Nature Notes

A Crazy Fortnight

By Boak Wiesner

Just two weeks have passed since the last warm day I was here and Minnesota has had two tornadoes and a blizzard. Things change fast around here! Even over the course of a single day, it goes from cold to hot.

The songs of Cardinals are the main phenomenon I experience today. Not only the males, but also the females sing, which is in contrast to most other songbirds. Their range has expanded north quite a bit as the climate warms as well as folks providing food for them at their feeders.

The female and male will work together to choose a nest site and then tend to the young. Though I’m seeing this pair out away from the buildings, Cardinals show little fear of humans and may build their nest right in your window box! Nicely, their scientific name may one of the easiest to remember: Cardinalis cardinalis.

With an overcast sky, it was hard to see even these brightly colored birds, so even though I hear a Pileated Woodpecker, I can’t seem to see it. I guess I’ll have to be content with its sign, an old and decaying elm that it has hammered on looking for insects.

The first plants that have become active is some Silvergreen Moss (Bryum argentum) growing along the path. It’s bright kelly green is a welcome bit of color on the otherwise drab, late winter forest floor. This clump of moss has sent up its sporophytes, what looks like fur on the carpet of the main plant. Mosses are different than other plants in that the cells in their main life phase have only half the number of chromosomes so they are called gametophytes. The sporophytes growing out of the main plant have two sets of chromosomes. In most plants, the male gametophyte is just the small pollen grains.

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer

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