By Holly Einess
I start today’s hike intending to walk around Wood Duck Pond, but a sign tells me the trail is temporarily closed (due to wet conditions, no doubt). So instead I take Wood Duck Trail straight to the prairie, arriving there none too soon, as the mosquitoes near the pond are fierce and I forgot to bring bug spray.
As soon as I emerge into the prairie I hear the distant “who-cooks-for-you” call of a barred owl. There is a profusion of white and red clover on the mown trails, and of white wild indigo in the prairie itself. Tiny blue damselflies are hovering and alighting in and on the grasses.
Tree swallows are chittering loudly as they swoop after insects, and song sparrows are chipping to one another. A flash of orange catches my eye, and I think “monarch!” but quickly realize this butterfly is moving a lot faster than any monarch I’ve ever seen. It stops zooming long enough to land on a false sunflower and I see that it’s a great spangled frittilary, with little resemblance to the monarch other than its color.
Great spangled frittilary
Blister beetles are clambering about on the white indigo blossoms and flying from one plant to another, wings buzzing loudly as they careen right past my head. I’m careful not to inadvertently swat at one, as they excrete a chemical called cantharadin that causes blistering on human skin.
I find a bench and sit to take a water break. Bees, flies, and beetles buzz; dragonflies come and go; grasses sway and rustle in the light breeze; various birds—chickadees, common yellow throats, and crows—call to one another. Traffic noise is notably absent, and I can feel my body relaxing as I allow myself to simply be still for a time.
As I finish my tour of the prairie I spot an indigo bunting high in an oak tree, blue feathers muted in the thick foliage of the canopy. I pass a few clusters of prairie phlox, their pink flowers visited by a small orange moth, and a patch of spiderwort, blossoms just beginning to open.
Heading back into the woods I follow signs to the Wildflower Garden, emerging on the other side to check on the yellow lady’s slippers, whose blooms are beginning to fade. It’s clear that summer is now in full swing; I look forward to its continuing unfolding.
Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.