By Holly Einess
The morning is cool, sunny, and fresh. The abundant blooming color of a month ago in the Wildflower Garden is now past, leaving behind only shades of green. Oval, light-green mayapple fruits hang below umbrella-like leaves. The stream burbles in the dappled sunlight. Seeking a quiet hike, I leave the paved trail and head up into the woods on Meadowlark Trail, following and crossing over the stream until I emerge in the Garden for Wildlife. There I encounter a lone male turkey strolling along, pecking at the ground for insects.
He seems in no hurry, and neither am I, so I follow at a distance and really pay attention to this largest of Minnesota’s game birds. I note the spurs on the legs, used for sparring with other males; the “beard” that hangs from the chest and is comprised of filamentous feather-like structures; the snood growing from the beak; the red wattle under the chin; and the warty caruncles covering the head and neck.
The turkey and I part ways and I head to the nearby Prairie Garden, where much is in bloom, including purple prairie clover, black-eyed susan, prairie coneflower, leadplant, butterfly weed, and harebell.
A great spangled frittilary uses its proboscis to seek out nectar from a purple coneflower. A nearby coneflower appears to be hosting a party—a bee, a cankerworm (aka inchworm), and a bunch of ants are all gathered on one flower.
A ruby-throated hummingbird perches briefly on the tip of a dead branch. A song sparrow sings, three notes followed by a varied trill. I hear a “chit” call coming from a bush and peer in to see a fledgling house wren.
Crossing Three-Mile Drive I enter the prairie and follow the mown paths there. Prairie rose, prairie phlox, white wild indigo, tickseed, and leadplant bloom among the grasses. An eastern kingbird alights on a plant stem and peers around before once again taking flight. It’s still cool, with a light breeze, and I savor being on the prairie under full sun and not sweating!
I enter the woods and drop down onto Wood Duck Trail. A chipmunk sees me, freezes, then scampers into the undergrowth, chipping loudly as it goes. Initially the path is shaded, then I emerge from the trees and am once again out in the open, this time surrounded by cattails and marsh grasses, the path damp and squishy underfoot.
I end my hike back in the Wildflower Garden, where ebony jewelwing damselflies flash in the sun. The males (as is often the case in the natural world) are the more colorful, with an iridescent blue or green body. The female’s body is duller, and her wings have little white spots at the tips. But both have hairy legs!
I leave the Arb refreshed, glad to have spent the morning in the company of birds, flowers, and insects.
Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.