Plenty of Nature on the Dog Trails

By Holly Einess

I arrive at the Arboretum on a cold and cloudy day in the mood to explore some new territory. Looking over the map I’ve grabbed from Oswald Visitor Center, the Dog Trails catch my eye. I’m told by the volunteers at the visitors’ desk that the trails are well worth a hike (no dog required), so I drive up to the Hill Top Parking lot and set off.

View from the Blue Dog TrailView from the Blue On-Leash Dog Trail

There are goldenrods in abundance, their fluffy seeds silvery in the muted light. Many display ball galls on their stems, while others have bunch galls. The latter are formed when tiny flies called midges lay eggs in the topmost leaf bud, causing the stem to stop growing but not the leaves. The resulting rosette of leaves provides food and shelter for the midge larvae.

Goldenrod bunch gallGoldenrod Bunch Gall

In among all the goldenrod are several kinds of thistles, their feathery interiors contrasting with spiky exteriors.

ThistleThistle 

Crows, chickadees, and blue jays are calling as light snow starts drifting down; a white-breasted nuthatch takes flight from its perch when a downy woodpecker lands nearby. Entering a more wooded area I hear a rustling sound in the undergrowth and spot a flash of red–a ruby-crowned kinglet with its red crown visible! Normally the red is hidden except when the male is excited, usually during mating season. These tiny birds have a wing-flicking habit as they hop about and tend to move quickly, yet they burn only about 10 calories per day.

Ruby-crowned kingletRuby-crowned Kinglet

Once more out in the open I see robins foraging on the trail and flying up into a crabapple tree. Some of these may well spend all winter here, moving about in flocks to help them locate food (berries, crabapples, insect eggs) and sheltering in conifers at night to conserve body heat. While a certain percentage of robins has always overwintered in Minnesota, we will likely see more doing so as average nighttime temperatures continue to rise.

As I come to the end of my hike I see a flock of wild turkeys in the distance, moving fast. Curious to know what they might be running from or toward, I quicken my pace to investigate, but they’ve disappeared into the woods by the time I reach the parking lot. Just as well; I’m chilled and eager to warm up on the drive home, but happy to have discovered another set of trails at the Arboretum.

Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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