By Mary Beth Pottratz
Waiting for today’s chill to subside, I watch the sunlight grow dim through wisps of clouds. At a balmy 14⁰, I head to the Arb. I stop in my tracks as I approach the entrance.
Small bird nests bedeck every other tree around the entrance, like a little village! I had not noticed them before. One is a cup made mostly of twigs, another of grasses and strippings from wildflower stems, another with leaves knitted around it. All are tightly woven around two or more branches in a crotch of the tree. These would be home to finches, sparrows, warblers and other small birds. Chickadees, bluebirds, woodpeckers and others nest in tree cavities; orioles weave a sack nest from milkweed stalk fibers left up over winter; and still others make mud nests in niches like swallows and swifts.
Dried seedheads, sprays of dusty white goldenrod, and graceful dried grasses are silhouetted against a silvery wash of snow. Crows caw and fly overhead, and an unseen bird calls “seet” from deep in the shrubs.
The terrace balustrade behind the Snyder building is lined with huge pots of winter greens and tall ice luminarias. The evenings must be beautiful with candlelight and artist Bruce Munro’s “Winter Light” exhibit. With the usual bird feeders gone to accommodate the light show, I wonder how the birds that have come to depend on this food source are faring.
Warming up in the lobby, a lovely display of nature art draws me into the Andersen Horticultural Library. Botanical sketches with watercolor, nature prints, a dwarf trout lily on ceramic tile, a stunning American yellow lotus, an abstract oil of thistles and more are on display.
Back outdoors, I look and listen for birds but only find a single turkey scratching hungrily on frozen ground. Witch hazel flowers are far past their prime, but many tiny yellow petals still cling tenaciously to their branches. I check the stately elm above Green Heron Pond and admire its shape against the sky.
Fluffy white seedheads tip orange stems, but I am unsure which flower they are. Snowflakes drift slowly down around them.
As the wind picks up and clouds block the last rays of sunshine, I head home. Hopefully January’s cold will soften and fresh snow will let me snowshoe next time!
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.