Nature Notes

After the Storm

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Have you ever noticed how different thunder sounds when you’re away from the city? At home, I see a flash of lightning. Next I hear a bowling ball thunder down its alley and then fade away. The din lasts about 30 seconds.

Stormy Day

This afternoon at the Arboretum, I hear the thunder rumbling and groaning towards me for several minutes on end! Dry on a bench under the eaves, I watch the dark clouds roil overhead.

Goldfinches play daredevil tag in the rain, and a green heron rushes by, flying low to the ground.

Before the rain stops, a ruby-throated hummingbird surveys the area from its perch on a bare branch. I wonder how it can even fly with raindrops pelting it, pushing it towards the ground.

The Arb is a wonderful place after a storm. The world seems to wait as the rain slows, and the air is fresh and clean. Birds start up their “check” calls, making sure family and friends weathered the storm. Mosquitoes and flies are still drying their wings as I head to the prairie.

Common milkweed and butterflyweed are in bloom. As I search


the leaves for monarch eggs and larva, I breathe the sweet, powdery scent. No monarchs, but ants are hard at work along the stems, farming tiny aphids for the sweet honeydew they leave.

Master Naturalist Volunteers were invited to attend a training session this month for the University of Minnesota’s Monarch Larva Monitoring Project. It was a fascinating class.

We watched a black, white, and yellow banded larva (caterpillar) pupate, or form a chrysalis, right before our eyes. It only takes a minute or two for the caterpillar to transform.

Each sage-green chrysalis looks identical. Each sports a straight row of metallic gold spots near its top, and a few more on its body. They glint in the light like tiny gold beads. Scientists are still learning about their function and how they form.

The class taught us how to monitor milkweed for monarch activity and predation. We will be reporting our data online, where the U of M tallies data from throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico to gain understanding of this important pollinator. It’s a great volunteer project, and you can learn more at

Switchgrass flower

In the prairie, raspberries are already in fruit! Flowering is early for most blooms. I see white wild indigo, flowering spurge and northern bedstraw in full bloom. Liatris, beard tongue, purple coneflower and cinquefoil are just starting to flower. Rattlesnake master has set its spiny buds, and even switchgrass is already sending up its floral sprays.

The prairie comes alive with insects as the rain evaporates. I see a mourning cloak butterfly, ten-spotted skimmer dragonfly, skippers, moths and grasshoppers running ahead of my every step.

An adult male Indigo bunting perches atop a large snag in the prairie. Its deep blue plumage glows in the storm-chased light. He whistles urgently, reminding me that I too, should check on my family after the storm.

Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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