Nature Notes

The Cycle of Seasons

A flock of dark-eyed juncos lifts from the ground into the trees, then descends again to the ground, where they scratch about in the leaf litter in search of seeds and insects.

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By Holly Einess

It’s a beautiful, unseasonably warm day. The recent strong winds have abated, and a light breeze and blue sky have lured many people out to the Arb. Though it’s only early April there are already flowers in bloom in the Terrace and Perennial Gardens. While these particular plants are not native to MN, they are nonetheless a welcome and familiar sign of spring.

Spring flower medley

Siberian and striped squill are also in full bloom. Both are non-native plants and Siberian squill have been particularly successful in spreading from gardens into the wild (and lawns!) and are considered invasive. This doesn’t seem to concern the wasps and bees, who are busily visiting their blossoms. (Quick tip on telling wasps from bees: Wasps generally have smooth bodies, narrow “waists,” and long legs; while bees tend to be fuzzy and more plump with shorter legs.)

Paper wasp and honey bee on squill

In the Wildflower Garden, hepatica (yes! A Minnesota native!) is in bloom, with blossoms both white and lavender. I venture off the paved path into the woods and stop on a bridge to watch water bugs scooting across the surface of the stream below, the bright sun casting shadows of their bodies onto the stream bed.

Stream through the woods

A flock of dark-eyed juncos lifts from the ground into the trees, then descends again to the ground, where they scratch about in the leaf litter in search of seeds and insects. A common winter bird in our part of the state, they will soon be departing for northern Minnesota and Canada to breed. A birding friend of mine swears that as long as juncos are hanging around, there’s a good chance we’ll still get snow, so don’t put away your shovels just yet!  

Dark-eyed junco

I cross Three-Mile Drive into the prairie, where blackened grasses are evidence of last fall’s controlled burns, intended to revitalize the prairie landscape. I follow a grassy trail over a small hill and down again into a shallow wetland, where I’m greeted by a racket of croaks and clucks from chorus and wood frogs.  

Frog breeding grounds

I still have time for a quick walk around Green Heron Pond and am heading purposefully there when a fellow visitor, seeing my camera, asks whether I noticed the turtles sunning themselves near the bridge. Why no, I hadn’t! I turn back, and sure enough, there are two basking on logs and one swimming in the water. The first turtle sightings of the season, according to Joe, who visits the Arb daily.

Painted Turtle

A pair of Canada geese stands in the shallow water off the boardwalk. Pussy willows are a-buzz with small bees. A hooded merganser pair is swimming and diving on the pond. And so continues the cycle of seasons here in Minnesota, where the warmth and new life of spring is especially sweet after the cold and quiet of winter.

Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer

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