SPRING - May 1 - May 31


May 1 - Little, colorful, active songbirds known as warblers are migrating through the area now, timed perfectly with the hatching of midge larvae into flying adults. Midges are often mistaken for mosquitoes, but note the bottle brush antennae on males, and how they stand with front legs lifted. Warblers barely stay still, constantly flying out of tree branches to catch these tiny insects, then landing again.

May 2 - Western chorus frogs serenade us day and night. Singing since early spring and through most of summer, it is our longest-calling frog. Try this: rub your finger nail down the teeth of a comb. That's what a chorus frog sounds like! Do you hear them outside at a wetland near you?

May 3 - Time to clown around with the American coots. What a goofy assemblage of parts and colors, especially those over-sized feet! Instead of webbed feet like ducks, coots have lobed toes, which makes for a lot of head bobbing while swimming, thus the nickname "mud hen." Those toes also account for their need to run across the top of the water in order to lift off in flight. But their feet are very handy for walking on wetland vegetation and ferociously battling for territory. Coots are definitely worth a longer look.

May 4 - Let's hang out with a high ranking butterfly. Red admirals are returning to re-populate northern North America. That's right, some of them migrate. They also hibernate in states further south, and some of them stay there all year. Males are very territorial, perching in sunny spots and circling outwards to chase away competitors and to attract females to mate.

May 5 - Look up -- American white pelicans are soaring effortlessly overhead. Look down -- pelicans are peacefully paddling past. These migrants are returning to our skies and lakes from the Gulf Coast. They nest at only a dozen confirmed sites in Minnesota, the closest being near Starbuck, and travel about 30 miles for food. Our local birds may be in breeding condition (as indicated by the bony plate on the upper mandible), and could be passing through or searching for a suitable site.

May 6 - Brown-headed cowbirds sound enchanting and creepy at the same time. The male's gurgling song will help your eyes find them. Look up high as they peer down low, scouting out another bird's nest to lay their eggs in when nobody's home. That behavior is called nest parasitism and allowed them to follow the once numerous, nomadic bison herds.

May 7 - Buzzz, buzzz, buzzz. Most people pass by this new sound, thinking it's an insect in the tall grass. When you follow the buzz, you see a small, brown bird instead. A few features stand out, like the gray collar and white head stripes. Clay-colored sparrows have returned from Mexico. Males re-claim the same nesting territory year after year, and females choose a new mate.  (Source:  Cornell Lab's All About Birds web site)

May 8 - Female red-winged blackbirds are arriving. Now the males' efforts double, from establishing and defending nesting territories from each other to also attracting females to mate with. Each male works hard to maintain a group of several females. Watch for their zippy chase scenes over the cattails to catch your eye and ear.

May 9 - Pretty prairie smoke, a low-growing plant should be blooming now, but their small pink flowers are hard to find. It's not until later in the season when the fuzzy seed plumes blow in the breeze, making them easier to locate. Their flowers are buzz pollinated primarily by the first bumblebees, queens, beating their wings to shake the pollen onto their bellies. (Source: Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation)

May 10 - Eastern tent caterpillar larvae have emerged from their egg case where they overwintered. Now they are spinning their own silken tents, thermoregulating by moving between layers. They depart and return three times daily to feed on nearby tree leaves. Eastern tent caterpillars do not usually impact tree health and are eaten by 60 birds species, 127 insect parasites, 28 insect predators, frogs, mice, bats, reptiles, squirrels, skunks, and bears. (Source: Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station and Conservation Resource Alliance)

May 11 - Although they can skate on the water surface like water striders, water spiders have 8 legs and only 2 body parts. Fishing spiders live up to their name, as they can also dive under water when alarmed or to capture a minnow or tadpole. Like most spiders, they are timid and rarely bite people.

May 12 - Swooping cliff swallows have returned from Mexico. They think the PWLC barn and silo are cliffs that they can build their jug-shaped nests on. (Those are not wasp nests, by the way.) Look closely at one nest. Each dried blob is a beak-full of mud delivered by one of the parents. How many trips do you think they must take in order to create the entire net?

May 13 - The world is greening up! Lush growth is quickly overtaking last year's browns. From cattail leaves shooting up in wetlands to cool season grasses in the prairie like smooth brome, and tree and shrub leaves in the oak savanna at Mallard Marsh -- our world is transforming from 8 months of browns to 4 months of greens. Do you see the changes happening around you?

May 14 - The white flowers of pussy toes look and feel like the soft toe pads of house cats, partly because they don't have petals. Every part of this short plant is hairy and soft, though. Look for pussy toes in sunny places like mowed trails and dry prairies.

May 15 - Baltimore orioles are back! They wintered in Florida, Central America, and northwest South America. Their striking colors and clear, whistling song brighten our backyards and open woods, especially near water. They are easily attracted to eat grape jelly and oranges cut in half. You can also spot them high in the tops of trees where they forage for insects and the males sing.

May 16 - Watch the cabbage white butterfly flutter by. This species overwinters as a pupa in its chrysalis, so it's one of the first species to appear from metamorphosing (as opposed to migrating). Males patrol a small area, and females lay eggs on some garden and farm plants. Introduced from Europe to Quebec around 1860, it is one of two non-native butterfly species to become widespread. Source: Butterflies of the North Woods by Larry Weber

May 17 - Time to find the first goslings and ducklings. They are hatching out and hitting the water, fuzzy little balls of cuteness. Canada goose families parade by in a line with mom (the goose) out front leading the way and dad (the gander) bringing up the rear, ever watchful for danger. Where have you see goslings and ducklings so far?

May 18 - Listen for Canadian toads singing. Their fast trill is first noticed in the warmer air temperatures of later spring. Males are calling to females to lay their long strings of eggs in shallow water during mating. With each trill, they inflate the air sac on the front of their neck.

May 19 - You can hear a bird that sounds like that loveable Star Wars droid, R2-D2, in the greening hills again, now returning from South America. Listen and watch for the fast, chattery songs of bobolinks and their dramatic display flights, fights, and chases as males vigorously establish and defend their nesting territories and mates. They are completely dependent upon prairie for their spring and summer habitat needs.

May 20 - Two possible species of tree frogs are now calling, the Cope's gray tree frog and the gray tree frog. They look identical and can be grey or green. The best way to tell them apart is by their calls, still a good challenge. Cope's sounds like a fast, sharp trill while the gray's call sounds slower, like sudden, skidding braking on a bicycle. Males call from wetlands while breeding, then move to trees or buildings.

May 21 - Monarch butterflies are not the only migratory insects. Since green darner dragonflies migrate, too, they are the first "dragons" we see each spring. Have you found your first dragon yet?

May 22 - Watch for baby painted turtles. Tiny hatchlings have been emerging from their nests in the prairie. Laid and hatched last year, they overwintered underground together. When you find one, carefully peek at the underside to see a rich bonus color which fades as they age.

May 23 - Male yellow warblers are singing "sweet, sweet, sweet, I'm-so-sweet!" Their bright and increasingly fast pattern is a common sound near wetlands in late spring. Watch for males perched in trees or on bushes like willow and dogwood. They perform a circle flight when establishing their nesting territories.

May 24 - How could that be dill blooming in the prairie? It is, in fact, not dill, but two look-alikes, golden alexanders and heart-leaved golden alexanders. Noting the leaves and flowers, you can discover how they share features of two relatives, dill and parsley. Look for heart-shaped leaves at the base of the main stem to differentiate between the two alexander species.

May 25 - See if you can catch an orb snail, which is easiest to do when it's swimming upside down collecting oxygen from the air into its shell. Although their shells protect them from some predators, handle gently to avoid breaking them. Snails are an important springtime food source for many duck hens. The calcium in snail shells contributes to calcium needed for egg pro-"duck"-tion.

May 26 - Can you figure out "whichety-whichety-whichety-which" bird that is singing? More often heard than seen, a tiny masked songster persistently sings near wetlands and in cattails. Males arrive first from Central America across the Gulf of Mexico to establish nesting territories. Their fighting intensifies once females arrive. (It's the common yellowthroat.)

May 27 - What golden beauty is now blooming in the prairie. A tubular flower with 5 fused petals, hoary puccoon gets the first part of its name, "hoary," from the soft hairs on its stems and leaves. The word "puccoon" is of Powhatan derivation, referring to reddish dye produced by its root. Source: Wikionary and Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers by Ladd/Oberle

May 28 - Monarch butterflies are arriving! These monarchs are the 3rd generation to successively move north from central Mexico and are the great grandchildren of the monarchs that left here last fall. Watch for females to land briefly, repeatedly on milkweed leaves while laying one tiny egg at a time.

May 29 - Now is a perfect time to find wild columbine blooming in the oak savanna near Mallard Marsh. An upside-down flower, the yellow petals are fused together into columns which change color, matching the orange sepals. They form nectar spurs and attract hummingbirds as their main pollinator.

May 30 - Violets seem to be growing everywhere in the prairie! Several species grow here.
How many different colors of them can you find? Here is an unusual one: bearded birdfoot violet. Note its pale purple, longer petals and white "bearded" throat. The bird foot-shaped leaves often emerge after the blooming period.

May 31 - Great egret and double-crested cormorant eggs are hatching, and parents are feeding their young regurgitated food. Cormorants mainly eat a wide variety of fish species and will fly up to 40 miles to a feeding area. They are worth a closer look and conveniently observable at Adams Park in Fergus Falls on Grotto Lake.