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Phenology Talkbacks, May 24 2022

Tree swallow
Photo by iNaturalist user lyneisfilm
Tree swallow

Here's a fun fact to start the week! With 25 minutes of phenology content a week over the last 38 years, John Latimer has spent the equivalent of 34 days at the microphone sending sweet, sweet nature news to our eardrums. The Apollo 11 mission could go to the moon and back four times, listening to nothing but original phenology content!

There's more to come: we have a new youth group sending reports! Welcome to the Boys and Girls Club in Waubun, MN: we're happy to have you!

Baudette, May 24th 2022

Gus brings us the report from Lake of the Woods School in Baudette. The students saw eight hummingbirds, found 50 small morel mushrooms (!!), and said the marsh marigolds were out in full force. They also spotted the season's first brood of goslings!

John says thanks to Gus and reiterates that the hummingbirds have made it to Baudette, the morels are popping up, and the marsh marigolds are shining in the ditches (they're the bright yellow flowers that grow near streams!). He says a friend of his, Trevor (John calls him "Mr. Morel"), has a great picture of a massive collection of morel mushrooms. John continues, saying it might be a good idea to follow him around this time of year- it may pay dividends in fungi! John's been keeping track of his local goslings and says they're almost "eating size"; no, I have no idea what that means.

Apple Blossom Village, May 24th 2022

Jackson and Clyne bring us this week's report from Apple Blossom Village in Bemidji! This week, the students saw two blue jays, a red-winged blackbird, fish in the lake (including bass), indigo buntings, goldfinches, and baby redpolls. They've also watched fox kits (they think the mother fox is stealing chickens) and cooked some yummy fiddlehead ferns over the fire! The class also found a painted turtle and noticed that the dandelions began to flower. The leaves on the trees were growing and "looking beautiful." They finish with "Goodbye and thank you for listening to our Apple Blossom reports. See ya!"

John says thanks to Clyne and Jackson for the great report from Bemidji! He loves the story about the fox and the chickens. John points out that unless the chicken flock is really big, you should be able to tell if the fox is getting your chickens by counting how many are there every day. John has some experience in the area: he raised chickens and didn't have a problem with foxes- it was raccoons that caused issues! John says they eventually reached an understanding but doesn't elaborate on what that understanding may have been. He concludes by agreeing the fiddleheads are up and delicious- add them to your pile of morels for a delicious meal!

Science Nature Adventure Program, May 24th 2022

This week's report was written by Grant from the Science Nature Adventure Program and read by Ava and Isabel. They were kind enough to provide a transcript:

"Here's this week's phenology report from SNAP, the Science Nature Adventure Program at the Bemidji Middle School. 

Things are really greening up around here! 

This past week after checking the trees we have been tracking, we noticed some showing leaves and needles. They were paper birch, tamarack and crabapple. Those still only showing buds were Basswood, Cedar and Norway Pine. One of the ospreys was visible in the nest and the other could have been there but not seen. There was a hollowed out paper birch and when a walking stick hit it, a bunch of ants scurried about. We went to the ponds and saw 7-8 turtles and two garter snakes, the larger of which we found eating a frog whole. There has been a lot of deer activity as noted by droppings and tracks. 

Other student reports this week include: 

  • a deer seen by Grant's mom  
  • Brynn's saw some road kills over the weekend and a hawk flying off with a robin 
  • Isabel saw pelicans, geese, seagulls, walleyes, perch, zebra mussels, 6 garter snakes, loons, 3 bald eagles and the sounds of toads and frogs 
  • Joe saw a deer, wolf tracks, ducks, leaves popping out, morels, high water rapids at Big Falls  
  • Ava saw a black squirrel and can you believe it? Her mom saw a white squirrel.  

    Until next time SNAP TO IT! Get into the wild and be observant!"

Great work, SNAPsters!

John agrees: "Do it. Get in the wild and be observant. Good advice!" He reiterates that leaves are emerging all over the region this week and states that the river birch and black ash outside his window are breaking leaf buds. He says, "it won't be long until it'll be all green, and you won't be able to see back into the woods anymore until next fall!" John lists some other observations: ospreys in a nest, ants in a birch tree, turtles, and a garter snake that swallowed a frog. John adds that someone posted a photo of a garter snake that had swallowed a frog to the Season Watch Facebook page. Apparently, the snake had just eaten it: the jaws were shut, but you could see the lump in its throat! He ends by expressing his excitement over all the birds spotted by the students: he particularly loves to see pelicans!

Waubun Boys and Girls Club, May 24th 2022

Jake brings us the very first report from the Waubun Boys' and Girls' Club! The group notes that the anniversary of the explosion of Mount St. Helens' was last week. They reported seeing rabbits, rez dogs, unidentified birds, orioles, black bear, ducks, red squirrels, geese, butterflies, baby geese, deer, and baby chickens at Fleet Farm. In their yard, the cottonwood tree has small leaves and buds, the black ash has a few leaves and lots of open flowers, and the spruce tree has needle buds breaking. Dandelions have a few leaves, lots of green, and a few flowers! "That's our report for the week ending May 18th. Thank you for listening!"

John says thanks to Jake and Bob Shimek, the program director! John reiterates a few observations, including orioles, black bears, and cottonwood trees leafing out. He passes by a few cottonwood trees on his way into town and agrees that they're definitely getting greener! The ash trees are just beginning, John says, but they'll catch up in a hurry. He concludes with another big thank you to the folks in Waubun- we're really appreciative of the report!

Hill City, May 24th 2022

Ivy brings us the report from Hill City! The class got to go to Long Lake Conservation Center for a field trip (lucky kids! Bring me along next time!). They went on a phenology walk in the woods, where they saw violets, other flowers, and "ferns curling up out of the ground." The beavers were busy chewing on the trees, the spiders were active, and spring peepers and chorus frogs were singing! Even the more secretive animals made an appearance: one student almost stepped on a woodcock, and it burst cover, scaring the students. Back home in their school forest, the students saw bloodroot starting to bloom on May 10th, ants working on their anthills, and the trembling aspen are covered with lime-green leaves. "This is our report for the week: work hard and be kind!"

John says thanks to Ivy and repeats, "Work hard and be kind!". He adds that he's not sure if it's their last report of the year. If so, it's the final report for their teacher Diana, who is retiring. John chokes up a bit, saying: "Diana, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."

North Shore Community School, May 24th 2022

Maddie brings us this week's report from the North Shore Community School near Duluth. This week, one student went kayaking and was able to use the high water to kayak through the forest! They note last week's super flower blood moon lunar eclipse: the longest lunar eclipse in 33 years! The last lunar eclipse was November 19th, 2021, and the next will be on November 8th, 2022. Here are some of their observations for this week:

  • May 14th: They report the first tulip bloom and first garter snake!
  • May 15th: Students saw fiddlehead ferns and a large snapping turtle crossing the road.
  • May 17th: On the way to school, students saw an eagle eating roadkill on the side of the road (an easy meal!)
  • May 19th: A downy woodpecker was finding insects in an oak tree, with the sound of drilling loud and clear. Three pregnant does were lying in a field. Their heads faced out, watching for predators.

In addition, they report that some (but not all) of the marsh marigolds are blooming, many trees are budding and getting leaves, and the grass is getting longer ("the longer we wait, our friendly pollinators will thank us!"). Their school custodian, Jim, has observed scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles, Harris sparrows, many yellow finches, and an indigo bunting. "Have a great week, and be observant!"
John thanks Maddie for the nice report and says there are lots of good things going on! He was out taking pictures of the lunar eclipse. He had quite an experience, "especially after my dog got into a skunk that night. It made for an even longer experience and not quite as pleasant as watching the eclipse." He reiterates a few observations, including that cowslips are beginning to bloom, leaves are emerging, and the deer are laying down in the fields. John adds that as he was driving home a few nights ago, around 8:30 pm, three deer were lying in a field along the road: John could just see their long, slender necks and heads. Just as the students described, they had their heads up and were very attentive. John describes the ears and head as a big letter Y, and they were "tracking me like an airplane!". He simply drove on by and waved. He also notes that the Harris sparrow is a fun one to see. They have a big swath of black blanketing their forehead, around their eyes and beak, and down onto the chest.

Battle Creek 5th Grade, Long Lake Conservation Center

Callie brings us the report from Battle Creek's 5th grade trip to Long Lake Conservation Center! They enjoyed great weather and plenty of plant and animal life. Notable observations were the first bluebird of the season and "tree swallows dancing in the air." Both species are building nests in the birdhouses on campus. The lake is warming and "blooming with life!" The students saw painted turtles, snapping turtles, leeches, minnows, and dragonfly larvae (but no dragonflies yet). Unfortunately, the mosquitoes and ticks are out! The first dandelion flower of the year was present, and they saw a lot of garter snakes at night (I'm jealous! I still haven't found a snake this year!). The lunar eclipse provided an added bonus for the students, who got to see it in such a beautiful place! They conclude, "It's a great time to go for an explore, and we want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside, and live connected."

John agrees: disconnect and live connected! He's seen a few bluebirds (exciting) and agrees that "tree swallows dancing" is the perfect way to describe how they fly. John is always encouraged to find dragonfly larvae in the water. He says, "they're a fierce-looking little bug. But boy, they eat a lot of stuff, including mosquito larvae. So, we're happy they're dining on mosquitoes even before they come out of the water, start flying around, and dine on more mosquitoes!"

Battle Creek 7th grade class, Long Lake Conservation Center

Jack and Gracie bring us the report from Battle Creek's 7th-grade class trip to Long Lake Conservation Center. They heard frogs croaking and saw many birds, including loons, hummingbirds, bluebirds that were divebombing swallows, hawks, ducks, and goldfinches. Down in the bog, the leatherleafs (leatherleaves?) were flowering. There were "small, bright green pompoms of needles on the Tamarac trees," and they saw an adult painted turtle moving quickly across campus. "It was a great week in nature, and we want to remind everyone to jump in a bog hole, roll in some mud, and live connected!"

John laughs, thanks the students, and concurs that jumping in a bog hole is a wonderful thing to do! He was excited that the students noticed the flowering leatherleaf. He describes them as low, arching plants with little green leaves and rows of tiny white flowers that look like blueberry flowers. The flowers grow in long rows along the stem. He adds that we received a note from Dave McMillan, the director at Long Lake: "Here are two, count them two, phenology reports from LLCC. This is kind of a nice story. We had two grade groups attend LLCC from Battle Lake - the school's 5th graders and the school's 7th graders. The 5th graders come every year, but the 7th graders missed out during their year because of COVID cancellations. The school and teachers decided that this was unfair, and coordinated a WEEKEND trip for the 7th graders. The teachers gave up their weekend to bring the kids here! Really, really cool."

Fertile-Beltrami Long Lake Conservation Center

Peter and Katrina bring us the report from Fertile Beltrami's trip to Long Lake Conservation Center! They report that "the wood and waters continue to burst to life." They saw a pair of male orioles sparring in mid-air in part of their spring mating rituals, the first solitary sandpiper, bluebirds, catbirds, and tree sparrows. "The song of the robin was particularly beautiful!" After a night's rain, the earthworms were up, and the birds were pleased with the easy meal. Their group found a grey tree frog stuck on a window (I'm jealous!) and heard many others calling. The marsh marigolds were blooming, cottongrass and Labrador tea plants were starting to flower, and there were reports of morels in the area (though the students didn't see any!). "It's a great time to go exploring. We want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside, and live connected!"

John agrees: Unplug and live connected! He noted the fighting orioles, saying they're tussling over territories between visiting hummingbird feeders. If you put some oranges out or a little bowl of jelly, they'll stop by to fuel up and get ready for mating! If you live in an area where the trees haven't leafed out too much, you may be able to spot them building nests on the ends of branches. John reiterates that the tree frogs are calling, and the cottongrass is blooming in the swamps- it's an astonishing sight!

Prairie Creek Community School, May 24th 2022

Ben and Meadow bring us this week's report from Prairie Creek Community School 'way down south' in Northfield. They report that it was a beautiful week, with lilacs and crabapple trees in bloom! The oaks, ashes, ginkgos, and locust trees were all leafing out. There was even shade beneath the maple trees! The students foraged for some lovely meals, including young plantains, nettles, and cleavers (also known as sticky willy). The spruce trees were full of spruce tips, which apparently go for $10 a pound at "fancy stores in the city": they'd be rich! On the flower front, the dandelions were sporting seed puffs, the tulips were done, and the yellow wood poppies were in bloom. The ferns were uncurling. "There's been a lot of rainwater down here, and that can only mean one thing: mushrooms!" They report seeing a ton of morels, had scaly caps and dryad's saddles growing at school, and had reports of dead man's fingers and oyster mushrooms. The birds were active, with orioles everywhere, barn swallows swooping and nesting, and sightings of hawks, cardinals, hummingbirds, and robins. The birds are also busy with nesting season: the robins in Arlo's yard have grown feathers, and there are eggs in Michelle's chickadee nest. No one has seen a junco in two weeks, so they think they've all headed north! The only mammal sighting of the week was a muskrat swimming in a pond (though maybe it was the Loch Ness monster, they say!). "One more step along the phenology journey!"

John says thanks to Meadow and Ben and that they're naturals for radio! He was down in the cities over the weekend and saw the lilacs in full bloom. In Grand Rapids, the lilacs have formed flower buds but haven't flowered yet: we'll have to wait and see how long it takes for spring to move that far north. The spruce tips and balsams are just beginning in Grand Rapids, though! John says he doesn't see many barn swallows in the area (though he says that might be because he doesn't have a barn). The barn swallows like to build mud nests under the edges of barns. John reports that the juncos have mostly moved on even in Grand Rapids. There may be a few families of juncos that stay in the area, so John's hoping to hear reports if you see them!

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.
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.)
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.