A Last (?) Shot of Winter

By Holly Einess

Several sets of snowshoe tracks on Wood Duck Trail tell me I’m not the only one embracing the recent spring snowfall. Setting out, I hear the cawing of a lone crow and look up to see it adding material to a twig nest (similar in size to a squirrel’s leaf nest) in preparation for mating season. The shrill, rolling churr of a red-bellied woodpecker carries through the forest; it’s several moments before I finally spot it, red head and zebra-striped back standing out sharply against the bright blue sky.

Red-bellied woodpeckerRed-bellied woodpecker

Ascending a steep hill I emerge out of the forest and onto the prairie as a turkey vulture soars overhead. I’m grateful for the grip my snowshoes provide as the sun warms the snow and turns it mushy in spots.

Snowshoe trail in the prairieSnowshoe trail in the prairie

A ways ahead of me I notice a black speck moving along on top of the snow in the middle of the trail. Closer inspection reveals it to be a wolf spider. It darts surprisingly quickly, a distinct advantage for a spider that normally hunts by night on the ground without building a web.What it’s doing out today is anyone’s guess!

Wolf spiderWolf spider

Finishing my route through the prairie I head back into the forest. There I take a moment to appreciate seeing the undulations of the hills and small ravines, knowing that once the trees leaf out such landscape features will be harder to discern. Clumps of snow drop periodically out of the trees, scattering into brilliant sparkles.

Once back down at Wood Duck Pond I circle around the back side where I am delighted to find willow catkins bursting open,their silvery fuzz twinkling in the sun. Spring really is under way, despite today’s wintry appearance!

Willow catkinsWillow catkins

Back at the visitor center several wild turkeys are pecking at seed on the ground, while one repeatedly reaches up to peck at a feeder. A goldfinch, in between winter (nonbreeding) and breeding plumage, observes the scene from on high.

American goldfinchAmerican goldfinch

Numerous dark-eyed juncos join the turkeys in their search for seeds, and I spot a fox sparrow in a nearby tree—another sure sign that it really is spring. I’m hopeful that my next visit to the Arboretum will include less snow and more green!

Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer

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