Nature Notes

On Assignment at the Arb

By Holly Einess

As I leave my house for the Arboretum this morning, my husband says, “I want you to get a photo of a chipmunk, a dragonfly, and… hmmm… a heron. Great blue, black-crowned night, green, doesn’t matter; just don’t come home without it.”

I’m surprisingly pleased to be given this playful assignment, and find it helps me decide where to begin my explorations for the day. Arriving at the Arboretum, I head toward the Iris Garden pond, but as I approach it I’m distracted by a hummingbird as it darts up into a tree, then descends to drink nectar from jewelweed blossoms. I watch for a time before continuing on, but am stopped again, this time by a movement on the ground—an American toad hopping across the gravel path.

american toadAmerican toad

The most common toad in Minnesota, it has few predators due to its bitter-tasting skin. This little guy is surprisingly cooperative as I get in close to take photos, and when I’m done I gently nudge him off the path to the safety of the grass.

Finally, I take a look out over the pond, but alas, no herons in sight. I do hear the chipping of a chipmunk and take a few photos (Part 1 of assignment: check!), then hear goldfinches calling. A whole flock takes flight from a stand of giant sunflowers, flashing brilliant yellow in the morning sunlight.

I head to Green Heron Pond but see no sign of its namesake, so take Lost Pond Trail for one final attempt at finding a heron.

lost pond trailLost Pond Trail

As I walk, I notice several different kinds of small mushrooms emerging from the woodchip trail. Most have the traditional mushroom shape, with an umbrella-like top on a thin stem. One fungus, though, is made up of small furry-looking balls and open cups with what appear to be tiny stones inside. This is a bird’s nest fungus—aptly named!

bird's nest fungusBird’s nest fungus

I reach Lost Pond, and though I’m stymied once again in my search for a heron, I enjoy watching a group of wood ducks lined up along a log, and a couple of duckweed-covered painted turtles sunning themselves.

I return via Ridge Trail, pass through the Wildflower Garden, and continue on to the Garden for Wildlife, where a dozen or more monarchs are feasting on rough blazing star. (Consider planting blazing star in your garden—there are several varieties—if you’d like to attract monarchs and provide food for their long migration south.)

monarchs feastingMonarchs feasting

I end in the Prairie Garden, where a tiny autumn meadowhawk perches on the end of a twig, repeatedly taking off and returning. Part 2 of assignment: check!

autumn meadowhawkAutumn meadowhawk

I leave the Arboretum happy with today’s visit and hopeful that Part 3 will be accomplished on a future one.

Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer

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