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Northland Nature: 2 seasons of stay-at-home nature

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

A fritillary butterfly takes nectar from a milkweed in July. (Photo by Larry Weber)

The vernal equinox, the first day of spring, was chilly with more than a foot of snow on the ground. It was also the beginning of “stay-at-home” due to the coronavirus. I would be walking and watching nature here — not driving anywhere. After a return to zero degrees a few days later, the temperature continued to rise, reaching 50 degrees by month’s end.

As we exited March, a couple migrant birds arrived to stay. While red-winged blackbirds and woodcocks performed in wetlands, robins came back to the yard and ruffed grouse drummed in the woods.

As I walked and watched the season unfold in April, I noted the snowpack demise, the formation of vernal ponds, followed by ice out on a nearby lake. Vernal ponds at this time appeared to have plenty of water and waking wood frogs and chorus frogs called from them. (Unfortunately, limited precipitation in April, May and June dried some of these aquatic homes.)

During April, the return of hawks, ducks and various sparrows along with loons and the first warblers added to the season. Beavers and muskrats swam in swamps, while willows and alders on the shore revealed catkins.

Walking in the woods of May, I was surrounded by thick growths of spring wildflowers, beginning with hepaticas and bloodroots and ending with starflowers and bunchberries. In the midst of tree leafing and blossoming, large warbler waves passed through — a dozen kinds at one site. Grosbeaks, orioles and tanagers added color to their melodies. The swamp that held ice recently now hosted water-lilies and nests of geese and blackbirds. More frogs called and we saw the last frost.


A group of bloodroots bloom on the forest floor in May. (Photo by Larry Weber)

June wanderings showed wildflowers of daisy and hawkweed blooming in open fields. (This tells of spring’s departure — 16 hours of daylight at the summer solstice.) Turtles crawled up on shore to lay eggs and I found nests of veery and warblers in the woods. Dragonflies climbed out of their water-world youth to perform aerial hunting in daylight; fireflies glowed at night. Bears and bobcats were observed crossing the road while twin fawns and a star-nosed mole came to the yard. June had above-normal temperatures, but far below normal precipitation. In the arid heat, birch leaves curled and berries struggled.

As expected, July was hot, a few days above 90 degrees and the rains returned, just in time to help some of the berry crop. In cool morning walks, I watched fireweeds and milkweeds produce new flowers each day. Two trumpeter swans spent their molting time in a nearby pond. With bird songs waning, summer frogs began, and tiny toads emerged from surviving vernal ponds. Butterflies stole the daytime show, and the comet NEOWISE gave us a nighttime treat.

Continuing the rains of July, more came in August (for some of us). On Aug. 8, we recorded more than 4 inches in one storm. Mushrooms responded and were abundant in the woods — easily two dozen forest fungi on a single walk. And I found two kinds of salamanders under one log. Roadsides filled with flowers of goldenrods, asters and sunflowers, while those of July formed seeds. Spiders that matured in previous weeks now built large orb webs. Nighthawks showed impressive evening flights.

A migrating monarch basks and feeds on a goldenrod in September. (Photo by Larry Weber)

Thirteen hours of daylight shortens to 12 by the autumnal equinox, the start of fall. September gives more changes. Red and yellow leaves of maples, dogwoods, birches, basswoods and ashes are filling the woods. Apples are ripe as are hawthorns, highbush cranberries, acorns and maple seeds. Flocks of geese, blue jays, flickers and warblers fly over as well as groups of raptors. Insects such as monarchs and green darners migrate while others continue to buzz with activity in goldenrod patches until the return of frosts. Barred owls and coyotes provide sounds in the cooling nights.


These two seasons of spring and summer with no travel were different from the normal and not what was planned. But, as I saw with regular wandering and watching of wildlife, stay-at-home nature had much to offer. I was never bored.

Nature is here and now. There is a new story here every day. Will we also stay-at-home in autumn? If we do, I’m sure nearby nature will provide much more to observe.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books.
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