December 14, 2022 Discovering Minnesota’s Ecology: Notes From The Field As the winter snows start to fall, our crews now have a bit of time to reflect on another super busy and productive field season. One of the most rewarding aspects of our job is the opportunity to observe Minnesota’s ecology, the plant and animal interactions, within the natural areas that we manage. Each year is incredibly unique due to the variability in weather and the complexities in plant and animal populations. Observations help us understand the systems we create and manage at Natural Shore. Below are just a few highlights that we are excited to share with you. The growing season begins with our crews eager to get out into the field, ready to enjoy the spring ephemerals and the bird migration. The wonderful spring plant-insect-bird interactions were slow to get going with the cloudy, cooler, wet conditions. But while our plant communities were set back a bit, we were glad to see consistent spring rains after last year’s drought. This spring, bloom times, especially with species such as Blue Flag Iris, Columbine, and Wild Geranium seemed to be about two weeks behind due to the cloudy and cool weather. We noticed our first hummingbirds, bats, orioles, and Indigo buntings the second week of May. We had an especially memorable site visit when our crew witnessed a newborn deer roll down a hill and into a pond. After the initial shock wore off, we ran to the shore edge and were able to remove the fawn from the water. After drying off the fawn and putting him in the sun, the attentive mother deer eventually came back and guided him to an area with thick cover. That was a close call. The cool, wet spring abruptly turned into warm, sunny days, and our crews were more than ready for the season ahead. We took some time to become familiar with a few of our more elusive native plants. For example Waterpod (Ellisia nyctelea), Lowland Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia hybrida), and Ditch Stonecrop (Penthorum sedoides). Our crews kept a close eye out for adult and larval monarchs on their milkweed host plants, but our crew definitely saw fewer monarchs than last year. This year, we recorded 8 sightings of the endangered Rusty-patched bumblebee, while last year we recorded a total of 15 on a variety of sites that we manage. We experienced a wonderfully long fall season, and the asters put on quite a show. We did notice that the bloom periods for selected species were a bit unusual. While smooth blue and sky-blue aster seemed to be in synchrony, aromatic aster started blooming before the New England aster! Sneezeweed, a common blooming cohort of the New England aster, was in full bloom much earlier than New England aster. This may have been due to the drought conditions impacting Minnesota’s ecology. Along with the asters, our prairie grasses put on a beautiful show of color. Big bluestem towered over the other prairie species with its purplish, 3-parted flowering spikes. Switchgrass added a beautiful texture with its airy open panicles. And, Indian grass contributed a great upright form and its copper-colored spikes to the tallgrass prairie landscape. As we approached the end of the growing season, we witnessed goldfinches prying into oxeye and Echinacea seed heads for the tasty seed bounty inside. We enjoyed watching more and more birds visiting our natural areas as the migration season picked up. It’s a good feeling to know we played a part in providing valuable food sources essential for successful bird migrations. This was a wonderful and amazing year of observing Minnesota’s ecology through world around us. Each year is unique. We are privileged to learn more and more about the interesting and inspiring native plants and animals that call Minnesota home. We appreciate and truly value the relationships we have with our clients and hope to see everyone again next spring!