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Our home is near Lake Waconia, in Carver County, where we received less than normal rainfall in May, only .41 inch rain for the month of June, and less than 2 inches for July. During the growing season, one inch of rain is needed per week, so this summer we have seen parched corn and soybean fields, watched wetlands drying up, and walked on crunchy lawns.

About 90% of the moisture that falls on Minnesota is carried from ocean sources by moist air masses. The greatest amount of it comes from the Gulf of Mexico but a small portion originates in the Pacific Ocean. Local moisture sources such as evaporation off lakes and transpiration from vegetation are of less importance. We are aware that our precious water resources are used over and over again. My young science students from Hopkins Schools always enjoyed learning that the water they drank and brushed their teeth with was no doubt used by dinosaurs to bathe in.

Finally this past weekend, the right atmospheric conditions came together to give us a total of about 2.5 inches of rain in the Waconia area. Already farm fields have perked up, vegetable and flower gardens show spurts of growth, and lawns have greened a bit too much. We are not out of the drought yet but ponds have more water and other natural areas like prairies and maple-basswood forests seem more alive.

Common ragweeds, with their green flowers, have begun shedding pollen into the air to be carried by the wind. In our part of the country, this ragweed accounts for more hayfever symptoms than any other plant species. Canada goldenrod has just started blooming and is showy. Goldenrods do not cause hayfever because their pollen is heavy and sticky and is carried on the sides of insects rather than in the air.

Other recent observations:

  • Raccoons, eastern chipmunks and gray squirrels take green acorns from bur oak trees.
  • Flocks of Canada geese are flying and honking.
  • Birds commonly seen at birdbaths include blue jays, Baltimore orioles, American robins, black-capped chickadees and gray catbirds.
  • Northern cardinals sing until about 30 minutes after sunset.
  • For a number of years and up to 1964, when the common loon was selected as the symbol of the North Woods and our lakes, the American goldfinch was the Minnesota state bird. American goldfinches add a definite liveliness to the open country with their yellow-and-black coloring, their rollercoaster flights through the air, and their sweet songs of "just-look-at-me! just look at me!" The familiar "wild canary" is a seed-eater but also eats some berries and insects. These birds are late-nesters, waiting until mid-July into August when a good supply of wild seeds like thistle seeds can be counted on. Regurgitated seeds are what they feed their young.

Jim Gilbert has taught and worked as a naturalist for more than 50 years.