Feathers, Fur, Frost, and Flood

By Greg Lecker

As late winter advances day by day, birds are more active.  Cardinals are busily singing here and in the city.  Mallards are returning to my workplace marsh.  Throughout the dark night, neighborhood owls were heard and occasionally could be seen flapping silently between trees.  During my morning walks, I find carcasses of medium sized birds and a rabbit, as well as many scattered feathers.  Great horned owls nested January and February; barred owls nest in March.  Parents and offspring require nourishment especially now, even though prey is scarce.

Fur and FrostFur and Frost

It doesn’t take long to find remains of a prey animal along a path at the Arboretum woodland.  The least disturbing remains I choose to share; the pattern is subtle and would be missed by the casual hiker. If one looks carefully, strands of gray fur appear woven through the frost. The prey could be cottontail rabbit or gray squirrel; the predator raptor or coyote.  They collect food; I collect photographs.

Moss on BranchMoss on Fallen Tree

A bit further along the path, a bit of green catches the eye on this St. Patrick’s morning.  It is moss on a tree branch.  The tree continues to live though it is undoubtedly rotting slowly in the water into which it is settling.

Leaves Steeping in PuddleLeaves Steeping in Puddle

 In the usual spot within the woodland wildflower garden, snow melt waters trickle across the path.  As fallen leaves steep in the puddle; tannins seep out to darken the water.  This small flow is a suggestion of the large amount of water that drains from the snow-covered highlands into the ravine, through Iris Pond and into Green Heron Pond.  Much of the wildflower brook – where marsh marigold will bloom in two months – lies hidden under drifts of snow.

Upstream, past the gardens, deeper into the woods, at the largest footbridge, the spring thaw can be witnessed clearly.  The thinnest veil of ice and snow conceal portions of this spring stream – where a summer flow slows to a flow that is barely discernible in its direction.  Now, one hears as well as sees a constant run of cold water.

Spring ThawSpring Thaw

Downstream, past the Iris Pond, aging White Cedars defy the swamp that has enveloped them.  Native to the northeastern corner of the state, Eastern White Cedar prefers moist to wet soils.  Winter meltwaters have expanded their banks lining their path to Green Heron Pond.

White Cedar SwampWhite Cedar Swamp

Between Iris Pond and Green Heron Pond, large tracks furrow curves amidst frozen water and fallen cattails.  Not animal, but man-made machine – markings of orange construction cones hint that this is preemption and remediation against an expected flood.

Wishing safety and strength for Midwesterners coping with another spring flood season, I turn to leave.  A violet horizon gives way to pinks and cerulean blue overhead.  Morning sun struggles to break through an overcast dawn.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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