By Mary Beth Pottratz
Checking the Nature Notes board in the Great Hall, I smell the delicious aroma of maple syrup. The Easter Brunch has just ended!
The skyway connecting the Oswald Visitor Center and the Snyder Building displays an interesting series of woodcuts and prints of birds with informational plaques. Titled Troubled Flight: Human Threats to Minnesota Migratory Birds and created by Blake School’s Environmental Science and Printmaking students, the display highlights birds that migrate through Minnesota and the challenges they face. For example, the plaque for Red-shouldered Hawks lists their biggest threats as deforestation and toxins. Protecting their habitat also helps preserve their diet which includes crayfish, reptiles and amphibians.
Outdoors, a baby blue sky and bright sun belie the 28⁰and brisk breeze. I hear my first red-winged blackbird of the year as it rasps “konklaree!” over Green Heron Pond. A shadow suddenly crosses the snow, and I look up: a quartet of bright white swans winging low over the treetops.
Tiny red pips
I spy a few tiny red pips peeking through the soil, just ½” tall. A fresh green frond of sensitive fern lies across a leaf bed. But most of the ground is blanketed in snow. I check for that first spring-blooming flower, the skunk cabbage, but just find even deeper snow.
Sun on snow
The woodland is wonderfully quiet. All I hear is wind in dried leaves, hungry squirrels digging for their caches, and birds calling back and forth. It’s Easter Sunday, and even the highway is empty. The distant hoots of a barred owl makes me stop to listen, “who, who, who cooks for you-all?” The sun glints on the snow.
A pair of geese lounge silently under crabapple trees in the sensory garden like a couple watching TV. Chickadees and cardinals are softly calling and answering each other. At the woodland edge, syrup bags on the sugar maples are bulging one-third full!
Most birds haven’t paired up yet. Overhead, a single bald eagle flaps slowly across Green Heron Pond, then curves uphill and beyond the trees. A lone turkey jabs into snow for a snack. A woodpecker pecks away at a tall snag, finding dinner in the wood. From the hill above, a blue jay calls but receives no answer. And the nasal “aunk” of the white-breasted nuthatch always makes me smile. A song sparrow sits still, feathers puffed out, on a naked branch over the herb garden. But it’s still early spring.
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer Program is available at www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org.