By Mary Beth Pottratz
An Eastern kingbird calls “tswee tswee” in quick, high repeated whistles at the entrance to wetland at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Just inside the fence, a sign declares, “Spring Peeper Meadow – A Wetland Restoration Experiment.”
I wonder how the wetland is faring after all the recent rains. Is it flooded? Are plants washed out? Did the frogs, birds and other wildlife survive the downpours?
Vegetation is only knee-high, making it easy to see down into the wet meadow. Cup plants are a mere foot tall. I catch the sweet scent of clover between windy puffs. A song sparrow hops along the mowed trail behind me, warbling between servings of worms and caterpillars.
Canada anemones hold their inch-wide flowers atop a stem that
sprouts right out of the middle of a round, lobed leaf. Golden alexanders bloom in bright yellow drifts at higher elevations of the basin. Other flowering plants are close behind.
Horsetails shade the spongy ground with their unusual “leaves” called strobili. Overall, it resembles a pine seedling. Horsetails are said to date back to prehistoric times, and certainly look the part.
Hummock sedges are forming small grassy-looking mounds. Giant bur-reeds in full bloom dot the wetland. Their zigzag flower stems sport yellow-tipped flower balls. The topmost part of the stem has smaller, green and brown balls.
Common milkweed, that most valuable of plants to the monarch
butterfly, is starting to set its buds. Monarchs literally don’t put their eggs all in one basket. They usually lay only one egg per milkweed plant if there are plenty of plants.
An egg is a tiny white dot, usually on the underside of the leaf, about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. When it hatches, the larva will dine on the host plant. It is the only food the larva can survive on.
Blue flag iris is in full bloom, its lavender petals with purple veins and bright yellow tongues on the falls. Slender rushes bend in the breeze, each topped with a graceful upward spray of brown flowerets.
At the opposite waterline, a pair of hooded mergansers are instructing a brood of 10 ducklings in the fine art of diving. I giggle aloud as the little heads pop down underwater, then up with a bounding splash.
Others are enjoying this wet meadow as well. A lone runner huffs by, a small family group plays along the boardwalk. Water boatmen spin crazy circles on the water’s surface, like bumper cars at the fair.
Audubon members Rob and Sue live nearby and bird often at the Arboretum. We compare notes, and I later confirm their sighting of a kingbird. We spot finches and sparrows. A mysterious yellow bird the size of a robin flashes overhead and into the treetops.
As the day heats up, so do the insects! Tiny blue butterflies flit by, and we wonder if they are Karner blues. Rob finds a ten-spotted skimmer dragonfly; I follow a blue darner. Next I’m distracted by a Red admiral butterfly. Heads turn this way and that with each bird, butterfly, moth, damsel and dragonfly crossing our view.
At this higher elevation, alkali buttercups wear five yellow petals around a green cone. Marsh hedge-nettle spikes are topped with white tubular flowers decorated with purple veining.
Sticky-willy bedstraw sports its tiny white blossoms and bristly fruits. Rough cinquefoil is also in bloom, its bright yellow stamen showing up its five tiny petals.
At the far end of Spring Peeper Meadow, I watch a muskrat busily building its lodge. Two mallard drakes preen on shore. A second family of hooded mergansers drills its brood of ten in the fine arts of paddling and feeding.
I hear a Western chorus frog ribbit, and recall my concern for the denizens of the wetland. I need not have worried!
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer