Nature Notes

Waning Winter in the Spring Peeper Meadow

By Holly Einess

With deep snow on the ground and temps in the low 20s, it’s not feeling particularly spring-like as I arrive at the Spring Peeper Meadow. A few splashes of color stand out—the shriveled fruits of the nannyberry (dark blue) and highbush cranberry (bright red), the washed-out red of sumac fruit clusters, and the warm red stems of red osier dogwood.

red osier dogwoodRed osier dogwood

I take a close look at the buds on a number of shrubs and trees. These buds were formed late last summer and fall before the plants went dormant for the winter, and they contain next season’s leaves or twigs. The buds are protected by overlapping modified leaves called scales. Though relatively inconspicuous now, it won’t be too long before the lengthening days and warmer temperatures cause the buds to swell and burst open.

buds waiting for springBuds waiting for spring

The sky has slowly cleared as I’ve been walking, and the sun is warm on my face and hands. Small twigs poking up out of the snow are also absorbing the sun’s warmth and gently radiating it back out, causing the snow around them to melt and form “tree circles.”

tree circlesTree circles

I venture out to the end of the observation deck that extends into the still-frozen wetland, the snow nearly reaching my knees and leaving deep footprints. An interpretive sign (one of several colorful and informative ones sprinkled along my walk) offers suggestions for how to become a wetland steward: “Maintain your car; Use fertilizer wisely; Grow more plants.”

blazing a trailBlazing a trail

There has been a noticeable lack of bird activity until finally I see and hear a few chickadees. They are pipping to one another and hopping up and down the red-barked trunks of Norway pines.

black-capped chickadeeBlack-capped chickadee

I lose myself for a time observing their high-energy activity, impressed by their spunkiness and their ability to survive a winter of extreme cold and snowfall. They must be as eager as I am for the colors, warmth, and renewed life of spring to arrive.

Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer

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