Hunkering Down

By Greg Lecker

Just after I arrive a fellow bird alerted me to a large red-tailed hawk in the oak trees above the Frog Hollow and the Maple Syrup House. It is fairly easy to spot its large form and color – and two other coal black forms offer clues. They are crows that are “mobbing” the hawk – as crows do…Mobbing is antipredator behavior of one species cooperatively harassing a potentially dangerous predator species. I watch for a while. One crow lands on the end of the same small branch as the hawk, taunting it with its caws. After enduring this for a short time, the hawk pursues the crow, chasing it from its tree. The crows seem to be successful; the hawk doesn’t return.

Crow Harassing Red-tailed Hawk

Crow Harassing Red-tailed Hawk

After several days of bright but cold sunshine, the day is cloudy. The sun hides behind a bright hazy patch of sky in an otherwise violet gray sky above Green Heron Pond.

Sun and Clouds

Sun and Clouds

Inside Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden, gray squirrels scamper. One hunkers down atop a rough log pergola. It weathers the wind driven snow by fluffing up its fur and compacting its form.

Gray Squirrel and Snow

Gray Squirrel and Snow

At the risk of ascribing human traits to animals, I wonder how animals survive and even thrive in winter. Do they require time to adapt psychologically to the cold and dark, to the scarcity of food? Or does instinct take over, the animal accepting what is inevitable – just another season. This completely natural cycle of change offers us humans an opportunity to savor each day that is unique – and to enjoy the lengthening days and the now bright, now cloudy days of the typically sunniest month of the winter: February.

In the Capen Display Garden, I find my favorite patch of prairie dock, a large leaved plant with tall stems bearing small yellow flowers in summer. Now, its rough leaves are clenched in a swirl that collects snow and ice crystals.

Prairie Dock Swirl

Prairie Dock Swirl

My hands are now clenching too. The cold beats me to retreat to the warmth and color of the orchid laden Meyer-Deats conservatory and Oswald Visitor Center Great Hall. “Timeless Beauty” orchid show is on display now through March 6.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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