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By Mary Beth Pottratz
Slivers of morning sun quickly disappear as clouds consume the open sky. Light waves of snowflakes drift slowly.
Snowshoers trudge by quickly, jackets unzipped or even tied around the waist. Signs at the Arb indicate snow conditions for Three-Mile Drive, Three-Mile Walking Trail, Snowshoe Trail and Ski Trails. And people are out using them all on this balmy 30⁰ day!
The wind makes a clattering noise as it slips through the dried leaves of an oak tree in the Rain Garden. It is almost fully covered in dried leaves at the very start of February. When trees hang on to their leaves through winter, it is called marcescence. I wonder whether moisture helps? Presumably, this tree receives a higher level of moisture than oaks on high ground or in drier areas of the Arb.
Ironwood is another tree that holds its leaves for a while in winter, usually with more leaves on the lower half of the tree. One theory about marsescence is that it helps the tree to develop its new buds in spring, since deer and other animals are not fond of the bitter or dried leaves.
A single crow sits atop a fir tree, turning and calling in three directions. Black-capped chickadees make furtive little “check” calls to each other. Geese fly far overhead. I hear barely audible, high-pitched “tseet tseet” calls, but see nothing. Despite the relative warmth, few birds abound.
I hope that is not the case at the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count! This fun annual event lets you count from the comfort of your own home as you watch your feeders outdoors to identify and tally your visitors. Anyone can join in on this citizen science project from National Audubon Society and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Learn more here: Great Backyard Bird Count.
As the temperature drops and I prepare to head home, I suddenly catch a group of little black orbs on some tree stems and twigs. Black knot fungus, an interesting bumpy fungus that forms around twigs or on branches of trees in the prunus species, including plums and cherries. It does not harm the tree, as evidenced by the number and apparent ages of the fungi here on this healthy specimen. Some consider it unsightly and prune it off during winter to prevent spread. Me? I think it’s interesting…
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the program is available at www.minnesotamasternaturalist.org .