By Holly Einess, Minnesota Master Naturalist
The weekend forecast calls for clouds and rain, so I take advantage of this afternoon’s sunshine to visit the Arboretum under a blue sky. Thanks to fellow Master Naturalist blogger Mary Beth, I know the spring ephemerals are beginning to bloom in the Dayton Wildflower Garden, so I stop there first. The white three-petaled blossoms of snow trillium hover above the forest floor. Lavender hepatica blooms stand out against brown leaves; the silky hairs on hepatica stems are a distinguishing feature of this early-blooming wildflower.
Maple trees are in full bloom, their flowers like miniature red fireworks among the otherwise bare twigs and branches. An eastern phoebe pumps its tail and scans for insects.
Beside the boardwalk, the buds of marsh marigold are about to burst open. The maroon spathes of skunk cabbage are emerging. The spathe encloses the spadix (a spike of tiny flowers), and will disappear once the flowers have bloomed and the leaves begin growing. Before long only the large green leaves of this plant will remain, then they too will die back by August.
A ruby-crowned kinglet rests in a speckled alder, the red on his crown just visible. He is surrounded by the alder’s male and female flowers, called catkins—the long hanging catkins are the male flowers, and the tiny red ovals are the female. The latter will mature into green cones containing nutlets, and will eventually turn brown—like the cones surrounding the kinglet—and persist through the winter.
An osprey flies overhead, easy to identify by the M shape of its wings. Pussy willows are in bloom, their yellow pollen attracting a few bees braving the chilly temps.
I step off the boardwalk onto a woodchip trail that’s barely above water. After walking a few squishy steps I’m startled by a great blue heron, previously hidden behind a shrub, taking off at my approach. Darn! Why wasn’t I more observant and quieter? I watch as it flies gracefully over the marsh and descends in the distance. I suspect it’s landed near Lost Pond, and set off to find out. Along the way I hear a rustling in the dry leaves beside the trail and see my first garter snake of the season.
The pond comes into view ahead and I start scanning for the heron. Suddenly, to my right, the heron again takes off at my too-hasty approach and heads back where it came from. Grrrr! Now extra determined, I too head back to the boardwalk. My persistence pays off, and I finally get to observe this beautiful bird as it wades slowly through the water searching for food.
Near the bog bridge, a group of painted turtles are sunning themselves on a log. Necks stretched upward and hind legs extended behind, they appear to be soaking up as much warmth as they can. The claws of one are especially visible and impressive, indicating that this one’s a male (females’ claws are shorter).
I, too, savor the sun, knowing it will likely be several days before it appears again. When it finally does, all kinds of pent-up growth is going to burst forth, and I can hardly wait.