By Mary Beth Pottratz
Two turkey vultures glide silently overhead as I enter the Visitor Center. I usually check the Nature Notes board in the lobby to discover which birds and animals are active, and what important plants are budding or blooming or seeding next.
Snow trilliums expected to bloom by the end of the week! This petite native wildflower can be found blooming as early as March. As a herald of spring in the forest, it’s one of my favorites.
I head towards the woodland garden. Sunlight shines along the roadside and the gardens beyond, sparkling on a fresh four-inch layer of unseasonable snow. A cedar waxwing perches atop a bare branch, enjoying this sunny, 39-degree day.
A dead hermit thrush lies on the woodland trail. This bird migrates north from Mexico and states south of Illinois, where it summers in northern Minnesota and Canada. It seems unharmed, as though it would fly off if touched.
I wonder what caused its demise. Was this migrator unable to find the types of insects, berries and buds that comprise its diet? Or was the thrush duped by spring, unable to weather the late snowstorm and plunging temperatures of the week?
The woodland garden, too, is layered in several inches of fresh, heavy wet snow. There will be no snow trilliums today. I, too, am duped by spring!
Ghostly hoots of a great-horned owl echo from the forest above. Its typical five-hoot call pattern hoo hoo-hoo hoo hoo hoo is followed by an atypical elongated hoooo-hoooo call. The same call is given a few times, several minutes apart.
Uphill I go, hoping to see this large, eared bird. The Nature Notes board had sported a photo of this large bird’s nest, its “ears” peeking over the side. Will I find the nest?
No. But instead, I find Neal and Maria talking and laughing heartily, warm on their bench under a thick lap robe off Woodland Trail. Spring isn’t duping them at all. Oblivious to cold, they are still there an hour later as I return!
Small patches of brown grass appear along Three-Mile Drive in places the sun has now melted through. Several determined robins are actually pulling dinner (worms? Insects?) out of the frozen ground!
With similar determination, I head to the Spring Peeper Meadow in hopes of seeing the pied-billed grebe listed on the Nature Notes board. I find robins perching in sumac, a muskrat swimming the pond, and a few geese on the open water. Several American coots, their white bills standing out against their black feathers, paddle the edges and disappear into the cattails.
A commotion in the sedges draws my attention. An eastern phoebe performs an unusual dance. Perching on a cattail, this dark-headed bird suddenly flits to a perch a few feet away, low to the ground. It flaps its wings quickly, shakes the plant for several seconds, pecks at the plant and then flies off to a new spot. What a technique to locate and feed on insects!
The pond water is high, rising slightly above the boardwalk in a few spots. At its center, the boardwalk is heavily spotted with evidence of geese. Had the geese sheltered on the walk during the prior night’s storm?
Almost immediately I have the answer. Around the next corner is a large, white goose egg, sitting in a quarter-inch of icy water on the boardwalk.
This goose and the thrush are both duped by spring, as am I in my search for trilliums. But not the robins and the phoebe, who find dinner; nor Neal and Maria, who find plenty of warmth and camaraderie. Nor I and my friend Lynn Ann, who enjoyed a beautiful day at the Arb.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.