Nature Notes


By MaryBeth Pottratz

A pale blue sky is brushed with wisps of clouds over the Arboretum. Rivulets of melted snow traipse downhill along the sides of walkways and roads. The moist air feels wonderful after our drying severe cold spell. What a pleasure to breathe in deep without frosting my lungs!

Fat Robin
Fat Robin

Migrating robins are returning from their southern homes. An amiable robin shares a crabapple tree with a flock of cedar waxwings, its feathers fluffed out almost twice its size. The snow beneath is stained with maroon stems and apple pieces. I wonder whether the birds discard the fruit for the seed.

Although the upper crust of snow is melting in today’s mid-40’s, at ground level the little subnivean tunnels used by shrews and mice are likely strengthened by condensation. Snowmelt rises and bonds as ice to the “roof” of the tunnels.

Hazy sun over the prairie
Hazy sun over the prairie

Slowly the sky becomes misted with clouds. A hazy sun over the prairie reflects in snowmelt and gilds the snow crust opalescent white. Grasses and flower stems strain above the snow as if reaching for air. Trees are darkly filigreed against the sky.

In the distance, a woodpecker drums. Blue jays call “jaaay, jaaay, jay” back and forth. Black-capped chickadees still rasp their “chickadee-dee-dee” calls, but I hear a few trill the springtime “feee-beee” song as well.

Clumps of red osier dogwood stand out bright red against the snow. Balding oaks and ironwoods stubbornly hold fast to just a few leaves. Many bird and squirrel nests are now visible in the treetops above. And maple sap is just starting to run.

Yellowjacket nest
Yellowjacket nest

Hanging from the tip of a twig about 25 feet high, a yellowjacket nest sways lightly. Holes near its disintegrating top reveal the brood cells in which yellowjacket larvae are reared. The interesting pattern on the football-shaped outer cover indicates the changing diet of this insect. Yellowjackets chew various twigs to a pulp to create their nests.

The vernal equinox and first day of spring are less than two weeks away. All these transitions make me hopeful that we are finally out of the deep-freeze!

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

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