Late Summer Odyssey

By Mary Beth Pottratz

The birds are unusually quiet everywhere I head this morning. The sky has a light haze. Today’s heat warning seems to have kept many away from the Arb. Temperatures have been 20⁰ above normal for weeks.

Golden Maximilian sunflowers bloom in bright sunlight. Deep purple New England asters flower in large patches. Stiff goldenrod is forming seedheads. Clumps of white asters are in full blossom.

20180916_110324 rosinweed croppedRosinweed

The golden petals of rosinweed have long fallen away, leaving vibrant green seedheads coated with fine hairs atop purple stems. Birds make furtive contact calls near the prairie’s edge. I hear chickadees, goldfinches, blue jays and crows singing their contact calls as they hide.

20180916_124827white snakerootWhite Snakeroot

In the cool shade of the woodland, white snakeroot is in full bloom. Blue cohosh sport powdery blue berries; false Solomon’s seal have white and red berries. Pale lavender asters dot the forest edge.

20180916_121119asters on wood edgeAsters

Acorns crunch loudly under my feet. It’s a mast year for oaks, according to Jeannine Cavender-Bares, who spoke about oaks at our Master Naturalist Volunteer meeting last week. This oddity usually occurs about every five years or so.


Zeke sketches a tree in the ravine. He and Randy are new Arb members. Zeke shows me other sketches that he has painted. They capture the feel of the plants and trees beautifully.


Monarchs flit throughout the Garden for Wildlife; they must be finding something to nectar on. But they are heaviest at the Dahlia Trial Garden, where only those animals with a long proboscis can reach the sweet reward at the back of a dahlia petal. I wonder if this odd span of hot weather is making them stay longer than usual. Migration timing needs to be just right so that monarchs and other migrators will have the types of food and rest spaces they require.

Crickets whirr in the prairie, and goldfinches flit overhead. Other birds quietly call “tseet” or “check” back and forth from deep below the grassline. A single cicada buzzes for a few seconds. Black-eyed Susans and pink turtleheads are shouting their last hurrahs; most are already in seed.

20180916_111013 showy goldenrod croppedShowy Goldenrod

Showy goldenrod still flowers, and pale blue and lavender asters light up the prairie. Indian grasses raise their seedheads to the sky, in rich earth tones of clay and beige. Dock plants are forming bright green seedheads.

A female ruby-throated hummingbird darts and hovers over vines and flowers, chasing competitors away, before perching on a branch to guard her horde. This time of year, they are gorging on nectar to prepare for migration. With this unusual heat and little rain, it is probably difficult for all the birds and animals.

You can follow hummingbird migration online at Journey North also reports on monarch migration. If you like, you may report your hummingbird and monarch sightings online there as well. It will improve our understanding of the effect of weather on these two sensitive creatures!

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



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