By Mary Beth Pottratz
The morning air is still nippy, but robins and finches still chortle short little tunes. A raptor kettles upward against deep blue sky dotted with puffs of cloud.
A fiery skipper butterfly stretches its proboscis for nectar and dewdrops as it clings with its forelegs to a yellow flower. The concave clubs on its antennae each face a different direction. I wonder if they work like satellite dishes to receive signals and vibrations.
The hillside across Green Heron Bog is a patchwork of yellow, magenta, rust, orange, and green fall colors, striped by white-trunked paper birches and grey snags .
Witch hazel sports tiny golden flowers with four long, wrinkled petals. Its yellowed leaves are tinged brown and will soon fall, leaving the flowers to bloom even past frost!
I am distracted by a huge mound of deep purple blooms of New England aster – a Minnesota native despite its name! A stately American elm still has most of its leaves, but about half are brightened to yellow.
Gingko leaves are changing from green to gold. Soon its leaves will drop all at once! Introduced to the U.S. from China, gingko is tolerant of pollution and one of the world’s oldest species. Gingko provides beauty, clean air and shade. And happily, it is not invasive.
But it also displaces a native tree, which evolved over thousands of years in a mutual relationship with our native fauna to provide the right timing, pollination, nutrition and even habitat. That makes native plants critically important to our environment.
A couple strolls under bowers of colored leaves. Even the boardwalk behind Green Heron Bog is alive with bounding footsteps and strollers. Chickadees and sparrows make tiny chip calls to keep in touch while hiding from passersby.
The mature tamarack’s needles are starting to turn yellow. The youngest are mostly gold, and a few tall ones are already completely bare. They all grow within feet of each other. I wonder what factor makes them react differently. Are some hybrid, or a non-native larch? Are the bare trees older than the others?
Creamy beige shelf fungus lines a deadfall. Nodding bur-marigolds are still in bloom. Sunlight filters down a hillside of maple trees and seedlings, casting a golden glow. Red maple has lost all of its leaves, while hybrid maples still wear yellows and reds.
A juvenile mallard preens on a log in the pond. Further out, another duck dives and pops back up a minute later. Clematis vines are puffy with seedheads. Some brown-eyed Susans and prairie golden aster are still in bright golden bloom.
Butterfly milkweed still models green leaves, but its upright pods are magenta. Many pods are bursting open, with silk-tufted seeds slowly escaping into the next breeze. Those that land on a spot of earth will freeze over winter, then sprout in spring, just as they have for thousands of years.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.