By Mary Beth Pottratz
For the first time in 150 years, the temperature on February 17 reaches a sunny 63⁰. With no breeze, I wear only a light vest and no gloves. The air is warm despite the melting ice beneath my feet.
Beautiful orchids are on display, and I pause to admire these blasts of color in the Great Hall. There are more in the Conservatory, but my sun-starved body pulls me outdoors.
The cross-country ski trailhead is completely void of snow and ice. But there is still time for skiing and snowshoeing this year.
As I walk into the woodland, the temperature drops ten or more degrees. I hear a barred owl call, “Who, who, who cooks for you all?” from further in the forest. The snow is mostly melted and there are small signs of greenery such as ferns and mosses. Squirrels are digging up their buried caches, and I see several chickadees in tree branches. A few unseen birds call “tseet” furtively to each other.
Maple syrup bags are bulging, and buckets have sap dripping in fast. The warm daytime temperatures coupled with freezing nights really pressures the sap out quickly! I check for skunk cabbage but see only slushy ice with a watery layer on top.
Chickadees are also on Green Heron Trail, and a straight line of geese honk as they fly overhead. A few moments later, I hear the whistling of wings and look up to see mallards in the sky. A white-breasted nuthatch gives its nasal call, and a dark-eyed junco suns itself in a tree.
Dried coyote scat is in the middle of the boardwalk, bleached white in the sun and full of fur. As I lean down to look at it, a loud crash through the ice comes from right beneath the boardwalk, making me jump! Jill, grandmother of nine with #10 on the way, jumps with me. The crashes continue as we chat and walk the length of the boardwalk. Muskrats, I wonder.
Short bursts of drumming come from the woodland, and I follow the noise. Sure enough, a hairy woodpecker hops about a branch. He gives a fast “squeak” call and flies off. Tamaracks have no needles yet, but have woody spurs that look like they might sprout with needles soon if this warmth continues.
I am happy to find bird feeders at the Ordway Shelter, and relax at a picnic table to count. These feeders were moved from the visitor center buildings. I am glad that they weren’t removed. It is important to keep feeders going during winter when birds really count on them!
In just half an hour, I see chickadees, nuthatches, crows, one cardinal, one blue jay, two hairy woodpeckers and a dark-eyed junco. Funny, I didn’t know nuthatches eat suet! I write them down to report later to Audubon’s Great Backyard Bird Count. Check out all the birds people have already counted this weekend: http://gbbc.birdcount.org/.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.