By Mary Beth Pottratz
The first bluebirds of the season greet me with their sweetly chortled songs. An unusually warm 63⁰ has brought birds, animals, and a brown-winged fly – first of the season as well – back to life.
Trees are in bud all over the arboretum: river birch sports new red twigs tipped with fresh buds; white oak clusters four or more buds at its tip; and quaking aspen shows sharply pointed buds and large tan leaf scars.
Gretchen of Medina and I chat leisurely, savoring our new ability to relax outdoors without winter’s icy nip rushing us along.
In the woodland, pairs of gray squirrels crash through leaves in games of tag. Lone squirrels busily dig up their underground stashes from last fall. A white breasted nuthatch laughs from within the woods, calling me deeper in.
Blue lines are strung throughout the forest. They carry sap downhill to large covered vats. Bulging blue bags of maple sap hang from some of the tree trunks.
I watch a graceful great blue heron flap its long wings overhead, my first of the season.
Male red winged blackbirds are busy proclaiming the edges of their territories with tremolo “konklaree” calls as they balance atop dried cattail stalks that sway under their weight. The females will arrive several weeks behind them.
But wait – what is that high-pitched trill? It sounds like the first western chorus frog of 2014! I know that sound well but can scarcely believe I am hearing it.
Waters gurgle in the woodland as the creek fills with snowmelt. The green splash of a fern warmed by a mossy rock glows in the white and tan camo-patterned forest floor.
In the Learning Center, families were planting seeds to take home and creating seed art. At the outdoor play area, children balance on logs and hide behind trees as moms rest on wooden swings or sun on benches in the snow.
A chipmunk gathers seeds beneath a bird feeder, and a silent mourning dove stands sentinel nearby. The snow crust is littered with bits of leaves, twigs, mast, bark and soot. It forms a collage that will soon melt to nourish the first seedlings to come.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.