Nature Notes


By Mary Beth Pottratz

A red-eyed vireo calls from a thick clump of red-osier dogwood, “Here I am. Where are you? Over there.” I can’t see the little bird for the dense leaves, but its distinctive series of three-note songs gives it away.

Though the main gardens at the Arboretum are filled with Sunday visitors, the trail around Green Heron Pond is deliciously quiet. With the first week of summer, leaves are lush. Most plants are setting their buds. Many are in bloom.

Jewelweed flower

I find the first little jewelweed blossom of the season, with orange specks on its yellow spurred slipper. These translucent plant stems are nearing four feet tall already! Swamp milkweed, one of those important plants for monarch butterflies, have just started to bloom. I catch their heady scent in waves on the warm air.

Juvenile Red-winged blackbirds play tag through the cattails while their mother supervises from a treetop. As I approach, she calls a warning and hovers mid-air just five feet from my head. I take the hint and move on.

But her disobedient children ignore her chiding. They land daringly on the boardwalk before me. They look comical with their fuzzy-tipped new feathers and feet that seem too large for their little bodies.

A lone Green frog calls its buzzy “plunk” call. It sounds like a pluck on a loose bass guitar string. Dragonflies and damselflies are rushing home for the evening, save for one male Widow skimmer resting on a twig.

I watch a handsome pair of Common yellowthroats flit from branch to branch, calling “Witchety, witchety, witchety!” Song sparrows, bluebirds, cardinals, robins, chickadees and many others call from the trees. A Downy woodpecker flits through the tamaracks, occasionally tapping lightly on a trunk. Combined with the whish of aspen leaves in the breeze, the evening concert is delightful.

The only people I encounter on the trail this evening are Laura and Mike. They, too, noticed similar new feathers on a juvenile Pileated woodpecker. Its red crest stood straight up in two lines, one on each side of its head. Laura laughed as she held her hands straight up above her ears to demonstrate.

At the small bog near the iris garden, many shoreline plants are starting to bloom. Blue vervain, with its deep blue spires, is already four feet tall. I stop to admire the Prairie coneflowers’ elongated cones, gray on top and purple-brown on the bottom. Its droopy golden petals hang down from the cone like a skirt.

Prairie coneflower

The sedges are sporting a wide variety of funky seedheads with brown nutlets. Great St. John’s wort is showing off its yellow blossoms and swelling buds. Golden sunflowers, orange butterflyweed, and pink swamp milkweeds punctuate the green landscape with color.


And summer has only just begun!

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

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