Nature Notes

Close Encounters of the Annual Kind

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Today’s 30⁰ brought relief from the bitter cold we had at the end of the year. I am nice and toasty-warm in my winter wear.Several couples, groups, and families are also hiking along Green Heron Trail this afternoon. We greet each other with a smile and “beautiful day!” as we pass.

DSC_0452 Julie and SteveJulie and Steve

Julie and Steve are testing out a new camera and looking for owls. But Steve’s binoculars are in his pocket, and mine dangle uselessly. We all notice the delicious stillness and quiet, but there is an odd lack of birds calling. I keep checking the sky for raptors, but see none.

DSC_0457 glintingGlinting

The late afternoon sun just starts peeking out from the day’s clouds, glinting off snow and backlighting cattail seedheads like yard torches. The earth is at perihelion this week, in which it is closest to the sun for the year.

Our moon is also at its closest point to the earth for the year right now, called lunar perigee and known as a Super Moon. Maybe you noticed the brilliant and large moon this week. But, wait! That’s not all: Since we will have a full moon on both January 1st and 31st this month, they also are Blue Moons!

DSC_0485 ironwoodIronwood

Clusters of ironwood trees hang on stubbornly to their wilting leaves. Their pale peach color illuminates the brown tree trunks. Finally, a bird call! I am actually grateful to hear the grating caws of crows.

DSC_0507 Track superhighwaySuperhighway of animal tracks

The frozen wetland is a superhighway of animal tracks: large pebble-texture on three toes of turkey, the long rear feet ahead of the circular front feet of squirrels, and deer dragging their hooves in the snow. Petite mouse and vole prints often have a thin stripe of trail drag down the center of the straddle, or width, of the print. I can almost see coyote and fox slink along the edges of cattails and brush, leaving cautious and purposeful prints in a curving line.

DSC_0520 witch hazel croppedWitch Hazel

I am thrilled to find tiny yellow blossoms of witch hazel still in bloom. In any other season, this wrinkled flower would be dwarfed by larger petals and brilliant colors. Today, they glow in sunlight and dot the bare branches like Christmas lights. I lean close and let the teeny petals fill my camera frame.

As I head through the forest, a single furtive “tseet” and another staccato “tew” from the treetops make me smile. At least they are still here!

Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at

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