By Holly Einess
The day promises to be a hot one so I set off early along Ridge Trail. I hear a number of different birds singing and calling—robin, common yellowthroat, catbird, red-winged blackbird, chickadee—and see several downy woodpeckers, one of them a plump juvenile with characteristic red feathering on the top of its head. It’s settled comfortably in the crook of a tree, possibly waiting for its parents to deliver a meal.
Red clover is in bloom, as is ox-eye daisy, common milkweed, and black-eyed Susan. (Only the last two are native to Minnesota; the first two are European imports.) Trees and shrubs are displaying fruits in various stages of ripening.
Two brown-headed cowbirds are perched high atop a dead tree, appearing to scan the sky. Other birds would do well to watch out for them, as they are parasitic; females lay their eggs in “host” birds’ nests and let others raise their young. (I once spotted a house sparrow feeding a young bird significantly larger than itself and realized I was seeing this phenomenon firsthand!)
In addition to birds, many other beautiful creatures fill the air at this time of year. A monarch alights on milkweed blossoms; a tattered-looking red admiral rests on the ground, outstretched wings soaking up the sun; a pearl crescent sways on the tip of a grass blade.
Two eyed brown butterflies (so named for the eye spots lining their wing edges) spin madly around one another as though caught in a cyclone before one darts abruptly off, the other in hot pursuit. They are oblivious to my presence, nearly flying into me, and it strikes me that these small delicate beings have a life and an agenda all their own. Their antics look suspiciously like play and I can’t help smiling at their apparent joie de vivre.
An ebony jewelwing, a black-winged damselfly with a blue-green body, lands on spindly legs atop a leaf, managing to stay on despite repeated wind gusts. An orange meadowhawk zips about catching insects, finally coming to rest long enough for me to get a photo.
Where Ridge Trail joins up with Green Heron Trail I check in on the lady’s slippers and find that their blooms have faded. As I near the end of my hike I hear rustling to my left and stop to investigate. A chipmunk, cheeks bulging, scampers across the path, clearly on important business. Having plenty of business of my own I head home, feeling grateful for the opportunity to lose myself in nature for a time.
Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer