Behind the Leaves

By MaryBeth Pottratz

A charming bird’s nest sits in the crotch of a magnolia tree just outside the entrance to the Visitor Center. Large fluffy catkins decorate tips of the magnolia. I try to photograph it against a hazy white sky.

Nest in Magnolia Tree

Nest in Magnolia Tree

How many times did I walk by that nest last year as it hid behind a camouflage of leaves and flowers, with no idea of the family that lived there?

Never mind! Today is the last day of Audubon’s Great Backyard Bird Count! At a balmy 30⁰, I’ll be able to spend a lot of time outdoors. I hurry to start my count.

Turkey tracks in the snow

Turkey tracks in the snow

Turkey tracks in the snow lead me to three wild turkeys loping uphill on what appears to be a turkey run. I follow itin the opposite direction to find seven more turkeys beneath a tall feeder, eating all the seeds that more particular birds have tossed away.

A black-capped chickadee calls “fee-bee” from the safety of a leafy squirrel’s nest above. More chickadees flit to the feeder in small groups, only to be chased away by a large blue jay. A half dozen dark-eyed juncos and two tree sparrows stand above the snow on their long legs. Keepingtheir distance from the turkeys, they pick at seeds on the ground.

Several crows caw overhead. The turkeys suddenly take off with loud, whooshing wing flaps. A pair of gray squirrels take advantage of their absence while blue jays and a trio of cardinals visit the feeder above. Three hairy woodpeckers and a white-breasted nuthatch look for dinner in the surrounding trees, but flit down to the feeder as soon as it’s unoccupied.

Coneflower sparkled with ice

Coneflower sparkled with ice

A purple coneflower seed head is dappled with ice, half its seeds gone with the wind – or were they eaten? Snow-flocked spruces and firs are everywhere. In the woodland, orange leaves hang stubbornly onto an understory tree. A single, hushed “hoot” comes from the hillside nearby. I wait, scanning the canopy, but it calls no more.

A giant round burl, at least two feet tall, is visible mid-trunk of a canopy tree near the road. Is it the absence of leaves, or was I distracted the many times I must have strolled past? Thick mounds of snow accent its size and perfect roundness.

Rain-garden model

Rain-garden model

Opposite the Learning Center, the Rain Garden Model isfrosted white. A perfect example of winter interest! A graceful group of birches stand sentinel over shrubs, flowerheads and dried grasses below.

White wetland

White wetland

Sunlight breaks low through the clouds. As I head back to my car, the white wetland around Wood Duck Pond glows. Fog rolls down its hillsides to the west as the temperature drops another notch. It sure was a beautiful day!

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

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