Phenology Talkbacks, May 10 2022
Spring has sprung! Things are looking up in terms of weather, greenery, and our favorite critters returning after the cold winter. Plenty of reports today- let's get to it!
Tony emailed us from Dixon Lake: he reports that the first loons were observed on May 2nd and that the entire lake was ice-free by May 7th. Third River and Dixon Lake remained flooded, with northern pike spawning along the flooded oxbows. Double-crested cormorants are roosting and fishing at the lake and river confluence. Over the last three days, snapping turtles, belted kingfishers, and common mergansers were seen at the river. Wood ducks, American goldeneyes, and hooded mergansers have been incubating eggs in nest boxes. Wood frogs and spring peepers have been singing in earnest.
John agrees the frogs are finally calling 'in Earnest' ("I've been there," says John!), and it's a relief to hear them! He notes that the average date for the wood frogs to begin to call is April 15th, and they didn't start this year until May 3rd (narrowly missing the record, which was May 6th in 2013).
Rick sent us some of his observations from Aiken. He noted that the wrens returned on May 7th, and the rose-breasted grosbeaks flew into town on May 9th. "Keep on birding!"
John says thanks for the report! His sister, who lives in Minneapolis, sent John a picture of a rose-breasted grosbeak on Saturday, so he knew they'd gotten at least that far. Now we know they're in Aiken! John expects to see them at his feeders any day now.
Carson brings us this week's report from Baudette! Two moose were spotted just south of Baudette on Sunday, May 1st; the same day, they also saw a common loon! On Monday the 2nd, the first dandelions of the season popped up on the southern side of the school. "It sounded like every frog in the country woke up this week!" They heard the first wood frog on Monday and chorus frogs and spring peepers on Tuesday. "It's music to our ears!"
John says thanks for the short and sweet report! He remarks that it must be thrilling to see a moose and a common loon- he's seen a few near Grand Rapids, and it's a wonderful experience. John heard a loon call this morning. He notes that the south side of buildings is the first place to check for dandelions- the warming effect of the sun hitting the side of the building creates an ideal microclimate for early growth! Finally, John mentions that the frogs are definitely starting to sing.
Julia brings us this week's report from Apple Blossom Village in Bemidji. This week, the students saw sandhill cranes, an otter, a fox, a swooping hawk, the first finches, lots of juncos, and small squirrels. One student measured four inches of snowfall, and all the students had fun playing in it! "So long, thanks for listening!"
John says thanks and that wow, there are lots of things to observe at Apple Blossom Village!
Isabelle brings us the Science Nature Adventure Program (SNAP) report at Bemidji Middle School. The week's big news is first: the osprey pair has returned to the nest in the wetland! They also observed many painted turtles in one of the ponds, singing birds all around, and (of course) many Canada geese. In addition to the aspen buds, the tamarack buds have barely begun to open. The other trees that the students are observing show signs of bud burst. Individual observations included: ducks, loons, geese, deer, lots of bugs, ice receding from lake edges, flocks of geese and trumpeter swans, worms after a rainfall, darkening lake ice, an eagle nest, two loons, wood ducks, mergansers, an otter, and the calling of wood frogs and spring peepers.
John says thanks, Isabelle! He says he hasn't seen an osprey yet but doesn't have a daily view of one anymore: even if he hasn't seen one yet, John expects they've already returned to Grand Rapids. He notes that turtles usually return around mid-April, but with the late spring, the turtles have returned a bit late. It's good to hear they're out! He reiterates the note about frogs calling and that the ice is getting darker, then asks Heidi about the ice conditions on Lake Pokegama. Heidi responds that the ice is gone, at least in front of her house! While some ice may remain across the lake, it disappeared from her shoreline a few days ago. John responds that some fishing might ensue!
Allie brings us the report from North Shore Community School near Duluth. The students are finally out of their winter boots and wearing shoes to recess! They can even leave their coats behind some days. The spring task of raking their yards has commenced for many families since the snow is gone. One family had a close call with a skunk when they stumbled across one on a walk! It was only about five feet away from them, but it didn't spray. Whew! They noted that seeing skunks is one sign that spring is officially here. The school custodian saw a porcupine waddling in his yard on May 4th. The students pointed out that porcupines are primarily nocturnal. Individual students made many observations this week, including three hawks, two eagles, the first cardinal, a red-winged blackbird, a grouse, a mysterious orange butterfly (it looked like a monarch but smaller- possibly a viceroy?), and earthworms littering the driveway. The class has heard and seen spring peepers and wood frogs calling in the school swale and local ponds. Most of the trees have large buds and seem ready to spring open at any moment! They conclude their report by noting that the melting snow has revealed all the winter's accumulated trash- it's a great time to get out and clean up! "Have a great week, and be observant!"
John says thank you and that it was an excellent addition to go out and clean up some of the trash! He remarks on a few of the observations, including skunks, porcupines, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, and the kids playing outside without having to wear boots or coats. John says they're interesting human phenology signs! He also takes a stab at identifying the mystery butterfly: a Compton tortoiseshell, perhaps? It's one of the common early-season butterflies.
Connor and Blake bring us the report from Crooked Lake Elementary School's visit to Long Lake Conservation Center. Spring finally arrived, bringing with it the first flowers of the season. The students saw hepatica plants and were able to observe a porcupine eating the buds of an aspen tree. They think it was a solitary male who "left a mom and a porcupette back at home in a hollow." The students also saw many garter snakes, and their first positive ID of a red-bellied snake! The beavers were very active, and the group saw a few butterflies. Their "other flying friends" included swallows and northern flickers, and at night, they spotted bats on the hunt! Not all of the returning critters were greeted with enthusiasm: one teacher saw a wasp, and the ticks were out in full force. The frogs sang all night, and it was beautiful and very peaceful. "Spring is here, and changes are happening every minute. It's a great time to go out and explore, and we want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside, and live connected!"
As one could expect, John was a big fan of "Unplug, get outside, and live connected!". He has found a few hepaticas and a garter snake himself but hasn't seen a red-bellied snake yet. John notes that the tree swallows have moved away from water and are now in the fields. "And boy, are there ticks!" He pulled three off of himself yesterday and encourages us to get outside but check carefully afterward. Not all ticks are diseased, but they can carry some serious maladies; you don't want to be exposed if you can help it!
Jack and Clarissa bring us the report from Northland School's trip to Long Lake Conservation Center. Their class enjoyed great spring weather (finally!) and saw some "pretty cool nature"! They also saw the porcupine that visited campus and observed it snacking on aspen buds (and taking a nap). They saw bats flying and eating insects- the first sighting of the year! They drank bog water on their bog trek and ate Labrador leaves and black spruce needles. Pitcher plants were abundant! They also observed beavers, muskrats, geese, hooded mergansers, mallards, loons, and ducks with babies. Lots was happening! They said it was great to be outside in short-sleeved shirts again. "We want to encourage everyone to explore nature and to live connected!"
John says thanks for a great report, and that it's cool they got to see ducklings! It's the time of year for them to appear. John hasn't seen any yet but expects to see them soon.
Alex, Addalyn, and Ashlynn bring us this week's report from Eagle View Elementary in Pequot Lakes. There's been a lot going on there too! Last week, they told us about the big flock of pelicans that had landed on Rice Lake near their school. On Monday the 2nd, there were over 100 pelicans on the lake; they had all left by late afternoon on Tuesday! This week, the students spotted their first woodchuck and chipmunk of the year and noticed two ospreys flying over their school. They are hoping the ospreys will nest on the nesting platform the school constructed! The grass was getting greener in the nearby nature center, and they found a few yellow dandelion flowers. The buds on the poplar trees started to show a hint of green. Many swallows checked out the birdhouses, and the students saw bluejays and robins. The school's 2nd and 3rd grade classes have been doing a pond study and found water scavenger beetles, pond snails, and water mites. They also heard spring peepers. One student found a water scorpion in the lake by their house. "Get outside and be observant!"
John says, "Yeah, do that! Get outside with Alex, Addalyn, and Ashlynn, and be observant!" He mentions the swallows, the tamarack greening up, and that there are always fun things to find in swamp water.
Cody (Colby?) and Sam bring us this week's report from Baxter Elementary School. They had some thunder on Monday the 2nd, followed by a hard rain: Saturday, on the other hand, was a perfectly cloudless, sunny day! The popple catkins were falling off, and maple buds were breaking open. One student saw a strawberry plant and a tulip. The students also observed a bear, garter snake, fox, snapping turtle, three dragonflies (one red and two blue darners), a centipede, goslings, a belted kingfisher, and two mature bald eagles fighting in the air. In their report, they asked John when the fawns would be born and what the eagles were doing. "Have a great week, and be observant!"
John says, "Good job, Cody and Sam!". He notes the observations of aspen seeds, maple bud break, snapping turtles, and dragonflies (John hasn't seen any yet). John then immediately forgets the questions the students had for him! Luckily, his trusty phenology coordinator is awake and able to point him in the right direction. So, he responds when the phenology show resumed! It turns out that fawns will begin being born around now (mid-May) and will become more and more abundant through the first part of June. Regarding the eagles, John says that they were likely a mated pair performing a bonding ritual. The adults grasp talons and tumble to the ground, breaking apart at the last minute! It's quite the show.
We received thirteen reports from the students at Kenwood Community School in Minneapolis! I've uploaded the individual reports here, and this edited version was aired on Northern Community Radio. On their trip with phenologist Stephan Carlson from the University of Minnesota, the students saw birds migrating, buds breaking, and flowers popping up. They observed cottonwood flowers, a beaver lodge, tree moths, and blue-eyed grass (not a true grass- a native perennial, as one student observed. It's a beautiful color!). One student mentioned they saw things they hadn't noticed before (I love it when that happens!). They learned about knuckles on the cottonwood trees, which have a star shape, and found a crayfish. Birds were abundant- many students noted the presence of orioles and red-winged blackbirds! Overall, it sounds like a great adventure with plenty of things to see. Many reports came with their own taglines, including "Just go outside, it's beautiful!", "Have a totally tubular day!" and "Thanks for listening, if anyone's listening." (we're listening!).
John says thanks for the observations and welcomes Kenwood to our group of schools! He notes that the cottonwoods flowering in Minneapolis are just on the cusp of flowering in Grand Rapids. John shares the students' excitement for blue-eyed grass- it's one of his favorites! It has a five-pointed blue flower with a deep yellow center. John notes that he's heard reports of orioles in the Grand Rapids area and that it'll be a great year to watch them build their nests! Orioles nest at the tips of branches to prevent predators from reaching them. Since the trees have delayed leafing out this year, we'll have a good view for a few weeks before the leaves come in and hide the nests!
Ben and Ava bring us this week's report from Shakopee West Middle School Life Lab Garden. Their seeds are growing, and they've noticed the carrots and peas have grown the most. The blue spruce and white birch trees have shown no changes. Their teacher has observed two inches of rain and many duck eggs laid in their life lab garden. The bloodroot is beginning to bloom, and the columbine plant is starting to leaf out. One student noticed that mosquitoes and gnats had reemerged during soccer practice (bummer!). "Science skills are life skills!"
John reiterates that science skills are life skills! He has been looking at spruce trees and agrees with the students that they haven't broken bud. Over the last week, John observed greening birch buds, but none that had opened. The columbine plants near his place haven't put out any leaves yet, but he expects they will in the next day or two.
Allia and Violet bring us this week's report from Prairie Creek Community School, 'way down south' in Northfield! This week, they've developed a special report, looking at their historical data and comparing it to the phenology observations they gathered this spring. They've been collecting data since 2018! Some things- especially the birds- have seemed to be right on schedule. For instance, the red-winged blackbirds returned on March 16th, in the middle of the historical range of March 8th to 22nd. In all four years, they've heard the first 'oh Ricky' or 'birdie-birdie' song from the northern cardinal around February 3rd. Similarly, the 'pump handle' song of the bluejay and the 'fee-bee' song of the chickadee were within their normal ranges.
In contrast, the plants have seemed slow this year. The students at Prairie Creek love to eat the elm samaras, which are typically available in the first week of May. However, this year, the elms had just started flowering on April 28th, and there are no samaras to be found yet! Last year, the magnolia tree and bloodroot flowered on April 6th; this year, they waited until May 2nd (almost a whole month late!). The plum trees are late, too (flowering on April 23rd this year, compared to March 30th in 2021).
The insects and animals have been slow to emerge as well. The students saw their first ant on April 23rd (compared to March 17th in 2021). The first spring frogs were heard on March 28th in 2020 and March 7th in 2021: this year, they "didn't hear a peep" until April 10th! (NICE ONE- I find good frog puns absolutely ribbiting!) They note that the long delay isn't all bad- they haven't seen their first mosquito yet, and they emerged on April 1st last year. The reporters sum up by saying, "So, in many ways, spring is late this year. The data seems clear. This has been Prairie Creek Community School: One more step along the phenology journey!"
John is ecstatic with such a beautiful report! He points out the students' great comparisons, which he tries to emulate every Tuesday morning in his Phenology Report: it helps us get some feeling for where we are in 'nature's calendar.' John says, "I can't compliment you enough on that great report!"- I couldn't agree more!!
That does it for this week- now that spring has arrived, things are happening fast! John recommends that you "get out, unplug, disconnect from your devices and get outside! Listen to the frogs and birds singing and see what is happening outside your door. There's a lot going on!" I think I'll take his advice, get this online, and coax my weary dog out for a quick walk!
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