Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Phenology Talkbacks, May 17 2022

Morel Mushroom
Image by iNaturalist user Nathan404
Morel Mushroom

By the Great Horns of the Owl, it's been a busy week. Spring is busting through the seams, and 11 student reports are hardly enough to contain it! This morning, those fickle technology gods passed over John (for once) and instead visited Heidi with a plague of network connectivity issues. A quick reboot seemed to solve the problem, and the show went on! John showed much more patience with Heidi's technical difficulties than he ever does with his own, but that's a topic for another day (and maybe a therapist). As always, we start off with the northern end of the state and work our way south: let's get to it!

Baudette May 17th

Danica brings us this week's report from the Lake of the Woods School in Baudette. It's been a busy week up there, with sightings of fox kits, beavers, and (unfortunately) the first mosquito of the season! The northern leopard frogs began to call on Tuesday, May 10th, the same day that students started to find wood ticks. Finally, their teacher Mr. Pierson has heard the ovenbird calling for him- their call sounds like "teacher teacher teacher!"

John thanks Danica and echoes the ovenbird's call: though he's also heard it as, "Pizza, pizza, pizza!". John mentions that the leopard frogs the students heard are just one of many species that are calling right now. When he went out on Sunday night to watch the lunar eclipse, the frogs sang an unbelievable accompaniment- we hope you had a chance to hear (and see) it!

Apple Blossom, Bemidji May 17th

Cameron and Teal bring us this week's report from Apple Blossom Village in Bemidji. The students have been vigilant, spotting a black bear, a family of swans, and six turkey vultures! They've observed some cool behaviors, such as an otter playing in Lake Irving, fox kits playing outside their den, and a mink (or pine marten) descending from a tree, grabbing a frog, and running into the woods. (I'm jealous!) As is the pattern across the state, spring is progressing rapidly in Bemidji. The grass greened up almost overnight, and the students noticed that the trees and shrubs were all breaking buds! The soundscape is changing, too: grouse are drumming, birds are singing, and the wood frogs are croaking. "Thanks for listening!"

John says thanks to Cameron and Teal and expresses his excitement about all the critters the class got to see! John has had the chance to watch baby foxes (called kits) play near their den, and he agrees that it's a great experience. He corroborates that the grass is getting more vibrant and that the grouse are drumming (he's heard them himself!). John also jokes that when a bunch of vultures soars over him, he makes sure to move around a bit "so that they know I'm not quite at the food stage yet." (Fun fact: a group of vultures in flight is called a 'kettle'!).

SNAP, Bemidji May 17th

Isabel and Grant bring us this week's report from the Science Nature Adventure Program (SNAP) at Bemidji Middle School. They've been keeping a close eye on their osprey nest, and it's paid off! On their venture this week, they spotted both ospreys sitting on the nest. One flew to a nearby perch, then returned to the nest: it's always a treat to see them in action! Almost all the trees the students are tracking were budding out last week, except for the dogwood. The water levels are rising because of all the melting snow, but it hasn't stopped the painted turtles! The students saw seven turtles on a single log, and one person spotted 31 turtles before they got scared away- impressive! There has not been a sighting of a snapping turtle yet.

Individual students observed tulips emerging, buffleheads, three pileated woodpeckers, spring peepers, bunnies, wood frogs calling, a porcupine, 30 deer, two owls, a bald eagle, lots of bugs, a weasel, a beaver, lots of bugs, frogs, frog eggs, and a muskrat! "Until next time, SNAP to it, get into the wild, and be observant!"

John agrees- SNAP to it! He thanks Isabelle and Grant and mentions that the paper birches are definitely at their peak flowering stage. The catkins (male flowers) are long, droopy, and yellow; some grow up to four inches in length! To top it off, the female flowers are spectacular. John says you have to get pretty close to the plant to see them, but if you look, you'll find long, scaly, tongue-like flowers sticking up from the tree. The ones John saw yesterday were just over an inch long and tinged with red; they're worth checking out if you get the chance! John finishes by mentioning the frog eggs seen by the students. Since the frogs started singing 3-4 weeks ago, they are beginning to lay eggs now. It won't be long until we start to see tadpoles!

North Shore Community School, Duluth May 17th

Autumn brings us this week's report from North Shore Community School near Duluth. She starts us off with a remarkable statistic- May 10th was the first in over 200 days to exceed 70 degrees! They have noticed that the Knife River is noticeably higher due to heavy rains, songbirds are busily feeding, and the ticks are out: be careful! Here's their weekly breakdown:

  • On May 6th, daffodils began to bloom, and a teacher saw their first yellow finch.
  • On May 7th, a student went out to investigate what they believed to be the sound of a grouse. They found grouse feathers and bird poop on a nearby log- proof that the bird was just there!
  • On May 9th, a student saw a dark red fox come out of the woods to drink from a pond. Another student saw an elusive beetle that disappeared just as they tried to get a better look.
  • On May 10th, they reported that the maple tree flower buds finally opened. They also saw their first hummingbird and heard wood frogs in the swale near the school.
  • On May 11th, the dandelions on the school playground finally bloomed, though the wild leeks and marsh marigolds hadn't flowered yet. The class saw their first male and female pine grosbeak, scarlet tanagers, many black frog eggs, and a beetle the size of a student's hand!
  • On May 12th, around 8 am, two students saw seven juncos hopping around by the school's doors. When they approached the window to get a better look, the juncos flew away! A tiny ant walked through the classroom, thanks to the warming temperatures.

"Have a great week, and be observant!"

John thanks Autumn and mentions that it was a great report! He mentions the wood frogs and the resulting eggs, then transitions to ticks. John has been pulling deer and wood ticks off of himself with "rapid repetition," estimating that he's removed about six just in the last two days. He says his preferred method of disposing of them is by sealing them in scotch tape, or "they lose their lives to my pocket knife. I don't let ticks go. If they walk on me, then I'm going to make sure they don't walk on anybody else! That's just how I operate with ticks." (I'll echo Heidi here: "We let him work with kids?!?")

Central Elementary, Long Lake Conservation Camp, May 17th

Avery and Willy from Central Elementary bring us this week's report from their Long Lake Conservation Camp trip! They spotted the season's first oriole, though it didn't stick around long (the students think it was headed north- to John Latimer's backyard!). One of their naturalists saw a hummingbird ("It's great to have them back," said the students!). A snapping turtle and porcupine also made an appearance. The students couldn't decide if the porcupine should be named "Porky" or "Ollie"! The insects are very active, with mosquitoes, butterflies, bumblebees, and ticks all making themselves known. The group also saw a snail and a "weird-looking slug."

The grass is turning a vibrant green, and the red maple buds and spring ephemeral flowers (including hepatica) are popping. The students found a devil's horn mushroom and learned that they aren't safe to eat- but they are a great sign that the edible morels are close to emerging! The students couldn't help but notice "lots of happy people," likely due to the first 70-degree day of the year. Blue jays, bunny poop, garter snakes, and red-bellied snakes rounded out the rest of the observations! They end with, "It's a great time to go for an exploration. We want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside, and live connected!"

John thanks Avery and Willy and says that the orioles did, in fact, make it to his backyard! They are happily hanging out and feasting on the oranges and hummingbird feeders John has left out for them. He reiterates the reports of snapping turtles, butterflies, maple buds, and morel mushrooms. John mentions that he hasn't found a morel yet, and hasn't heard from anyone who has, but he suspects that they'll be coming up soon "in a forest near you!". The warm weather and couple of inches of rain we got last week will help them along! Lastly, John reiterated that the garter snakes, red-bellied snakes, and temps in the seventies all add up to a great week!

Minnewaska, Long Lake Conservation Camp, May 17th

Sophia and Ellie bring us Minnewaska's report from their Long Lake Conservation Center trip. They divided their report into two sections: Biotic (relating to living things) and abiotic (relating to non-living things), which I think is a great touch!

First, the biotic sightings: loons, beavers, mergansers diving and swimming under the water, white-tailed deer eating vibrant green grass, tamarack trees starting to grow new needles, wood ticks, a tree frog, and a tiny painted turtle.

Next, the abiotic notes! The students saw lightning, "so much wind the waves were crashing onto Long Lake's shore" (LLCC staff said that is a rare phenomenon), amazing cloud formations, and lots of rain. "The bog was extra boggy after all that rain. It was a great week in nature, and we want to remind everyone to get outside, jump in some puddles, and live connected!"

John chuckles at the sound of happy campers in the background of the report, and reiterates that it's a great time to get outside and jump in some puddles. John is a "fond puddle splasher" himself! He agrees that the tamaracks are greening up, frogs are singing, mergansers are back on the lakes, and there are "deer just about everywhere you look out there today." (I'm looking, John, and I can't see a single one!). Many deer were lying in a field this morning as John drove to the radio station: he thinks they spent the evening feeding and stopped to rest.

Eagle View Elementary, Pequot Lakes, May 17th

Vivian, Alex, and Elijah bring us this week's report from Eagle View Elementary in Pequot Lakes! Things turned a lot more green at their school. The poplar leaves have emerged, the weeping willow tree has leaves, and the smaller shrubs are leafing out too! There's been a lot of bird activity: the students saw an indigo bunting, a lot of swallows that are investigating the bird boxes, a few goldfinches, and the first hummingbird of spring. A female goose at the edge of Rice Lake was sitting on her nest: she'd been there for about six days. Since geese sit on their eggs for 28 days, the students estimate that her eggs should hatch around June 8th!

It wasn't just birds that were out and about: the students also observed a tiny painted turtle, lots of spring peepers calling, and a whole bunch of worms on the road after the rain. One of the students remarked, "There have been lots of changes in nature this week!" (I've gotta say, you're so right! It's been the busiest week of the year, judging from these reports!) They conclude with: "Reporting from Pequot Lakes, get outside and be observant!"

John says thanks and reiterates the call to get outside and be observant! He agrees that it's thrilling to see indigo buntings, hummingbirds, eagles, and painted turtles. He mentions that painted turtle hatchlings overwinter in their nests and are just now crawling out to make the trek to water!

Kenwood Elementary School, Minneapolis May 17th

Shucayb, Mason, and Mahdi bring us the second report from Kenwood Elementary School in Minneapolis! In their walk this week, they saw a red-winged blackbird, white oak trees, a redbud tree, mushrooms, buckeye trees, a tree as wide as four and a half people, and a purple violet bush. The students noticed that many leaves had emerged since their last outing and that the birds were chirping!

John says thanks to the students at Kenwood Elementary for the nice report! He mentions that they don't get many redbud trees in Grand Rapids. He knows of someone who planted one, but John hasn't been by to see how it's doing! The white oaks near John are breaking bud, which means they're in full flower in Minneapolis. John echoes the sightings of buckeye leaves and flowers and lilac buds: the lilacs near John haven't produced flowers, but the leaves are out at least!

Shakopee Middle School, May 17th

Yazmyne, Brynn, and Devon bring us this week's report from the Life Lab Garden at Shakopee West Middle School. Their resident mallard duck has abandoned her nest, leaving cracked eggs and no evidence of ducklings. The students hypothesized that a predator took advantage of the empty nest- what a bummer! With the warmer temperatures, there were lots of signs of spring. Their redbud tree had put out flowers and leaves by May 10th, and the Dutchman's breeches flowered as well. The common milkweed plants are beginning to grow, and the white spruce are putting out new growth at the ends of the branches. The great mullein plants were growing furry leaves at the base, and the dandelions (which were on hold for many weeks) finally came to full bloom. Fiddlehead ferns sprouted and were beginning to unfurl. All the spring ephemeral flowers bloomed, including bloodroot, violet rue anemone, and large-flowered bellwort. Many of the trees around Shakopee lost their flowers during the hail storm that hit the evening of May 11th.

They found turtles starting on May 5th! The students have spotted painted turtles basking and moving around, as well as dragonflies, bees, mourning cloak butterflies, goldfinches, and the first of the year's hummingbirds. "Science skills are life skills!"

John says thanks to Devon, Yazmyne, and Brynn and commiserates over the loss of the mallard nest. John's resident eagle nest also failed this year, so he knows how it feels! Here's hoping that next year will be more successful. John compares the growth in Shakopee to what he's seeing in Grand Rapids: while the spruce trees in Shakopee are showing new growth, the ones near John are not. Bloodroot, rue anemone, and ferns are up in both areas! John reiterates the sightings of painted turtles, dragonflies, and hummingbirds, and echoes that the hail knocked off a lot of the flowers on trees. John says it was a bit of a shock to see the violent storm roll through and tear things apart but reassures us that the trees will recover.

Prairie Creek Community School, Northfield, May 17th

Aspyn, Molly, and Ruby bring us this week's Prairie Creek Community School report from 'way down south' in Northfield. (Happy birthday, Ruby!) They say, "It's been a week down here. Everything is happening all at once!"

They start with the birds. The class saw red-winged blackbirds, indigo buntings, cranes, herons, purple finches, house finches, goldfinches, redstarts, and hummingbirds (whew!). They also heard a barred owl calling, saw a cardinal building its nest, and the robin's eggs at Arlo's house hatched!

The plants were also, to quote the students, "going bananas." The class was sneezing thanks to the pollen, and they noticed that the oaks, maples, birches, and magnolia trees had all leafed out. The birch catkins and oaks produced a ton of pollen. The spruce trees sported pineapple-like pink flowers, and the apple and plum trees were flowering too (and emitting a buzzing hum due to all the bees pollinating them!). Plenty of flowers were rounding out the show, with phlox, dandelions, and violets all flowering during the week! The tulips were waiting in the wings, though they hadn't bloomed yet.

Finally, they report that pink ladybugs were emerging from cracks in the trees, paper wasps started to build a nest, and one student found morel mushrooms (though they won't share the location). "This has been Prairie Creek Community School: one more step along the phenology journey!"

John and Heidi say a big happy birthday to Ruby and thank the students for a great report! John agrees- what a lot of fun things the students saw this week! He names some of them, then suggests that we all go down and trail the class to see if we can figure out the morel mushroom spot.

Whew! What a week it's been- we're moving through the spring at triple speed, so buckle up. As always, thank you for reading (and/or contributing)! I hope all of you can find some time to enjoy the warming weather and even make some observations while you're out there.

Remember that you can add your voice to this list! We would love to hear from you. Get in touch with me ( or John (, or text 'phenology' to 218-326-1234.

As a mail carrier in rural Grand Rapids, Minn., for 35 years, John Latimer put his own stamp on a career that delivered more than letters. Indeed, while driving the hundred-mile round-trip daily route, he passed the time by observing and recording seasonal changes in nature, learning everything he could about the area’s weather, plants and animals, and becoming the go-to guy who could answer customers’ questions about what they were seeing in the environment.
Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.
Charlie Mitchell (she/they) joined KAXE in February of 2022. Charlie creates the Season Watch Newsletter, produces the Phenology Talkbacks show, coordinates the Phenology in the Classroom program, and writes nature-related stories for KAXE's website. Essentailly, Charlie is John Latimer's faithful sidekick and makes sure all of KAXE's nature/phenology programs find a second life online and in podcast form.

With a background in ecology and evolutionary biology, Charlie enjoys learning a little bit about everything, whether it's plants, mushrooms, or the star-nosed mole. (Fun fact: Moles store fat in their tails, so they don't outgrow their tunnels every time conditions are good.)