Nature Notes

Spring from Snow

By Greg Lecker

This Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, green growth is just beginning to peak from the melting snow pack.  Sunday is grayer and a bit cooler than the holiday Saturday.  The quartet of Tom turkeys that I passed on the drive gobble loudly.  I look back to see frequent Sunday morning visitor…… playing his flute in conversation with the birds.

An icy crust has frozen overnight atop the snow encircling the south side of Green Heron Pond.  Near the boardwalk, a sensitive fern frond hangs brown and limp.

Sensitive Fern FrondSensitive Fern Frond

Though the fronds suffer immediate damage from the first fall frost, the dried fronds persist through the winter.

Green Heron Pond Copy

Green Heron Pond

A familiar sound beckons me to the edge of the wood viewing platform.  Red-winged blackbird birds are back – the males at least.  Over the past week or two I’ve been straining my ears for their metallic calls.   I thought that I had heard a call faintly in the wetland adjacent to my office.  This morning, a strong call and a positive sighting of a bird perched near the top of a cattail stalk confirm my hopes.  As surely as spring is approaching, migrants return quite early – the males arriving before females.  Their call is a metallic twittering, a bit raspy.  Look and you will find males spending much of the breeding season on a high perch – on a rush stalk or in a tree at the edge of their territorial wetland singing their hearts out.

Frosty IceFrosty Ice

When nature offers a damp cold morning, one finds fleeting frost.  Delicate spines and hollowed corns of crunchy snow crystals hug the edge of the boardwalk.  Touching the icy wood, I feel the thin skin of frost melt against the fat of my hand.

CatkinsWillow Catkins Challenge Winter

Yes those really are willow catkins beginning to open!  I was looking forward to searching for them over the next several weeks.  Warm days will eventually win the tug-of-war that will be waged.  The morning dawn serenade of birds is a sure sign.  Black-capped chickadees call fee-bee.  Owls hoot.  Turkeys gobble.  Speaking of turkeys – those four Toms I noted earlier — while I took the long way around the pond, they took the shortcut.  Now, I follow them to the roadway on my way back to the visitor center.

Tree Tapping DemonstrationTree Tapping Demonstration

As I walk back along the roadway to the visitor center, I come upon a maple sap collection demonstration.  Arboretum volunteer John Dean guides young Sam and his twin brother in using a carpenter drill to set a metal spout, called a spile– that is cast with a special fin that supports the sap collection bag.

Entering the visitor center, I’m pleased to smell the pancake breakfast being served.  Sadly, I ate on my way to the Arboretum this morning.  Maybe next time…….

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.


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