By Holly Einess
I arrive at the Arboretum just as the grounds open, hoping to catch some early-morning bird activity. I’ve barely left the parking lot before seeing two goldfinches feasting on coneflower seeds. They are transitioning from their bright breeding plumage to their drabber winter colors. All birds molt—replace their feathers—at least once a year. In the case of goldfinches and most other songbirds, this begins in late summer and continues for six to eight weeks until they have a whole new set of feathers. In the spring their body feathers will be replaced, returning them to their more colorful breeding plumage.
As I set off through the trees toward Wood Duck Trail I encounter a group of wild turkeys. They don’t seem to mind my presence and carry on, unperturbed, foraging methodically through the undergrowth. Emerging from the woods and into the marshland the woodchip trail becomes spongy underfoot, saturated from the recent heavy rains. Not much is in bloom here. A joe-pye weed plant with a few blossoms remaining stands next to one that has gone completely to seed. A patch of woodland sunflowers is attracting a multitude of bees.
Bees on sunflowers
Once again entering the woods I hear the drumming of a pileated woodpecker; a few moments later I spot him ascending a trunk. The pileated is the largest of our state’s woodpeckers. Like most of our woodpeckers they are non-migratory, so this fellow will be with us all winter.
Two northern flickers rest high in a dead tree. A ruby-crowned kinglet darts elusively in and out of the brush as chickadees call to one another and a crow flaps overhead. I hear the “poor sam peabody, peabody, peabody” song of the white-throated sparrow. A common bird in northeastern Minnesota, this one has left its summer home and will either winter here or continue farther south.
It’s not only birds I’m noticing this morning; chipmunks and squirrels have been scurrying along the forest floor gathering food. A chipmunk stops near me and I marvel at the dexterity of its paws as it quickly eats a tasty morsel. And check out those feet! No wonder chipmunks get around as quickly and effortlessly as they do.
Having met no other people on my walk I’m a bit startled when, leaving the trail, I see that the grounds are now bustling with human activity. My early arrival paid off, both in terms of bird sightings and solitude!
Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer