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Minnesota Historical Society image from 1893 of Gull Lake Expedition of the Minnesota Zoological Survey.

Having a Field Day

What does it mean to have a field day? In the 18th century, when military troops went out to do maneuvers, they were having a field day. By the 1900s, the term field day also applied to hunting and scientific expeditions. Having a field day soon came to mean having a good time. Today the phrase often means taking advantage of a chance to do something you enjoy.

In this issue "Life in the Landscape" features essays by biologists and ecologists with the DNR Minnesota Biological Survey. Each scientist recounts a field day collecting data and specimens to document native plants, animals, and native plant communities. Despite sometimes daunting conditions, all clearly relish the challenge.

During their field season, MBS biologists inevitably confront the loss of habitat and species. Their joy in discovering what persists is palpable. In addition to reading essays in "Life in the Landscape," I encourage you to read the additional stories we did not have space to publish in the print magazine.

You'll find that a biologist can also have a field night. "My daytimes are spent finding and documenting little swatches of Minnesota as it used to be," Robert Dana writes, "intensely pleasurable but always tempered by the awareness of how little we have spared. But looking up at the night sky away from the urban light-fog gives me unalloyed delight … the sense that I am in the full presence of the world our ancestors experienced. The constellations are so vividly evident, it is no wonder they gave them names and wove them into stories."

Doing night surveys along gravel roads in the southwest, Christi Spak listens for the calls of Great Plains toads. On a cliff above the Mississippi, Jeff LeClere stays after dark to see if the ratsnakes hanging out in trees will return to their den.

Lawson Gerdes has her back against a cliff wall as she waits out a thunderstorm, wondering, "Are my datasheets and field notebook dry? … Will I still have time to accomplish these surveys and paddle back to the truck before dark? Is this rain gear awesome, or what?"

Fatigue vanishes when Rebecca Holmstrom hoists herself onto a beaver dam and spots the small white water lily Nymphaea leibergii, "the first known occurrence in St. Louis County." To collect a specimen, she says, "Looks like I might be going for a swim."

After an exhausting day of exploring in the Boundary Waters, Daniel Wovcha walks along a ridge where he watches a "tree move several yards before it transformed … into a huge set of antlers, trailed behind by the broad, gliding back of a moose."

Ethan Perry revisits a forest study plot and finds decade-old fragments of blue flagging tape—clues to a story: A woodpecker nesting tree becomes home to yellow-bellied sapsucker chicks and, finally, atop a rotting stump, a veery nest.

Derek Anderson recalls how a thoughtful landowner in the southeast led him to discover great Indian plantain (Arnoglossum reniforme), a rare member of the sunflower family. Nancy Sather too lauds local landowners "whose interest and engagement will ultimately determine the fate of the prairie."

After more than two decades with the Minnesota Biological Survey, Carol Hall summarizes her perspective on special places. "I may not visit them often," she writes, "but I am so glad they exist!"

Kathleen Weflen, editor

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