By Holly Einess
It’s a beautiful fall day and I’m looking forward to finally completing my exploration of the Arboretum’s East Side Trails.
East Side Trails Map
As I head up the Spring Peeper Trail just east of its intersection with the Ridge Trail I am greeted by a lovely grove of birch trees, their golden leaves dancing in the sunlight. A little farther on is a grouping of small oaks, chickadees flitting about in their colorful branches (successfully evading my attempts to photograph them!). Amid all the yellows, oranges, and reds, the purple of a still-blooming New England aster catches my eye.
I pull open a tall gate to enter the wetland restoration area and after several minutes of hiking the Spring Peeper Meadow comes into view. It is bordered on the north by a long stand of Minnesota’s state tree, the red pine (also called Norway pine). I take a moment to savor the sound of the wind whispering through the branches and am surprised and delighted to hear several western chorus frogs singing their signature “fingernail dragged along a comb”call.
Red (or Norway) Pines
Heading back the way I came I take a left on a connector trail inviting me into a blazing yellow maple forest. A flock of dark-eyed juncos takes off from the leaf-strewn trail in a flutter of hops and leaps, their outer white tail feathers flashing. Two red squirrels chase each other madly through the leaves, nearly running into me, and a gray squirrel eyes me warily.
Eastern Gray Squirrel
A tiny ruby-crowned kinglet clings to an upright twig just long enough for me to get a photo. Moments later I spot its close relative, the even smaller golden-crowned kinglet. These two are among Minnesota’s smallest birds; only the ruby-throated hummingbird is tinier.
This little patch of forest is fairly thrumming with life, and I’m not surprised when several chickadees appear, and then a hairy woodpecker. Fluttering yellow leaves fill the air like a kaleidoscope of butterflies, and I stand in stillness for a time, reveling in the fleeting beauty of this too-short season.
Emerging from my trance I continue out of the woods into restored prairie, where the grasses rustle dryly in the wind. The trail loops around, taking me back through the gate and once again onto the Spring Peeper Trail.
As I near the boardwalk a common garter snake slithers off the sun-warmed trail and disappears into the brush. Soon it will join other snakes in a rock crevice or underground den below the frost line, spending the winter in a state of brumation (akin to hibernation in mammals). The snake and I both are hoping for a few more weeks of mild days to bask in the sun.
Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.