Nature Notes

Clean Slate

Tracks under the snow are fun to find. A small animal such as a mouse or vole travels under snow possibly to avoid being caught by a raptor.

By Mary Beth Pottratz

A bright sun takes the edge off today’s temperature: a high of 1⁰F above zero. Winds are calm, and birds are out to flit in the sunshine and look for food. Snow glitters on the landscape, blanketing dried grasses and flowers. Nuthatches call their nasal “aunk” from nearby trees and dark-eyed juncos silently check trails for seeds.

At the wetland along Wood Duck Pond, it’s as though the lush green has been erased, leaving only beige, dried cattails dusted lightly with snow. Come spring, green regrowth will fill in this blank canvas.

Cattails dusted lightly with snow

But for now, fallen stems and flowers have been consumed by animals, fungi, and bacteria, and are enriching the soil. Some of our summer frogs have burrowed into the ground or under leaves and bark to survive the winter. Others hang aimlessly in water, their bodies protected by high glucose levels that prevent freezing during winter dormancy.

Animal Tracks

Animal tracks can teach us what animals are active nearby and what they are doing. Paw prints and sets of tracks in otherwise fresh snow are almost irresistible. What made the tracks? How many? Where were they going? Were they running or moving slowly?

Tracks under the snow

Tracks under the snow are fun to find. A small animal such as a mouse or vole travels under snow possibly to avoid being caught by a raptor. In this case, it left a bump above the snow showing its route.

Prairie burn

A prairie burn can create a fresh start by suppressing nonnative invasive plants that take up the soil nutrients, water, sunshine, and crowd out our native plants. The roots and seedbanks of our native flora can then flourish. In this photo, snow covers the burnt area, and grasses and plants are visible in the area that was not burned. Check back here next summer to see the new prairie growth!

A dark-eyed junco and a black-capped chickadee wait on opposite sides of a bird feeder as though each is waiting for the other to leave. A red-breasted nuthatch replaces the junco, but both leave quickly when a blue jay lands on the top of the feeder, flaps its wings, and looks around menacingly.

Aspen Trees

A stand of aspen trees reflect late afternoon sunlight on its bare branches. But look closer to see the already-forming buds for next year’s leaves. Like the aspen, the cattails, the prairie, I too have a fresh start to the new year. I hope you do too!

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

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