By Mary Beth Pottratz
Strolling into the prairie, the chirping of snowy crickets becomes ever louder. The ones nearest me become silent with terror as I approach. I count the number of chirps in 14 seconds and add 40; sure enough, the temperature is 75⁰!
A monarch nectars on a Northern plains blazing star. The prairie resembles a sea of yellow dots against green and beige grasses. Tall Cup plants are in full bloom. Rosinweeds’ yellow blossoms and thick green buds bend its own stems sideways. Many types of goldenrods are flowering and others starting to set buds.Prairie dock’s golden sunflowers stretch several feet above me on stout stems that rise from a clump of huge leaves at the base.
A gorgeous red meadowhawk dragonfly rests on a seedhead. It has tiny amber rectangles near its wingtips, and golden amber glow to the inner half of its wings. Its bright red body sports black triangles smartly along its sides.
Masses of Boltonia stand out stark white against the prairie green. A goldfinch gorges on seeds atop a Cup plant. Nearby, round-headed bush clovers are starting to bloom. They will leave interesting brown seed pods that rise above the snow for winter interest in the garden.
Little bluestem is releasing its fluffy white seeds. Indian grass’ metallic amber florets sway in the breeze. A closer look shows tiny yellow anthers dangling. Even smaller pink stigma stick out sideways like tiny brushes. My favorite grass, Prairie dropseed’s graceful beige flower stalks dance in the breeze above lime-green foliage.
Geese are grouping overhead, honking as they flap in and out of loose V-formations. Blue jays and crows are raising their voices now that many migratory birds have gone. Flowering spurge, many types of sunflowers, wild quinine, and still some monarda are blooming. Purple coneflower petals have withered. The cones expand and the disk flowers open.
The insects are truly fascinating! Tiny mosquitoes are whisked away by the stiff breeze, allowing me to stop and look. What is this metallic green sweat bee doing on a Brown-eyed Susan, I wonder? Ladybugs, little spiders, milkweed beetles and myriad pollinating flies and bees are interesting to watch. A yellow-brown Meadowhawk with black triangles on its abdomen rests on a leaf. White and pale blue butterflies and tan moths flit through grasses and flowers.
Gray-headed coneflowers have lost their petals and the cones are starting to swell. Arb member Eva of Deephaven and I relax on a bench and chat about native plants for her shade garden, enjoying the breeze, singing birds and crickets.But noon seems to have arrived sooner now that the days are shortening. The change in season is reflected in the grasses and flowers as summer winds down.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist program is available at http://www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org