Nature Notes

First Taste of Winter

Chickadees call, and one goes to work extracting seeds, clutching the seedhead with her feet as she hangs upside down, her weight seemingly negligible.

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By Holly Einess

It’s been a lovely fall, with so many “last” sunny, mild days that I thought autumn might go on forever. Until this weekend’s snowfall brought the season abruptly to an end. The dark-eyed juncos have been back from their summer homes for weeks already, and they seem to be loving the fresh snow near Green Heron Pond. Dozens of them flit from the ground to the trees and back, a flurry of activity, as a pair of pine siskins looks on.

Pine siskins

Two gray squirrels chase each other frantically up, down, and around a tree. A cardinal flies past, then a blue jay. Chickadees call, and one goes to work extracting seeds, clutching the seedhead with her feet as she hangs upside down, her weight seemingly negligible.

Black-capped chickadee

The snow on the boardwalk shows multiple sets of footprints, both human and squirrel. The tall tamarack trees have dropped their needles and now stand bare. I step off the boardwalk onto a narrow footpath, curious to see whether the marsh marigold blossoms I saw last month are still hanging on; they are!

Marsh marigold

Green Heron Trail takes me past lots of cattails, some still compact and brown, others bursting with fluff. Lost Pond sparkles as the clouds briefly part. A plump cardinal glows red in the momentary sunlight.

Northern cardinal

While the landscape looks mostly wintry today, there are still some remnants of fall color. A patch of forest-floor leaves looks especially colorful against the snow. A cluster of oak trees has plenty of russet-colored leaves. A small tamarack has yet to drop its golden needles, and there’s still some red foliage to be seen.

Remnants of fall

I hear loud chattering and look up to see a gray squirrel pop out of a hole, chase off a red squirrel, then zoom back into his hole. The red returns, is again chased off, tries from another angle, once again is foiled, and finally gives up. “Good for you, gray squirrel!” I think to myself, as reds are notoriously feisty and often manage to bully their larger gray cousins into getting their way.

Gray and red squirrels

A nuthatch calls “yank-yank” as it hops down a nearby tree trunk, then out along the underside of a branch. Nuthatches, along with the other birds I’ve seen today, will be with us all winter, brightening our days with their plumage and calls; something to savor as the days grow shorter and colder.

Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

3 comments on “First Taste of Winter

  1. Beautiful pictures and comments.

  2. Mike Leinfelder

    Great pics and prose. Captures our epic fall and the beauty that is our change of seansons.

  3. Pingback: Arb Links, vol. 54 | News from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

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