By Greg Lecker
A cold and damp spell hangs over the Arboretum grounds during my daybreak visit. The drizzle ended just as I arrived; everything is quite wet.
And yet, an active wildlife scene belie the apparent serenity of this Sunday morning! Encircling the twisted trunk of a nearby Scotch pine, gray squirrels chase one another. Overhead, Canada geese honk as the fly by; on the ground, wild turkeys gobble to each other at the feeder. Chickadees, red-bellied woodpeckers, and red-winged blackbird vocalize excitedly. Blue jays sound their metallic “jay” call.
Maple syrup is being collected in the sugar bush above the Sensory Garden. I look forward to reading reports of this year’s harvest. Within Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden, Jacob ’s ladder foliage is unfolding leaves that appear to have been packed accordion-style.
The calls of crows and an alarmed barred owl direct my gaze upward. Two crows pester first one and then a second barred owl, over and over. The large owls tolerate this abuse for a short time before first pursuing the black tormentor sand then flying away. To say that owls and crows are not friends is an understatement. Barred owls are nocturnal predators. By comparison, crows are diurnal (daytime) aerialists. If their paths cross (as happens in the early morning), crows will harass and mob an owl.
Continuing onward through the woodland, I notice that a new woodland pond has been enlarged and a boulder edged island has been created. A pair of Mallards swim in approval before my presence scares them off. They’re not interested in posing for my camera.
As I near the shade tree collection on my hike up the rise of Three Mile Drive, two large white-tail does lope across the roadway and bound up the hill of the woodland that borders the prairie. Confident they have put sufficient distance between them and me, one stops and shakes its head at me as if to shrug me off. She alternatively wags her hanging tail and flags it upward still unsure of me as I watch them. I am in awe of an animal that moves so quickly and gracefully and so quietly, seemingly without effort.
In the Capen display garden, the basal foliage of prairie smoke has emerged; and red buds decorate the fuzzy fringe of leaves.
Below the Snyder Building terrace, vernal witch hazel buds have shed their spidery blooms.
The warm humidity of the Meyer-Deats Conservatory is welcome after my morning stroll in the cold dampness. There are plenty of blooming orchids and amaryllis plants for visitors to enjoy on their next visit.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.