Nature Notes

Starting Off a New Year

By Mary Beth Pottratz

The winter sun peeks out from behind clouds, lighting up a new year on the Arboretum grounds. And with that start, our days will gradually grow longer! Visitors leisurely stroll the paths with a relatively warm 30⁰ temperature and almost no wind.

Wild Turkeys peck the ground around trees, and warily trail single file past me down the hillside to gather fallen seeds at the bird feeders outside the Arboretum cafe.

Hairy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, black-capped chickadees, northern cardinals and blue jays call, flit and fly in the treetops near the patio feeders. Each awaits an opportunity to grab some seeds before being chased away by the next hungry winged warrior.

Amid all the brouhaha, twenty-one cedar waxwings perch still and silent on river birch branches.

A layer of snow with an iced top carpets the grounds. Mammal, bird and human footprints are everywhere. The Arboretum staff have placed piles of brush carefully about the grounds. These are important shelters for birds and small animals, to protect them from predators such as owls, hawks, fox, coyotes and others. This one, near the bronze statue of St. Francis of Assisi – patron saint of animals and our environment – offers the additional service of directing traffic!

A small mammal superhighway runs from beneath one spruce tree to another, with a network of small pawprints in the snow.

Witch hazel is still sporting its tiny but very rugged mustard-colored flowers. Sunlight plays off the pinecones and needles of a hybrid pine.

And Arboretum admission is free through Jan. 31, 2020! Now everyone can start off their new year at the Arboretum, too. Bring a friend!

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

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