Summer Afternoon

By Boak Wiesner

With a mind to Henry James’s thoughts about summer afternoons, I headed out to the prairie to go alookin’ for Monarchs as I had just seen my first two of the year the day before. They were old and faded, having hatched somewhere down in Texas before winging it up here to Minnesota to reproduce. I feel lucky to have seen even these two as Monarch numbers are declining rapidly. A loss of 85% of the over-wintering population in Mexico in the last 15 years has been recorded and at this rate, their future is not bright.

Since the specific kinds of plants Monarchs favor are not quite yet flowering, I couldn’t spot a one out in the Ordway Prairie. Nevertheless, after a long-lasting winter, I was in the mood to get baked out in the prairie sun. I was content to do some small-scale investigating as it forces one to intentionally limit how much can be seen at a time. And considering the sheer diversity of the prairie ecosystem, with some 200 plants, this approach definitely has its benefits. Prairies, acre for acre, absorb and store more carbon dioxide than forests and in a world of increasing Greenhouse gases, it’s something to consider when creating land use policies.

In a Bur Oak right in front of my chosen “spot” a male Indigo Bunting was singing. They’ve been on my mind recently as I’ve been hearing various reports about the species. In one, about counting birds, only those singing are counted, so a researcher shot the male near a nest and the very next day, another male had appeared, which he also then shot. This went on for nine days. So the numbers of birds may actually be quite a bit higher than those reported. Another report indicated that those broods whose fathers helped out with feeding had a increased survival but at the same time, those males that did more singing had more broods. Makes one wonder which is the better overall strategy for perpetuating one’s genes.

Zizia aurea (Golden Alexander)

Zizia aurea (Golden Alexander)

Baptisia lactea (White Wild Indigo)

Baptisia lactea (White Wild Indigo)

Several kinds of flowers are blooming including Golden Alexander and White Wild Indigo.




Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist volunteer.


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