SPRING June 1 - June 19


June 1 - Prairie ragwort, at only a foot tall, is a perky plant named for its small, ragged looking leaves. This golden, showy new spring bloom is an important pollinator plant for small species of flies, bees, and butterflies. Search for it in dry to mesic prairie sites, whereas its nearly identical looking relative, balsam ragwort, grows in wet locations.

June 2 - Let's go outside, and maybe "wheel" see damselflies mating. When you see a male and female flying or perched in a circular arrangement, known as the wheel position, mating is taking place. The same is true for dragonflies. Before or after mating, they may fly with the male clasping the back of the female's head. In this way he guards other males from mating with her, protecting his genetic legacy.

June 3 - The elusive Virginia rail is more often heard than seen. When you detect the metallic sound of two stones tapping together coming from within a marsh, then you are hearing this secretive bird. Keep watching carefully to catch a glimpse of its interesting behaviors. Each short, rounded wing has a claw to help it climb stems and catch insects to eat. It seldom flies, and its flexible vertebrae help it wind through thick, vertical vegetation. Long toes allow it to stand on floating plants.

June 4 - Several species of spring ephemeral wildflowers bloom in oak savannas this time of year, including starry false Solomon's seal. This one creates only a few blooms at the end of the stem (not underneath the leaves), and its relatively narrow leaves clasp the stem. Bees and flies visit the flowers, attracted to the pollen and nectar. Woodland songbirds eat the berries like thrushes and the veery, as well as the white-footed mouse.

June 5 - You may become distracted by the killdeer's broken wing display in spring. To protect their eggs, parents fake an injury to divert us away from the nest, complete with distress calls. Predators fall for this trick, seeing the adult as easy prey, who later simply flies away.

June 6 - Only the most patient naturalists actually get to see a plains pocket gopher in action since they spend most of their time underground. One adult gopher may pile up 200 soil mounds in a year and move more than four tons of soil, bringing about 2¼ tons of soil to the surface. As they dig, gophers "swim” through the dirt forming tunnels up to 300 feet in length. They assist with soil formation, increase water infiltration, conserve moisture, aerate soil, reduce compaction, improve drainage, increase nitrogen, and create openings and habitat. How many gopher mounds can you find today? 

June 7 -  Have you ever discovered a snake shedding? Snakes shed their skin as they grow. The process starts when the snake rubs its nose on something hard, breaking the dry skin. It rubs against objects to roll the old skin off inside-out, like peeling a sock off your foot. Look carefully at the different kinds of scales for the belly compared to the sides and top. Each eye even has a special circular scale to protect it, as snakes don't have eyelids and never blink.

June 8 - It's time to find 12-spotted skimmers. A flashy, large dragonfly, the males' wings have 12 black spots plus 10 white patches (black only for females). Individuals hunt from an elevated perch and return repeatedly to it. Males also launch aerial territorial defense attacks from this home base. Look for them near water and in yards.

June 9 - The more you go outside this time of year, the better your chances of watching a turtle laying her eggs. Snapping turtles may travel a long distance to find a suitable nesting site. They mature at about 12 years of age and lay up to 30 eggs once per year. Each mom uses her back feet to laboriously dig a hole. After laying her ping-pong-sized eggs, she then uses her back feet to fill in the hole, covering them. She digs while never seeing the nest she makes or the eggs she lays, leaving them to bake in the warm, sunny earth and hatch unattended.  (Source: Reptiles and Amphibians of Minnesota Field Guide by Stan Tekiela)

June 10 - A prairie favorite is blooming now, large-flowered beardtongue. This spectacular, showy plant has a short blossom time and is pollinated by hummingbirds, bees, a wasp, and Syrphid flies. It typically grows in sandy-gravelly well-drained soil where vegetation is sparse. As a result, fire cannot usually access and damage its growth buds which are located just above the ground. (Source: Illinois Wildflowers web site)

June 11 - Time to taste cattail pollen! They are blooming now. Look for a double "cat tail" at the top of the long stem. The upper part contains the male flowers which produce bright yellow pollen. Try tapping the top of the cattail into your hand. If the timing is right, fine, powdery pollen should fall into your palm. The entire cattail plant is edible, so go ahead and taste it! What does its flavor remind you of?

June 12 - Let's search for monarch butterfly eggs. How many can you find? Look on the undersides of milkweed leaves located near the top of the plant. They are off-white in color with ridges and holes. Each female lays 300-500 eggs over 2-5 weeks. After about 4 days, you can see the black head of the caterpillar inside the egg when it's almost ready to hatch.

June 13 - Now you can see how prairie smoke got its name. This short, early blooming native forb's cottony seeds are ripe now and blow on the breeze, making it easier to find, and resembling smoke. Each seed is a hitch-hiker, travelling to new locations by hooking into clothing or animal fur. It grows in dry prairies, especially gravelly hill prairies. When you find it, be sure to gently touch those cottony "old man's whiskers," another name for it.  (Sources: Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie by Runkel and Roosa; Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers by Ladd and Oberle)

June 14 - While exploring outside, we might find a garden carrion beetle. This decomposer is associated with carrion, that is, dead animals, and in decaying vegetation. Although its larvae feed on the carcass, adults eat fly larvae (maggots) which are also found on carrion. Carrion beetles reduce the number of pesty flies and expedite nutrient cycling, an important role in ecosystem functioning. (Sources: Bug Eric web site and Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America by Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman)

June 15 - An intriguing plant, white death camas, blooms in open prairie. The entire plant is poisonous, even the nectar, pollen, and the green, heart-shaped nectar pads at the base of each petal. The few generalist pollinators who visit its flowers become paralyzed and die soon after. However, one specialist, the death camas bee, can use its pollen and survive. A ground nesting mining bee, it lays each of its eggs on a pollen ball. The larva hatches, eats the pollen, and lives! The advantage of this amazing and efficient strategy is that death camas' pollen is guaranteed to be taken to another death camas plant. (Source: University of Colorado-Boulder, Colorado Arts and Sciences magazine)

June 16 - Rose chafers are out this month. These tan beetles with orange and black spiny legs feed for 3 or 4 weeks, mate, lay eggs in sandy soil, then die. Adults feed on flower blossoms, fruits, and leaves of a variety of plants. They contains toxins and can be deadly if eaten by birds and small mammals. (Source: University of Minnesota Extension web site)

June 17 - Beautiful ground plum is blooming and turning to fruit. Also known as buffalo pea, this low growing flower may be purple, pink, or blue and is pollinated by bumble bees. The fruits are edible and taste like peas, but positive identification is critical since other members of the legume family are toxic. (Sources: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Wildflowers of Minnesota and The Prairie Ecologist web sites)

June 18 - Yes, you can stop and smell the pink prairie roses. There are several kinds that occur here. The most important features to note are the number of leaflets per leaf and the presence or absence of spines. Our most commonly seen species, early wild rose, has 5-7 leaflets, smooth flower stalks, and smooth red rose hips (fruits).

June 19 - Killdeer eggs are hatching, and the precocious young are on the move. Parents protect them with the same alarm calls and broken wing distraction displays they used while nesting. Watch closely, use binoculars, and walk slowly as the chicks skitter down the trail, giving them lots of space until they can safely escape.