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Nature

Phenology Talkbacks, March 29 2022

Otters
Image provided by Dave McMillan
/
The frogsicle-eating otter, observed by students at Long Lake Conservation Center

John and Heidi begin this week by wishing winter would, to quote John, “lay down and die one of these days and we’ll move right into spring”. I might put it differently, but agree with the sentiment entirely!

Anyways, on to our family-friendly, violence-free phenology show (if you ignore the eagles, otters, kestrels, and John Latimer, who all show varying degrees of bloodthirstiness during this week’s edition of Phenology Talkbacks).

Baudette

Nickson reports from the Lake of the Woods community school in Baudette. He reports seeing swans flying north over Baudette, and Canadian geese struggling to land on ice. A striped skunk was spotted (dead, unfortunately) on a road nearby. Jeff spotted a kestrel and a flock of herring gulls- spring has made it to Minnesota’s northern border! John echoes that the skunks are definitely weaseling their way around these days (sorry for the pun)- remember the amorous pair he saw on his driveway last week? John also affirms that Jeff from Baudette is a great birder and is happy to hear him confirm that spring, as represented by the kestrels and herring gulls, has crept that far north.

North Shore Community School

Rose is our reporter for this week! This class notes that March 20th was the spring equinox, where the sun was directly over the equator. As it swings northward, we can expect warmer weather and longer days (they report a 50-degree day, though they also report a spring ice/rain/snowstorm bad enough to cancel school). There was only a little ice left on Lake Superior, and a student’s dog fell in. Brr! Some trees are beginning to bud, and maple sap is flowing through the school’s trees. Some spring firsts in the area included a robin, some seagulls, a few flies, and a lady bug. The class continues to monitor animal tracks in their area, spotting mouse tracks (and the mouse, who is living in a wood box near her house) and two sets of bobcat tracks. One student noticed the deer enjoying the salty grass in roadside ditches along Highway 61. Have a great week, and be observant!

John adds to keep an eye out for insects in your maple syrup buckets! Moths often find their way there in search of a little extra energy (“to do the sorts of things moths do in the springtime,” says John, not elaborating further), so they’re a great indicator of moth emergence. John echoes that the mice quite enjoy using his wood box as a winter residence, as well. In addition to John’s notes, I’ll add my best wishes for the very cold dog running around near Lake Superior- that's a cold swim even in summer!

Pike Lake Elementary

Cassie, Madison, and Olivia report from Pike Lake Elementary School near Duluth. Their school forest continues to provide plenty of interesting observations! The students have honed their eye for finding and solving nature’s mysteries, whether it’s determining why one side of the trees are wet and one side dry (the wind was responsible), why bird tracks abruptly ended (the bird was walking along, then took off), why snow melts around trees first (the trunks absorb the sun’s energy, melting the snow around them), and how chickadees get to the good part of a seed (peck at it until it breaks, then let the shell drop and eat the seed inside). A lone mystery remains- what happened to the squirrel running around Crosby’s yard without its entire tail? I love that these students have paired great observational skills with intense curiosity! Students also observed two bald eagles feeding on a deer kill, as well as five deer walking ponderously into the woods (great vocabulary word!). One of the students, Charlie, reports chickadees and finches feeding at his birdfeeder, until his mom came home and scared them away (so rude). Be aware, things are happening out there!

John agrees that it’s amazing that these students are not just observing, but hypothesizing the causes of the signs and patterns they find in nature. And the word ‘ponderously’ is the cherry on top!

Long Lake Conservation Camp

Blaire and Alex from St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic School in Brainerd bring us this week’s report from Long Lake Conservation Center. Their trip started sunny and warm, but ended in snow! Their trip included lots of wildlife sightings, from more than a dozen garter snakes emerging from their winter hibernation, an ‘uncountable’ number of redpolls at the feeders, spring’s first moths, bald eagles, swans, as well as the usual contingent of chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. They got to see pitcher plants peeking out of the snow, tap maple trees, and even ate some leaves from the Labrador plant! The resident porcupine was spotted high in the trees, still covered in a fresh dusting of snow. The highlight of the trip was seeing otters popping in and out of three open holes in the lake ice! The otters were observed feasting on “frogsicles”, which I think is an amazing term. The students note it was “a good day to be an otter, but not so good for frogs”. They remind us, as always, to “Live Connected”!

John, like me, adores the use of the term “frogsicle” as well as the humor inherent in “a good day to be an otter, not so good for frogs”. Those kids can guest write these summaries anytime. And wow, what an experience out there! Pitcher plants, maple sap, Labrador leaves... sounds like an amazing time at Long Lake.

Prairie Creek Community School

Ben is our reporter from Prairie Creek Community School way down south in Northfield, MN! Spring is still springing despite the cold weather. Several students report eagles on nests between the school and the nearby town of Northfield. Leah spotted an eagle scaring off a crow from a deer carcass- they're feisty ones, eagles! Meadow has seen buffleheads (a type of duck) on her pond, a first in her memory, as well as turtle heads popping up for the first time this spring! Woodpeckers are drumming away, excited for the springtime feast of insects, and some of the maple trees are just beginning to flower. The students also observed their first mushroom and chipmunk of the season. Finally, a fourth and fifth grade class got to see a kestrel swoop into a flock of robins and nab one! The robin was about the same size as the kestrel, so the kestrel had a hard time flying far with it. Finally, the kestrel found a place where, as Ben says, “it could dismember the robin in peace. Now that’s an oxymoron, isn’t it?”! One more step along the phenology journey!

John agrees that “dismembering a robin in peace” is the way nature goes sometimes. Lots of things to observe! I’ll add 5 bonus points* for any student who can distinguish turtle heads from random sticks sticking out of a pond- that hits close to my reptile-loving heart!

That does it for this week! Remember you can add your voice to this list. Get in touch with me (smitchell@kaxe.org), John (jlatimer@kaxe.org), or text ‘phenology’ to 218-326-1234.

*Bonus points are redeemable for high fives and wildlife-related fun facts, which I have in abundance.