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Phenology Talkbacks, June 14 2022

White-footed mouse (mother and baby)
Photo by iNaturalist user grhansbrough
A white-footed mouse (mother and baby)

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We're midway through June, somehow! It's a blazing 97 degrees in the Twin Cities, and I'm writing this from my balcony. I'm fully equipped with a fan, a spray bottle of water (thanks, evaporative cooling), and lots of water. After this long, cold winter and spring, it'll take more than a heat advisory to kick me back indoors!

Some clever people cope with the summer heat by heading north. This week, we hear from one such family who is back in the Grand Rapids area for the summer. We also get an update from the summer campers at Long Lake Conservation Center, a little story about a snapping turtle from me, and a phenological update from John's friend Dallas! It's a great week- let's jump into it!

Maddy from Madison Elementary's trip to Long Lake Conservation Center, June 14th 2022

Maddy brings us our report from Madison Elementary's trip to Long Lake Conservation Center. What a trip! They saw the season's first hummingbird* and fawn! In the bog, they saw a hummingbird moth and admired the poofs on the cotton grass. They report that the Labrador tea plants and pink lady's-slippers bloomed, and the pitcher plants budded ("The buds look like cute little purplish mushrooms," said Maddie!). The students encountered many spiders, including "a very big skinny one and another with a sack of eggs on her back." Other critters were scurrying around, including armyworms (not actual worms, just moth larvae), toads, garter snakes, and dragonflies (adults and nymphs; the class even saw the chrysalises!). A few monarch butterflies had made it to the area, but not many bees were around (their counselors said this was abnormal). An immature bald eagle flew over the class, and they saw the loons out on the lake (no babies yet!). They conclude, "It's a great time to be alive, and we want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside, and live connected!"

*Hummingbirds are only native to North and South America (though there is fossil evidence of populations in Europe). We might not have elephants, koalas, or red pandas, but at least we have tiny sugar-loving birds! 

Pitcher Plant
Photo by iNaturalist user rangersara
Pitcher Plant

John says, "Great job Maddy, the city of Blaine will be proud of you!". He reiterates a few key sightings (labrador tea, pitcher plants, dragonflies, hummingbirds, loons, eagles) and agrees they must have had a great time at Long Lake! John notes that the aptly-named pitcher-plant mosquito uses new pitcher plant leaves as nurseries for their larvae. The fresh leaves are more likely to be watertight, ensuring the larval mosquito has a nice wet habitat with no predators and plenty of bacteria, micro-invertebrates, and decaying tissue to eat. (Sidenote: this mosquito species rarely feeds on blood, existing mainly on larval fat stores and nectar. They're also a primary study species for photoperiodism, meaning they detect seasons based on day length and time developmental changes accordingly.) John says, "Check out the pitcher plants, check out the dragonflies, check out nature, and get outside!"

Newstok family, June 14th 2022

Ruth, Axel, and Pearl Newstok bring us their first report of the summer! They monitored the peonies on their drive to Minnesota from Memphis (a roughly 16-hour drive without stops). South of Iowa, the peonies are completely gone, in Minneapolis, they're in full bloom, and in Grand Rapids, they are just beginning to blossom! For the first time they can remember, the lilacs are blooming during their arrival. In their garden, the mint, lettuce, and milkweed are coming up (holdovers from last year). It was 96 degrees in Memphis, so they're glad to be in Minnesota's (relatively) cold climate! However, they've already noted that the mosquitoes are abundant, thanks to the wet spring.

During dinner in their tent, the family spotted four "very small, cute mice." The mice were promptly named Lucy, Daisy, Alexandra, and Arnold! Lucy climbed trees (and fell off). Daisy slept a lot. Arnold was very active, with lots of playing and jumping! Alexandra was very quiet and hardly noticed. They were about an inch long (not including the tail), ate grass and ferns, and were good at climbing trees. Pearl pointed out that one mouse (Lucy) used her back legs as hinges to propel herself up the tree and had four sharp claws on each foot to grip the bark! The mice had dark, collar-like bands around the neck. When resting on the tree, they splayed out like frogs. The Newstoks are wondering what species the mice might be! They end with, "We're so excited to be doing these phenology reports again. Bye bye!"

Apprehended white-footed mouse
Photo by iNaturalist user kyle137
A hapless white-footed mouse apprehended by a scientist

John responds, "Bye, kids! We'll look forward to hearing from you again." He makes an effort to identify the mice. John points out that there are approximately six species of mice in Northern Minnesota, plus a few species of voles and the southern and northern lemmings. Voles, lemmings, and shrews lack the prominent ears of mice, which rules out many options.

The size of the mice implies that they're young, and their climbing capabilities suggest they might be white-footed mice or deer mice (both are arboreal, meaning they can climb and live in trees).

Sarah from West St. Paul, June 14th 2022

This week in West St. Paul, my ongoing efforts to befriend the local crows paid off! Their cawing drew my attention outside, where I saw a snapping turtle crossing the road. I ran out to help it since turtles and roads don't mix! At first, I thought it was a female out to lay her eggs. I wanted to relive the 'good old days' of researching turtle nests in grad school, so I settled in to wait for her to nest. Plus, I'd be able to protect the eggs (take that, raccoons!) and make sure she made the return journey safely. My wife was kind enough to toss me my camp chair, a book (Braiding Sweetgrass), and a bagel, so I settled in to wait. However, the turtle showed no signs of nesting and wandered slowly westward before eventually taking a nose-dive off a retaining wall (I didn't catch it in time!). I picked it up, checked for injuries, and took the chance to check its sex: it was a male! That ruled out nesting as an explanation for its wandering. At that point, I was curious and decided to follow it around.

Snapping turtle
Sarah Mitchell
A juvenile snapping turtle, captured during a research trip to Illinois.

Together, we traveled two blocks over three hours and met many new friends. My neighbors greeted the turtle and me with a mixture of fascination, excitement, and confusion. We met a rabbit and a cat along the way, which were very interested in this strange, dinosaur-looking critter dragging itself ponderously across the lawn. I particularly enjoyed watching the cat and the turtle find a compromise between the cat's curiosity and the turtle's need for personal space. Eventually, I was running late, smelled of swamp, and desperately needed a shower. The turtle showed no signs of reaching its destination (it was making its way along the sidewalk, apparently heading to the local gas station for a snack). After three hours together, I couldn't just leave it there next to the road to get run over. So, I hefted it up and ran a block to a nearby marsh, where it quickly disappeared into the rushes.

Turtle and the cat
Sarah Mitchell
A curious cat and the snapping turtle

It was a delightful afternoon, and it was all thanks to the crows! Without their alarm system, I would have spent a forgettable day inside scrolling on my phone. If we get no more reward from our efforts with the crows than that, it was well worth it (plus, when the crow revolution comes, we'll be on their good side).

John says, "What a great little story, and what better way to spend a day than following something around? You know, I think I could keep up with a snapping turtle." (But can he outclimb one?)

Finally, John's friend Dallas Hudson joined the show for a quick update. He watched the storm this morning as it went westward (it rained a bit in the cities, John had 2.35 inches in his rain gauge, and Dallas had 6/10ths of an inch). Dallas has seen clover, common baskettail dragonflies, pepper-and-salt butterflies, Hobomok skipper butterflies, and silver-spotted skipper butterflies. The daisies in Dallas's area are getting close (John has seen some in Grand Rapids), and Dallas has seen yellow goat beards. Dallas also reports that the hawkweed, blackberry, and raspberries are starting. John and Dallas agree that most events are still running about a week later than average.

Hobomok skipper
Photo by iNaturalist user krisskinou
Hobomok skipper butterfly

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

For more phenology content, subscribe to our Season Watch newsletter!

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 has worked at KAXE/KBXE for over 20 years. She currently helms the Morning Show as News and Public Affairs Director. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North. In 2018 Heidi received the “Building Bridges in Media” award from the Islamic Resource Group for her work on KAXE/KBXE hosting conversations about anti-Muslim movements in rural Minnesota.
Sarah Mitchell (she/they) joined the KAXE team in February of 2022. Sarah creates the Season Watch Newsletter, writes segment summaries for the website, and coordinates our Engaging Minnesotans with Phenology project. With a background in wildlife biology, Sarah enjoys learning a little bit about everything, whether it's plants, mushrooms, aquatic invertebrates, or the short-tailed shrew (did you know they can echolocate?).