Nature Notes

Sights and Sounds on Spring Peeper Trail

By Holly Einess

After several cloudy days, and more on the way, I take this sunny morning as an opportunity to check out the fall colors at the Arboretum. I drop behind the Snyder Building down to the small pond below the waterfall, where a pair of mallard ducks cuts a path through the duckweed, patches of red and yellow among the green surrounding the pond. I make my way to the boardwalk and see that it’s partially frost-covered, at least the sections not yet in sunlight.

Wurtele boardwalkWurtele boardwalk

I hear the calling and pipping of birds and spend some time with binoculars discerning who’s who—dark-eyed juncos, yellow-rumped warblers, a white-breasted nuthatch, ruby-crowned kinglets, song sparrows, and a red-bellied woodpecker are all making the most of the beautiful morning.

I step out onto the Green Heron Pond overlook and find another visitor enjoying the view. She tells me about the wood ducks she saw on Lost Pond, so I head there next and spot them across the water. The red eyes of the males and white eye rings of the females are visible even at a distance. These colorful birds were hunted nearly to extinction by 1900 but thankfully have made a successful comeback.

Wood ducksWood ducks

I take the connector trail back to Spring Peeper Trail, which takes me up a hill through forest and then out into a more open landscape where I welcome the sun’s warmth on this chilly morning. A few asters are still in bloom, and a handful of black-eyed susans, but most of the flowers have gone to seed.

Spring Peeper TrailSpring Peeper Trail

Once again entering a more wooded area, whole flocks of little birds are fluttering about among the smaller trees and shrubs. This time, rather than trying to identify individual species, I simply enjoy their antics and listen to their chattering. I think back to something a seasoned naturalist once said to me: “It’s not so important that you hang a name on everything you see; the main thing is to pay attention and have a sense of curiosity.”

And yet, when I spot a speckle-chested bird up in the branches of a dead tree, I can’t help wanting to ID it. A glimpse of its rust-colored tail suggests it’s likely a hermit thrush. Robins and bluebirds, whose young have speckled breasts, are other thrushes commonly seen in our area.

Hermit thrushHermit thrush

As I make my way back to the boardwalk I finally quiet my mind and tune in to my senses, appreciating the dappled sunlight on the leaf-strewn trail, the feel of the cool breeze against my face, the rustling of the grasses and the foliage, and the fresh-smelling air.

Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer

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