By Mary Beth Pottratz
Pussy willows display soft wooly catkins and glint in bright sun against a pale blue sky. Tiny flowers are just starting to appear through silvery fur. These will provide the season’s first sweet nectar. Bees and other pollinators will soon throng to the only feast around this time of year.
New green tulip leaves edged in red are pushing their way through dirt and arching towards the sun. The wintertime spruce and pine arrangements in the large patio canisters have given way to simple, striking red osier dogwood twigs. Cardinal calls echo through the grounds. Chickadees state “fee-bee” continuously. A lone dark-eyed junco flits up into a tree.
My friend Barb points out the Lungwort leaves pushing through a mulch of leaves and twigs. Their tiny hairs shine in the sun, and their spotted leaves confirm their identity. A raucous blue jay calls as it flies between tree tops. I watch for a minute to see if he is warning others of a nearby predator. Lamb’s ears’ leaves are already four inches long!
Doubtless their wooly jackets protect them from freezing nighttime air.
A rafter of turkeys prance out of a garden onto the lawn. The male, sporting black-tipped breast feathers, tiptoes out first and pauses. The size of his beard and spurs shows that he is 2 or 3 years old. His feathers glisten, iridescent in the sun. The females stand timid at the lawn’s edge before darting across the lawn. The male flies down to the Green Heron Pond trailhead, and the females rapidly follow.
Prairie smoke leaves are up already, forming small mounds. No sign yet of Pasque flowers! And we could not find any visible skunk cabbage. A pileated woodpecker sounds its prehistoric cry from the trees beyond.
One maple syrup bag near the woodland garden looks ready to burst its seams! Another next to it is completely flat. A tiny, pale green fern rises up from snow-crusted leaf litter. We are mocked by a white-breasted nuthatch as we hike out of the woods.
Tamarack’s wooden cones have grown large over the winter. There is no evidence yet of needles prying through the many small woody buds along the branches and twigs.
A male hooded merganser sculls around the center of Green Heron Pond. He puffs his white hood fully open, glaring in bright sun. Sure she must be nearby, we search for the female but saw none.
Two red-winged blackbirds call back and forth from the cattails, claiming territory boundaries. They have not arrived yet at the wetland near my home, and I am grateful to hear their raspy voices. Not melodic, but still heralding the arrival of spring.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.