the leaves crinkle under your feet - that's a great day. And so we go out and we embrace the last of everything one more time. We really felt like the frosty nights and nippy mornings had ended many tender lives or caused the less hardy to sequester themselves in a burrow or cavity out of the elements. So we are delighted when we find a mourning cloak gracing the meadow and striped gophers scurrying into the prairie. The fat toad we found on the trail seemed chilled as it hopped ponderously away from the two tall forms hovering over it. The toad felt cold to my touch and I wanted to warm it. But I assume it will soon be tucked away in a burrow nearby. I will be delighted all over again if I should see another toad tomorrow or the next day because it might really be the last for the season - the last before we must find beauty in a more austere winter landscape.
These last several mornings the sunrises have been spectacular with oranges, reds, and mauves. Perhaps the sunrises can be a little distraction from the crisp mornings.
There are some sounds in nature that you just shouldn't ignore because acknowledging them leads to a special nature moment. Today I was working with my head down, focused on the space around me when I heard the distinct trumpet of a swan. I shifted my focus skyward and spotted the flock of about 60 tundra swans flying northward. The white birds in the blue sky is a treat to see.
A yellow-rumped warbler was still hanging out with a flock of bluebirds and several juncos in the orchard. Ring-billed gulls can still be seen migrating. We have been seeing them for the last several days in ones or twos. Their white plumage and angular wings are distinctive. The male goldfinches have lost their brilliant gold and black feathers and are now dressed in the olive plumage of the females.
A small red meadowhawk dragonfly that I found on the trail at Spring Peeper may be one of the last dragonflies of the season. It was alive, but seemed chilled and was rather inactive. The woolly bear caterpillars that I encountered, on the other hand, were crawling quickly across the trail all full of the business of caterpillars. Likewise, the small grasshoppers that were popping around on the trail as I walked through.
Despite the leaf stripping blustery winds and sleet over the weekend there is still plenty of color in the landscape. The needles of the tamaracks in Green Heron Pond and in the windbreak at Spring Peeper Meadow are golden. The canopy of the hickories are also bright yellow. The tulip tree at the beginning of the wildflower garden stands out against its leafless neighbors in its glowing yellow foliage.
A large flock of geese have settled on the wetland at Spring Peeper Meadow. Several of them have been loafing on the deck of the boardwalk. Arrowheads, which had filled much of the wetland through the summer, have succumbed to the chilly nights and have all but disappeared from the wetland leaving larger spaces of open water to accomodate the numerous geese. The muskrat lodge is all slicked down from the geese loafing atop it. When a visitor approached the boardwalk, the geese grew alarmed in waves that radiated out from his presence. First a group near the boardwalk lifted into the air, honking noisily and stirred up a group further into the wetland. Finally the disturbance resonated to the northern pool of the wetland and all of the geese and a couple dozen mallards were in the air. The honking, quacking and the rush of wings beating the air echoed off the surrounding trees. I felt that I was experiencing the grand event that is migration.
Matt still saw 3 clouded sulphur butterflies today.
Although it is a bright and sunny day, the landscape seems to be a little less glorious today than it was even just this past Saturday. There are many leafless trees now. The ash and some of the maples have lost their leaves, but hang onto their seeds making them look a little scruffy. The geese are browsing on the apples that have dropped in the crabapple collection.
This afternoon I saw a pair of turkeys perched on the top of the deer fence surrounding the orchard out near Hwy 5 and 41. It was an odd sight to see their mass on top of the fence but they seemed at ease as they picked at the grapes growing on the vine that covered the fence.
Maximillian sunflowers are blooming in the rain garden in the parking lot. They bloom much later than the rest of their sunflower clan.
A couple of clouded sulphur butterflies were nectaring on dandelions today. Matt found another late Carolina grasshopper still flying. These are the large grasshoppers that in flight resemble a mourning cloak butterfly with their pale yellow border around a brown wing.
Striped gophers begin to get scarce at this time of year as they enter their burrows for the winter, but Matt found one out and about yet today.
The stringy yellow flowers of witch hazel have appeared on shrubs in the Wildflower Garden. It is an unusual shrub in that it blooms so late in the year. If you head to the Wildflower Garden to see the witch hazel, you will probably notice the lovely white fruits of the white baneberry or doll's eyes, as it is known. The ends of each fruit are tipped with a dark spot that resembles a pupil, thus the name. The red fruits of false Solomon's seal are also still hanging on the stem.
In an irrigation culvert today Matt found 32 American toads and 7 western chorus frogs. In a second culvert he found another 9 American toads, 1 northern leopard frog, and 2 large green frogs. Toads burrow into the ground to try to get below the frost line to hibernate, so they are in a good place for finding a spot to dig into. The green frogs and leopard frogs need to get to a deep wetland or the lake because they overwinter in the mud at the bottom of the lake or pond.
A juniper tree out in the back of the Bennett Johnson Prairie was buzzing with bird life when Matt went by this afternoon. Robins, yellow-rumped warblers, cedar waxwings and bluebirds were all feasting on the juniper berries.
For the first time today I saw a flock of geese flying high overhead. I presume they were on a longer journey than the low-flying geese that are moving from their feeding areas to the wetlands where they spend the night. WIth the wind coming from the north today the geese may be taking advantage of the airstream to burst them along on their journey. The sedges and grasses along the boardwalk provided restful ambience as they rustled in the wind.
Woolly bears are also on the move. I commonly find them on the woodchip trails around the Arboretum, but countless are the times I have subtly shifted the trajectory of my car to avoid them on the roadways. The caterpillar spends the winter beneath a log or other debri on the ground. I once found an active woolly bear on a bare patch of the wood chip trail on a mild afternoon in January. They form their cocoons in the spring before turning into a yellow-brown moth.
Mushrooms continue to pop up along the trails with the moisture we've had lately. We found several stinkhorns along the trail at Spring Peeper. They are really a distinctive fungi with a narrow cap topped with a white ring. We also saw what we first assumed was some very bright yellow trash on the trail. The trash looked slimy, so I was hesitant to pick it up and poked it first with a twig. When we poked it we could see that it had mycelium connecting them to the wood chips, so that made it a fungi, not litter. Matt tells me these fungi are similar to a fungi called lemon drops, which I think seems a very appropriate name!
While he was digging around in an irrigation hole at the research center, Matt found 14 western chorus frogs, two American toads, and a pair of blue-spotted salamanders. They all may have had a similar goal in mind to get below the frost line or beneath some protective cover for the cold nights ahead. Matt knows to check this same hole each fall for amphibian refugees.
The rain cleared out last night in time to appreciate the moon near full. Although it is quite dreary outside right now, I was out appreciating the sunshine this morning and the hazy sky this afternoon. The Arboretum woods are like cathedrals this week when the sun shines through them. But even in dull light, you cannot help but appreciate the landscape in full color.
I was in the Bennett Johnson Prairie for a bit and noted that there are still a couple of wildflowers in bloom. In the prairie garden hairy golden aster is still an exuberant yellow splash. And here and there a few blue and purple asters are attracting the late pollenators. Smooth aster plants out in the prairie stand out despite their modest stature as they are colored a deep burgundy red. The light through the white dispersal pappus on the seeds of the asters and goldenrods adds a nice highlight too. In the back of the prairie a single western chorus frog was calling loudly from the grasses. There are plenty of old logs and deadwood that it will be able to escape beneath before the temperatures take a serious drop. There is one especially beautiful oak out in the back of the prairie. It's leaves are mostly turned from green to red, but in some of the canopy the leaves have not completely lost their chlorophyll and they exhibit both green and red pigments. The tree itself has a grand old crown due to having plenty of room to spread out its limbs here on the edge of the forest.
The leaves are dropping in great showers from the walnut trees at the research center today as the wind gusts and rain loosen their tenuous grasp from their twigs. Squirrels have ample walnuts beneath the trees to bury for winter consumption.
Annual cicadas are still singing in the trees.
I've been gone for a few days and came back to find that fall has really arrived as determined by the leaves changing color all around us. The young oaks in the forest restoration above Spring Peeper have turned a vivid deep burgundy red. The sugar maples around the Arboretum are highlighting the woodlands with all shades of yellows, reds and oranges. Dogwoods, viburnums and sumac are accenting the understory with shades of red and pink. Fencelines are draped with the brilliant red of virginia creeper and the vibrant yellow of wild grapes.
Another thing that happened while I was gone and not looking was the construction of a muskrat lodge just north of the boardwalk at Spring Peeper. I believe this may be the largest lodge that has ever been built in the wetland. Some of the vegetation that has been added to the top of the lodge is still fresh and green, so I believe construction is not complete yet. The generous size of this lodge will make it a nice nest site for a pair of Canada geese next spring.
A mourning cloak butterfly was seen this afternoon. Carolina grasshoppers are still flying.
Chipmunks are running to and fro with cheeks full of seeds to be cached in safe places.
A last monarch was still seen at the Arboretum today.
The fall bird scene is thriving. Matt encountered many white-throated sparrows scratching on the ground along the Green Heron Trail today. While he was out he also saw several ruby and golden-crowned kinglets, several fox sparrows in the shrubs, wood ducks on the wetlands, a hermit thrush, a catbird, and one last osprey in the sky overhead.
Signs of muskrat activities can be seen in Green Heron Pond.
The first juncos have arrived from up north. They can be identified by the white feathers outlining the sides of their tail as they fly away as you approach them where they are feeding on the ground along the edges of trails. Shaggy mane mushrooms can be found on the woodchips on the Green Heron Trail.
There was a little mist hanging over the wetland near the gatehouse this morning. It was very picturesque from my vantage point looking at it through the trees with the sunlight shining through the veil of moisture. We flushed a trio of flickers from the roadside as we drove by the Learning Center. They too were much embellished by the early morning light as they flew away from us with their golden shafts enhanced to jewels by the sun's rays.
The native grasses in the Bennett Johnson Prairie and Spring Peeper Meadow are losing their rich bronze and rust colors for a more tawny cast. Still, I think the appearance of the native grasses outshines that of non-natives such as smooth brome or reed canary grass. Big bluestem seeds are beginning to shatter and their "turkey toes" are getting shorter as the seeds disperse and drop to the ground. We collected some side oats grama today. It is a rewarding process to collect these seeds by the handful by gripping around the stem and gently drawing your hand upward over the seeds.
The four western chorus frogs we found today are all looking rather fat and well fed. Fat is relative when you are talking about a chorus frog since they are only about one inch long. We kept one frog briefly in a container with some dry grass for cover. Later when we went to release it, it had turned from a dark dirt brown to a light dry grass brown. Soon these diminutive frogs will disappear under rocks and logs in upland areas to overwinter. Last fall we rudely turned up a dozen or more when we shifted a large rock in the woods near Spring Peeper Meadow. I determined after that to move no more rocks in the fall!
This evening while I was at my desk, I looked out the window, my eye having been attracted by a lot of movement. Two walnut trees and a chestnut tree form a room in the space just outside the window. The wind was blowing so the leafy walls of the room were alive. And there was movement everywhere as the occupants of the room, many birds, shifted from perch to perch. There were bluebirds in their dull blue and robin red fall wear. Some were flying within the room, others sat plump and still on branches near the ceiling of the room. A blue jay flew in, ebullient as usual. A hairy woodpecker, a downy woodpecker and a red-bellied woodpecker were all present. The red-belly poked his head in a knot in the walnut tree. A chickadee and a pair of chipping sparrows were hanging out exploring near the ground. A couple of yellow-rumped warblers were hopping in erratic fashion after insects. One of the yellow-rumps took down a large moth. After a short battle in which one of the moth's wings was detached, the warbler managed to subdue the moth and with a couple of big swallows ate the moth with its remaining three wings in one piece. About 30 minutes after first observing the activity in the room, there was calm except for the moving walls.
Yellow-rumped warblers are arriving in our area on their journey south. Often large numbers can be seen as they feed on the ground, on wetland vegetation, and even on suburban streets. The soft call of Eastern bluebirds is a common fall sound as they flock up prior to migrating. Often as not, I hear them before I see them when my ears are tuned in to their call.
The ash tree's leaves are dropping in the light fall winds. I have already seen several small bare ash trees. Virginia creeper is adding a big bold red accent to the fall landscape. Matt found an Eastern comma butterfly adding some color to the Arboretum.
Bluejays are in the process of their annual partial migration. Minnesota bluejays move to somewhat more southern zones and Canadian jays make a short trip to the milder clime of Minnesota. While on the move you can see small groups of jays and hear them using their large repertoire of calls. Many of their calls are mimics of other sounds from their environment. Listen for their imitation of a red-tailed hawk.
The mushrooms that have been popping up all over the place don't last very long. Today we found the disgusting black remains of a mushroom that had turned to a pool of slime. At first we didn't recognize that it was a mushroom and the slime was moving. Moving slime is more fascinating than still slime, so we poked a stick in it and found that there are tiny little maggots living in the disintegrated mushroom slime. Matt says that when he has taken spore prints lots of little insects crawl out of the mushroom gills. There is life in many unexpected places.
In nature life cannot be taken for granted. We found the lovely yellow-tipped breast feathers and white edged wing feathers of a cedar waxwing on the trail at Spring Peeper today. The subtle signs suggest that a Cooper's or sharp-shinned hawk caught one of the flock that it encountered.
A viceroy butterfly and a monarch were floating around Spring Peeper Meadow. Sneezeweed flowers are still bright and fresh in the meadow with many pollenators still visiting them. Bottle gentians are beginning to fade to pink. Shrubs such as cranberry bush viburnum, nannyberry, sumac, and five leaved ivy are beginning to display brilliant red fall color. The sugar maples in the woodlands are beginning to show a hint of their autumn brilliance.
Brisk fall winds blew in today knocking the acorns and hickory nuts out of the trees.
Migrating birds including the white-throated sparrow, ruby-crowned kinglet, northern flicker, Tennessee warbler, Nashville warbler, and palm warbler are passing through now. The catbird's mewing call can still be heard. Nighthawks and Franklins gulls can be seen in mixed flocks while passing through on their southern migration. Western chorus frogs are calling from the uplands around the Arboretum's wetlands including Wood Duck Pond and Spring Peeper Meadow. Numerous garter snakes can be found near the rock wall in the wildflower garden in which they will soon overwinter. About 45 species of fungi were counted along the Wood Duck Trail behind the Sugar House. Species that were found include rosy veincap, poison pie, split gill, funnel chantrelle, white elfin saddle, bleeding fairy helmet, scaly pholiota, and artist's bracket. With names like these you have to go check out these mushrooms. Look also for giant puffballs which look like large white footballs. Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies can still be found amongst the prairie wildflowers. Chipmunks are chipping loudly or, as some people say, "munking" in the woodlands. Pileated woodpeckers are drumming and calling loudly along wood duck trail. Arrow-leaved, smooth aster and New England aster are still blooming in the prairies. Zig-zag goldenrod is blooming in the woodlands and the wildflower garden.
Small bumblebees were found sleeping on the flowers of a patch of blooming blue vervain. We counted at least ten bumblebees as we glanced around us.
A cooper's hawk was seen clutching a ground squirrel on the ground in block 6 of the orchard. It was unable or unwilling to fly with its prey even though it was observed by staff in the orchard from within 12 or 15 feet. A red-bellied snake turned up in the bed of the pickup truck after we loaded the pile of weeds it had crawled into.
A single killdeer was heard overhead this morning. Young toads can be found in likely places where they are finding small invertebrates to eat. Watch your step on the woodchip trails so you don't step on any.
Marsh milkweed seeds are dispersing. The white filaments of their seeds are catching on surrounding plants and objects. The blooms of bottle gentians with unique closed flowers can only be pollenated by an insect large enough to force its way into the tightly closed tube. Bumble bees are the insect for the job. If you hang out long enough at a patch of closed gentians you can watch the bee pry the petals open and climb in. Notice whether they come out head first or back end first.
Palm and wilson warblers are migrating.
Several immature rose-breasted grosbeaks were seen around the Arboretum. The common yellow throats are still singing.
Many more wildflowers are blooming around the Arboretum including heath aster, obedient plant, St. John's wort, New England aster, willow herb, gray goldenrod, bottle gentian, turtlehead. Eastern wood pewees are still singing and the catbirds are still mewing in the thickets.
The waxy white indian pipe plants are up in the woods around the Arboretum.
A goldfinch still has eggs in her nest at Spring Peeper Meadow.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are feeding on jewelweed along the edges of the wetlands. Eastern wood pewees are still calling. Green herons are active around the Iris Pond. Zigzag goldenrod and white snakeroot are blooming along the woodland edges. Black elderberry fruit is ripe. Blue cohosh, white baneberry, red baneberry and Jack-in-the-pulpit fruits brighten the woods in the Wildflower Garden. Stiff gentian is blooming near the beginning of the Bog Trail across from the Iris Pond. Five species of crickets are singing including the night-time calls of the snowy tree cricket and the familiar call of the field cricket both day and night. The common meadow katydid calling from the fields and the annual cicada calling from the trees are both common in late summer. The black and yellow soldier beetles are common on goldenrod where they eat pollen and nectar.
New England aster, smooth blue aster, flat-topped aster, and false white aster are blooming in the Bennett Johnson Prairie, Spring Peeper Meadow and along Green Heron Pond. Eastern black swallowtail caterpillars are feeding on golden alexanders at Spring Peeper Meadow.
Monarch caterpillars of all sizes can be found on milkweed plants this week. Monarch's soft green chrysalis are hanging from grasses nearby.
Baby Osprey at HWY 5 and 41 will be banded July 17th.
1st red admiral butterfly and silver spotted skipper
Other Blooms: Swamp Milkweed, cup plant, Joe Pye weed.
Water Hemlock and St. Johnswort blooming in the wildflower garden.
Chipping sparrows feeding baby cowbird young cowbird is begging for food in the Ordway shelter.
Red Baneberry Fruit stands out in the wildflower garden.
Mushrooms up include Glistening Inky cap, dead mans fingers.
Watch out for toads on the walking paths!
Bottle gentians in sunlight
remind me of blown glass art
A just emerged cicada needs time
for its wings to expand and dry
Photo by Karen S.
Delicately fringed mushrooms
Photo by Indira O.
The storm that rolled in on Friday
looked ominous before dropping its rain
The honeybee took flight as I got my shot
Goldfinch on giant blue hyssop.
Photo by Annette
Mushrooms are sprouting everywhere;
these will open to dinner plate-sized caps
Cardinal flower is blooming in the
streambed in the Wildflower Garden
Monarchs on Liatris ligulistylis, which
in my experience is the most popular
blazingstar with monarchs
The fuzzy fruits of sumac
have a rather regal look
Pupae are one of 3 stages of
ladybugs found on arrowhead
when aphids are present
Red admiral butterfly on goldenrod
False white asters are blooming
in the meadow
Ripe wild plums always remind me
of the first week of school
Four goldfinch babies are crowded
into their nest in a maple sapling
This honeybee is picking up pollen on
its back to be transferred to the next flower
It doesn't take too much imagination
to see how Turtleheads got their name
Although not edible, the wild cuke
is related to cultivated cucumbers
Giant puffballs are one of the
forest's edible mushrooms
A type of coral fungus growing in
wood chips in the woods
The landscape sparkled when
the fog burned off
A female tiger swallowtail in the
elegant black form
A monarch caught in flight as it
leaves a cupplant flower
This bluebird baby and its four
siblings are nearly ready to fledge
Push a flower of obedient plant right or
left and it stays where you pushed it
Aphids: a stream of plant juices in
one end; honeydew out the other
Water meal and duckweed are the tiny
flowering plants that cover the pond
behind the Snyder Building
Tall or American bellflower is one
of our native Campanulas
I couldn't resist another shot
of Joe-pye-weed in bud
The black wasps are visiting mountain
mint instead of whorled milkweed
I also couldn't resist a little beetle on
a strongly veined arrowhead leaf
Spring Peeper is lush with masses
of arrowhead plants right now
A red- spotted purple butterfly
puddles after last night's rain
The long-"fingered" tracks of a raccoon
are left in the mud near a puddle
A bumble with loaded pollen sacs
visits a bull thistle flower
Joe-pye-weed in bud in a
sea of lake sedge
The bold blooms of Queen-of-the-
prairie are in full color by the prairie pond
Horsemint blooms are highlighted
by large greenish-white bracts
Yellowthroat male with damselfly
Barn swallow babies are nearly
ready to fly from their nest
A little chipper with a lot of nerve
stayed on her nest in a lush grape vine
A cowbird snuck its egg into this
chipping sparrow nest
One young osprey was banded
at the HRC
Michigan lilies are in full bloom at
Spring Peeper Meadow
Lovely side oats grama flowers with
orange stamens and white stigmas
This honeybee did not look right.
Do you see why?
This flower spider, camouflaged to
match monarda, got the bee
Close-up, hoary allyssum flowers
have a unique petal arrangement
The big bold flowers of cupplant
These little snails are ubiquitous
on the vegetation in the marsh
The marsh wren above its nest
in a burreed patch
A dragonfly exoskeleton clinging
to a leaf above the wetland
Insect eggs on an arrowhead leaf
Black-eyed Susans and fleabane
daisy make a nice prairie bouquet
The first clay-colored sparrow nest
we've found at the Arboretum
New Jersey tea is a gorgeous shrub
for restoration or landscaping
Pot made of mud that houses the
potter wasp larvae and its dinner
The potter wasp pot opened
Great spangled fritillary
Wild quinine blooming in
the Prairie Garden
Blister beetles devouring wild
white indigo blooms
Bush honeysuckle is a native shrub
with beautiful flowers and great fall color
Red baneberry fruits are a showy
attribute in nature or a garden
A male common whitetail dragonfly
Blue flag iris
A brown-headed cowbird has laid
an egg in a red-winged blackbird nest
The waxy leaves of large-flowered
beardtongue are also attractive
The blue male damselfly grasps the
brown female during mating
A common ringlet butterfly
rests briefly out in the hayfield
A chipping sparrow nest hides
low in a weigela shrub
Wild geraniums are thick with
pink flowers now
Orange spots on a flattened abdomen
are characteristic of a baskettail dragonfly
Large-flowered yellow ladyslipper
The clump of vegetation housing
the Virginia rail nest
Virginia rail eggs in the dappled
light of their sedge canopy
This pheasant nest was well
hidden by dense vegetation
Brown thrasher nests are usually
placed in a dense thicket
Blue-eyed grass is another of the
prairie's delicate spring treasures
Hoary puccoon, blooming in the back
of the prairie, is a treat for bumblebees
Violet wood sorrel is one of the
prairie's spring blooms
Painted turtles are basking in the
sun on these bright cool days
Goslings napping beside the pond
A carpet of touch-me-not seedlings
along the Green Heron Pond Trail
A yellow violet
Sora rails are easier to spot before
the wetland plants fill in
Great crested flycatcher
The leaves are beginning to
expand on the forest trees
On a still day plum blossoms fill
the air with their fragrance
Jack can be seen inside
his hooded pulpit
Wood anemones can make large
patches on the forest floor
Fern fronds are unfurling their
way through the leaf litter
A bloodroot seedpod reminds us
that spring blooms are fleeting
A water pipit foraging in a
newly plowed field
A clutch of killdeer eggs laid neatly
in a hollow on the ground
Tom turkeys are still displaying
Wild ginger flowers rest on the ground
where they attract crawling insects
Dwarf trout lily flowers are a mere
1/2 inch and can be hard to find
Ruby crowned kinglets are hard to
photograph, as they never sit still
photo by Robin O.
The baby great horned owl peering
over the edge of its nest
photo by Robin O.
An owl pellet found beneath a snag
consisted of bones "wrapped" in fur
A western chorus frog can be ID'd by
its small size and brown-striped back
The male chorus frog's enlarged vocal
sac is nearly as large as he is
A wood frog resembles a leopard frog
except it is brown with a chocolate mask
Wood frogs have paired vocal sacs
The great horned owl sits in a tree
near the nest tree after her eggs hatch
The great horned owl chick is a
fluffy gray-white mass sitting in its nest
Snow trilliums, an early harbinger of
spring, are a mere 3 to 4 inches tall
The delicate hepatica can
withstand harsh spring weather
Aspen buds popping
Swans in a big blue sky say spring
while we wait for flowers to bloom
The geese are waiting patiently
for ice out on the Iris Pond
Unique needle-shaped snowflakes
were about 3/16ths of an inch long
Pounding a spile, or tap, into a
pre-drilled hole in a maple tree
The sap of the maple runs into a line
that feeds downhill into a holding tank
Sap from trees tapped into bags must
be manually dumped into the bulk tank
Flocks of robins can be seen
foraging on the bare hillsides
Winter is a wonderful time to
appreciate an old spreading oak tree
A beautiful sky day over a
group of oaks in the prairie
A bur oak in the prairie shows the
gnarly habit of a savanna oak
It was worth being up early
for this superb sunrise
Unhatched eggs, shell fragments,and
down often remain in wood duck houses
A white-breasted nuthatch checks every
angle of a grape vine while foraging
A raccoon left its tracks while exploring
open water in the culvert by the Iris Pond
A deer fur "hairball" found on the
ski trail may be from a coyote
A turkey feather on the snow
beneath the roost tree
Twigs cached in the pond to
tide the beavers through winter
February sunrise at the HRC
A pair of recently used deer beds
with turned up oak leaves
Turkey droppings melted through the
snow when dropped from a night roost
The maple woods are
peaceful in winter
The old farm fence has been
overtaken by the advancing forest
Treetops shrouded in a winter fog
Hoar frost on Canada wild rye
A tree sparrow finds plenty of
seeds left on the prairie grasses
Streaks of mare's tails clouds only
enhance the blue of a winter sky
Squirrels tracks in compacted snow
show their toes and claws
A swirl of tracks in the snow
has life or death significance
A tuft of fur in the snow is not
a good sign for the rabbit
An old crabapple tree still sustains
wildlife in its neighborhood
The coyote highway follows an
old vehicle track in the Berens
A red squirrel sits at an entrance
to its subnivean highway
Coyote tracks in snow
The wetland is bedded down for winter
and snow pillows cover the meadow
Monarda seedheads support a
bejeweled snow crown
A glimmering dust of snow
covers a red oak leaf
Leaf sculptures on a snow palette
decorate the winter landscape
A downy woodpecker looks for a
meal in the sumac patch
A vole cached by a northern shrike
in a tree for later consumption
The barred owl sits in a sun
spot on a cold winter day
The larvae inside a goldenrod gall is
worth a little effort to a woodpecker
A deer mouse likes nothing more than
a cozy bluebird house for the winter
Can you name the plant? The leaves
of this prairie plant are very large
The seedheads of old man's beard,
viewed closely, have beautiful symmetry
The first wet snow of the year highlights
the architecture of an old bur oak
Golden fall tamaracks at
Green Heron Pond
The intriguing fall blooming
witch hazel shrub
Interesting fungi like this lemon
drops can turn up anywhere
The woolly bear caterpillar will
become an Isabella tiger moth
Green Heron Trail through a gilded forest
Hairy golden asters continue to
bloom in October
Muskrat lodges can seem to
appear overnight in the fall
Western chorus frog with light background
color to help camouflage it in dry leaves
Bumble bee crawling into a
bottle gentian flower
Inky cap mushroom shows
why it gets its name
Photographer: Julia Bohnen