The Best Season

By May Beth Pottratz

The cool morning air warms in the bright sunshine. The breeze becomes tinged with sweet perfume of lilacs, hyacinth, and the simple freshness of tulips, daffodils, and new leaves.

DSC_0014 common yellowthroat croppedCommon yellowthroat

A little bird with a grey head, buff-colored breast and rich brown cap warbles from a branch low in the cattails. A chubby male common yellowthroat calls “wickety, wickety, wickety” from small trees at the wetland’s edge. Five fluffy goslings skip after their parents.

DSC_0054 large flowered trilliumLarge-flowered trillium

At the wildflower garden, large-flowered trilliums sport three white petals, with a few blushing pale pink as they age. Virginia waterleaf and wild geraniums are just starting to set buds. Violets in shades of blue, purple, white and yellow are scattered about.

Tiny white bells dangle from a single cut-leaved toothwort. Lacy-edged florets of bishop’s cap rise in tiny white spikes. Dappled shade caused the demise of most other spring ephemerals. But now the ground is carpeted green, with swaths of Virginia bluebells and dots of wild blue phlox. Marsh marigolds are almost in full golden bloom along the little stream in the wildflower garden.

DSC_0074 columbine croppedColumbines

Columbines are just starting to raise their thin stems. Chipping sparrows, cardinals, blue jays, red-eyed vireos all call within the woods. There are many others I can’t identify by call and can’t see to photograph. I could spend a full day just chasing birds by their calls!

Tiny white false rue anemones peek out through the greenery. Downy yellow violets with deep purple stripes catch my eye. Large-flowered bellworts have yellow flowers drooping down.

DSC_0129 wild ginger flower croppedWild ginger

Solomon’s seal has buds that will open soon. Even a small Jack-in-the-pulpit is out preaching to the forest. Wild ginger flowers rest on the ground at the base of the stem, where they are pollinated by ants and other crawling insects. A pileated woodpecker’s prehistoric call echoes through the woods.

DSC_0173 blue cohosh flower and buds croppedBlue cohosh

Delicate maidenhair ferns are up, as are ostrich, sensitive and interrupted ferns. Pagoda dogwoods are barely leafed outbut have new green flower buds. Tiny green flowers of blue cohosh bloom in clusters atop powdery-blue stems. Mayapples have swelling green buds underneath umbrella-like leaves, while early meadow rue’s stamens are already browning with age. Round-topped cylinders of white baneberry rise above the fray.

DSC_0185 Jerry and Sue crJerry and Sue

I find dear friends Jerry and Sue.They pause for a photo under a ceiling of pink crabapple blossoms. Eastern redbud flowers are already changing from deep to a pale pink, and leaves are emerging.

In the prairie garden, I run my hand over yarn-soft pussytoes. Prairie smoke blooms dangle in strawberry hues. Grasses and forbs are returning to life; it’s the best season of the year.

Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer Program is available at

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Ephemeral Awakening

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Finally, spring has melted most of our deep snowbanks, daylight lasts longer, and bright sunshine is waking up our long-asleep trees and plants! I record 71⁰ temperature with brisk winds and a burning advisory. I hurry to the woodland wildflower garden to check on my favorites: the spring ephemerals and other wildflowers. Ephemeral wildflowers are the ones that die back and disappear once the tree leaves start to grow, such as bloodroot and trout lilies.

DSC_0208snow trilliumsSnow trilliums

Snow trilliums are just starting to pop up. Along a sunny ridge, I counted 33 tiny blooms! Wild leeks are one and two inches tall. The basal leaves of prairie smoke are inches long. Deeply lobed blue-green leaves of Dutchman’s breeches are just starting to rise above the leaf litter. Mark stops to chat, glad to find a kindred soul fascinated by the first tiny blooms of the season.

DSC_0165Dwarf trout lily budsMinnesota dwarf trout lilies

Hepaticas in shades of blue, white, and pink dot the forest floor. I count three Minnesota dwarf trout lilies already in bud! Although they grow only in three Minnesota counties, an experimental colony has been established at the Arboretum for education and research of this highly endangered plant.

Horsetails are fresh green along the woodland brook. I look hard but find only a single bloodroot flower next to a sun-warmed rock, its leaf already uncurled. Fellow Master Naturalist Volunteer Katy and her friend Karen are strolling the woods and enjoying sunshine.

DSC_0175 golden rumped warblerGolden-rumped warbler

A golden-rumped warbler peers down at me for a split second before flitting away. I grab a photo, however grainy, to post for this weekend’s City Nature Challenge 2018. This worldwide program to improve nature awareness in our cities runs Apr 27 – 30 this year. Everyone can participate by submitting observations from the seven-county metro area! Check it out at

DSC_0216 scillaScilla

Deep blue Scilla, also known as Siberian squill, are in bud. Scilla is not native to Minnesota and spreads aggressively. Several plants take up prime real estate in the protection of a tree trunk near beds of other wildflowers. I hope they haven’t displaced any of our beautiful native spring ephemerals. Black-capped chickadees call fee-bee to each other throughout the woods. A lone western chorus frog trills its thumb-down-a-comb call from a woodland pond. Crunching through dry leaves, a gray squirrel hops from long to log.

DSC_0244 black capped chickadeeBlack-capped chickadee

At the Spring Peeper Meadow, a Canada goose has built its nest atop a muskrat house in the pond. A goldfinch plays hide and seek with me between tree branches. I hear the super-high-pitched “teee” of a kinglet but can’t get close enough to see it. But it should stick around till my next visit.

Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at

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Spring Onomatopoeia

By Sydney Chandler

Gurgle gurgle gurgle. It’s exciting to welcome back the sound of running water. Based on the trails of animal prints, running water is an attraction for animals as well. Patter patter patter splash sploosh. Along the Three Mile Drive, a mix of anthropogenic and natural sounds are present. And there’s a gap where other anticipated sounds are not yet heard.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPatter patter patter . . . splash sploosh

 A mix of calls speckle the soundscape. Chirp chirp. Some calls are distant. Caw caw caw. But others come from a nearby tree. Cheer cheer cheer. The bird calls change throughout the grounds, and the Linden Collection garden is particularly quiet. At the Harrison Sculpture Garden, a rafter of turkeys shows off. A throaty coughing vocalization accompanies their proud strutting. Chump chump chump. The Sculpture Garden seems a fitting place to show off proud feathers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChump chump chump . . . rustle rustle

The memory of buzz buzz buzz enters the mind’s ear with the sight of a quiet bee hive. The drones and scurries of other summer insects will return with warming temperatures. Chirr chirr. For now, we hear the movement of other animals. Tk tk tk of  tiny squirrel claws scamper on tree branches. And a mechanical hinging flap flap flap of geese wings flies overhead.


 Animals and birds are not the only contributors to the soundscape. Anthropogenic sounds demonstrate how we interact with our environment. Murmur murmur. There’s a busy chatter of workers coming from the maple syrup house. Rustle rustle shuffle shuffle rustle as visitors trace the trails while happily shedding extra layers of bulky winter clothing.


Drip drip drip of spring melting is a welcome backdrop to spring sounds. Listen closely on your next visit: What do you hear? What familiar sounds are missing? And what stories do these sounds tell?

Sydney Chandler is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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A Last (?) Shot of Winter

By Holly Einess

Several sets of snowshoe tracks on Wood Duck Trail tell me I’m not the only one embracing the recent spring snowfall. Setting out, I hear the cawing of a lone crow and look up to see it adding material to a twig nest (similar in size to a squirrel’s leaf nest) in preparation for mating season. The shrill, rolling churr of a red-bellied woodpecker carries through the forest; it’s several moments before I finally spot it, red head and zebra-striped back standing out sharply against the bright blue sky.

Red-bellied woodpeckerRed-bellied woodpecker

Ascending a steep hill I emerge out of the forest and onto the prairie as a turkey vulture soars overhead. I’m grateful for the grip my snowshoes provide as the sun warms the snow and turns it mushy in spots.

Snowshoe trail in the prairieSnowshoe trail in the prairie

A ways ahead of me I notice a black speck moving along on top of the snow in the middle of the trail. Closer inspection reveals it to be a wolf spider. It darts surprisingly quickly, a distinct advantage for a spider that normally hunts by night on the ground without building a web.What it’s doing out today is anyone’s guess!

Wolf spiderWolf spider

Finishing my route through the prairie I head back into the forest. There I take a moment to appreciate seeing the undulations of the hills and small ravines, knowing that once the trees leaf out such landscape features will be harder to discern. Clumps of snow drop periodically out of the trees, scattering into brilliant sparkles.

Once back down at Wood Duck Pond I circle around the back side where I am delighted to find willow catkins bursting open,their silvery fuzz twinkling in the sun. Spring really is under way, despite today’s wintry appearance!

Willow catkinsWillow catkins

Back at the visitor center several wild turkeys are pecking at seed on the ground, while one repeatedly reaches up to peck at a feeder. A goldfinch, in between winter (nonbreeding) and breeding plumage, observes the scene from on high.

American goldfinchAmerican goldfinch

Numerous dark-eyed juncos join the turkeys in their search for seeds, and I spot a fox sparrow in a nearby tree—another sure sign that it really is spring. I’m hopeful that my next visit to the Arboretum will include less snow and more green!

Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer

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Early Spring

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Checking the Nature Notes board in the Great Hall, I smell the delicious aroma of maple syrup. The Easter Brunch has just ended!

DSC_0749 Ruby throated hummingbirdRuby-throated hummingbird

The skyway connecting the Oswald Visitor Center and the Snyder Building displays an interesting series of woodcuts and prints of birds with informational plaques. Titled Troubled Flight: Human Threats to Minnesota Migratory Birds and created by Blake School’s Environmental Science and Printmaking students, the display highlights birds that migrate through Minnesota and the challenges they face. For example, the plaque for Red-shouldered Hawks lists their biggest threats as deforestation and toxins. Protecting their habitat also helps preserve their diet which includes crayfish, reptiles and amphibians.

Outdoors, a baby blue sky and bright sun belie the 28⁰and brisk breeze. I hear my first red-winged blackbird of the year as it rasps “konklaree!” over Green Heron Pond. A shadow suddenly crosses the snow, and I look up: a quartet of bright white swans winging low over the treetops.

DSC_0779 Tiny red pipsTiny red pips

I spy a few tiny red pips peeking through the soil, just ½” tall. A fresh green frond of sensitive fern lies across a leaf bed. But most of the ground is blanketed in snow. I check for that first spring-blooming flower, the skunk cabbage, but just find even deeper snow.

DSC_0781 Sun on SnowSun on snow

The woodland is wonderfully quiet. All I hear is wind in dried leaves, hungry squirrels digging for their caches, and birds calling back and forth. It’s Easter Sunday, and even the highway is empty. The distant hoots of a barred owl makes me stop to listen, “who, who, who cooks for you-all?” The sun glints on the snow.

A pair of geese lounge silently under crabapple trees in the sensory garden like a couple watching TV. Chickadees and cardinals are softly calling and answering each other. At the woodland edge, syrup bags on the sugar maples are bulging one-third full!

DSC_0790 Bald eagleBald eagle

Most birds haven’t paired up yet. Overhead, a single bald eagle flaps slowly across Green Heron Pond, then curves uphill and beyond the trees. A lone turkey jabs into snow for a snack. A woodpecker pecks away at a tall snag, finding dinner in the wood. From the hill above, a blue jay calls but receives no answer. And the nasal “aunk” of the white-breasted nuthatch always makes me smile. A song sparrow sits still, feathers puffed out, on a naked branch over the herb garden. But it’s still early spring.

DSC_0820 sparrowSong sparrow

Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer Program is available at

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Familiar vs. Unfamiliar

By Sydney Chandler

Who we are is, in part, based on the places we’ve learned to call home and our interactions with each location. The visitor center currently displays “Then and Now: Somali Stories through Art”. Visiting this exhibit prior to exploring the grounds is a great kick start to reflecting on the life experiences we have and the places that host these experiences.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFamiliar Arboretum Landscape

Consider walking Three Mile Drive for the first time. A rock: a lumpy shape, mild color variation, a snowy cover, eroded holes, and ample moss and lichen. For some, this rock might be familiar – memories of past adventures, playground time, or picnic-ing on a sunny day. For others, it’s new. Does this rock fit into your mental picture of home?


Rich biodiversity means that visitors get to experience different degrees of familiarity. For example: tree bark. If it’s familiar, what new detail is present? Perhaps it’s how securely the bark is attached to the tree, that the pieces are large, that moss grows in spots, or that bark grows in layers. And if it’s new, are there connections to make? Perhaps it’s the dark color, the smooth spots on the back-side, or the tree’s size. Regardless of familiarity, more exploration is possible. With continued learning comes increased openness to the unfamiliar.


Our mental pictures of home are unique. Exploring provides opportunities to dive deeper into the familiar and challenge us with the unfamiliar. It helps us reflect on places we’ve called home. What does home look like for you?


Sydney Chandler is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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Spring from Snow

By Greg Lecker

This Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, green growth is just beginning to peak from the melting snow pack.  Sunday is grayer and a bit cooler than the holiday Saturday.  The quartet of Tom turkeys that I passed on the drive gobble loudly.  I look back to see frequent Sunday morning visitor…… playing his flute in conversation with the birds.

An icy crust has frozen overnight atop the snow encircling the south side of Green Heron Pond.  Near the boardwalk, a sensitive fern frond hangs brown and limp.

Sensitive Fern FrondSensitive Fern Frond

Though the fronds suffer immediate damage from the first fall frost, the dried fronds persist through the winter.

Green Heron Pond Copy

Green Heron Pond

A familiar sound beckons me to the edge of the wood viewing platform.  Red-winged blackbird birds are back – the males at least.  Over the past week or two I’ve been straining my ears for their metallic calls.   I thought that I had heard a call faintly in the wetland adjacent to my office.  This morning, a strong call and a positive sighting of a bird perched near the top of a cattail stalk confirm my hopes.  As surely as spring is approaching, migrants return quite early – the males arriving before females.  Their call is a metallic twittering, a bit raspy.  Look and you will find males spending much of the breeding season on a high perch – on a rush stalk or in a tree at the edge of their territorial wetland singing their hearts out.

Frosty IceFrosty Ice

When nature offers a damp cold morning, one finds fleeting frost.  Delicate spines and hollowed corns of crunchy snow crystals hug the edge of the boardwalk.  Touching the icy wood, I feel the thin skin of frost melt against the fat of my hand.

CatkinsWillow Catkins Challenge Winter

Yes those really are willow catkins beginning to open!  I was looking forward to searching for them over the next several weeks.  Warm days will eventually win the tug-of-war that will be waged.  The morning dawn serenade of birds is a sure sign.  Black-capped chickadees call fee-bee.  Owls hoot.  Turkeys gobble.  Speaking of turkeys – those four Toms I noted earlier — while I took the long way around the pond, they took the shortcut.  Now, I follow them to the roadway on my way back to the visitor center.

Tree Tapping DemonstrationTree Tapping Demonstration

As I walk back along the roadway to the visitor center, I come upon a maple sap collection demonstration.  Arboretum volunteer John Dean guides young Sam and his twin brother in using a carpenter drill to set a metal spout, called a spile– that is cast with a special fin that supports the sap collection bag.

Entering the visitor center, I’m pleased to smell the pancake breakfast being served.  Sadly, I ate on my way to the Arboretum this morning.  Maybe next time…….

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.


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