By Mary Beth Pottratz
Despite the official start of summer, temperatures in the 60’s and a stiff breeze dry the leaves and keep mosquitoes away. Perfect day for the prairie! I quickly head out the mowed trail where grasses and shrubs are waist-high and the rain-fresh air is sweet.
Deep blue spiderwort is opening its first buds. Purple prairie clover, wild rose and spicy-scented phlox add jewel tones to the landscape. Foxglove beardtongue sports white trumpets with black-tipped stamen inside.
White wild indigo flowers are ending their season. Flowers adorn the top of the stalk, while green-black fruit swells along the bottom to form its black seed pods. A bumblebee pushes the petals apart to reach his nectar reward.
Now that its petals have dropped, thimbleweed has tall cones atop each stalk. A metallic green sweat bee nectars on prairie fleabane. White clusters of New Jersey tea have fresh buds of green changing to white.
I hear the indigo bunting’s repeated syllables before spotting its bright blue. Common yellowthroats and red-eyed vireos call from the woods.
Honeybees and pollinating flies nectar on newly-blossomed common milkweed. I see butterfly frass on the leaves – possible evidence of a monarch larva. Too windy for butterflies today, though!
Pale purple coneflowers wear slender purple petals.Compass plants, a few feet tall, face north. Smooth oxeye dots the prairie with its golden yellow.Pink and white veiny pea flowers wink at me in the stiff breeze.
An eastern kingbird waits silently on a tree branch for dinner to fly past. Leadplants are in bud! They have silvery green foliage with pink-gray flower buds on top. A song sparrow warbles its lovely tune, and a swamp sparrow trills in monotone.
White sage plants glow against the deeper greens, and white blossoms of northern bedstraw glow. Green bulrushes sport clumps of brown spikelets at the tips in the wetter meadow. Stalks of deep purple American vetch add depth to the tangle of greens.
A pair of eastern bluebirds are busy feeding their chicks in a bluebird box. A goldfinch flits nearby, as though it wants Mom and Dad to feed him, too.
An agitated male red-winged blackbird calls a raucous “konklaree!” as I follow the trail. He puffs up his red and yellow epaulets and flies from one side of the trail to the other in front of me. Soon a female joins him, making alarm calls. Clearly their nest is nearby, so I hurry by. She disappears back into the brush, and he returns to his sentry post, barking at me.
Dragonflies dart ahead of me, almost invisible against the grassy trail. A brown and yellow dragonfly stops to pose. Its wings are tipped black, with black mottling along the top wing edges. A powder-blue common pondhawk rests on a grass seedhead, eyeing me warily as the prairie grows around us.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at www.minnesotamasternaturalists.org.