Nature Notes

Wild Animals

By Mary Beth Pottratz

Foggy, moist air feels soothing to breath after the harsh dryness and extreme cold of last week’s polar vortex. At 37⁰ above zero, I inhale the scents of wet bark and melting snow.

This morning’s dense fog has lifted a little. Puddles form at my feet, and although the mist is light, condensation forms drops on pine needles.

20190203_145301Droplets on pinesDrops on Pine needles

Red-bellied woodpeckers chatter at each other as they skitter up tree trunks. Chickadees are calling back and forth. From far off in the woods, I hear barred owls calling “who, who, who cooks for you-all?”

20190203_143857Across Green Heron PondGreen Heron Pond

I can barely discern trees across Green Heron Pond through the fog. Blue jays flit between trees along the trail, making soft, unusual guttural calls. A squirrel seems frozen in place on a tree branch, tail arched, repeating a plaintive call.

20190203_152514(0)witch hazelWitch Hazel

Little has changed during the past winter month: red oaks still cling fiercely to as many leaves as they can muster, witch hazel blooms hug their branches. But many walkers and cyclists are out, enjoying this moist winter respite.

20190203_144607snowshoe tracksSnowshoe tracks

Wild animal tracks are still visible in the snow, including deer, turkey, squirrel and even human shoes, snowshoes and cross-country skis. Tannins from leaves under the snowpack show orange-brown through the tracks.

Indoors, an interesting display of life-sized botanical art lines the walkway. “Roots to Healing” by the U of MN’s College of Biological Sciences Conservatory discusses its role in exploring plants’ uses in several cultures, and conserving them before they disappear.

I sip coffee, watching the antics of chickadees taking turns at a feeder. Two small squirrels scavenge dropped seeds from the ground, while a large gray squirrel sits on a feeder platform, feasting away.

20190203_161818_051Fallen cardinalYoung Cardinal

Suddenly, a loud thunk makes everyone nearby jump. I step to a window and find a young cardinal, stunned and blinking while breathing slowly on the ground.

Bird-window accidents like these can be reduced, and the Arb has already placed vinyl bird clings on the windows. There are many things we can all do to lessen bird-window collisions, and The Audubon Society has several ideas here:

Back outside, a mom and her young son are both catching Pokemon. I join them, stopping to admire a deep purple wild Venonat in the snow.


It’s a whole new world of wild animals!

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


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