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Phenology Talkbacks, June 21 2022

Common loon, Minnesota's state bird
Common loon, Minnesota's state bird

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We made it to another week of Phenology Talkbacks without boiling alive! This week, we have reports from two families and an update from my wanderings in West St. Paul. Today is the summer solstice (the longest day and shortest night of the year).


Samuel brings us a report from his visit to see his grandpa, Evan Spencer! Sam and Evan faced down a horde of mosquitos to observe their local plants. They found blooming dandelions (though a few had finished), flowering strawberries, and the new growth on the white and Norway pines (which were releasing tons of yellow pollen). They also observed yellow lady slippers, ten merganser ducklings, and their father (Papa Merganser). Luckily, the horseflies weren't too prevalent. At night, the green frogs and tree frogs sent up a chorus, followed by a glorious display of fireflies. Samuel ends, "Have a good day, and don't forget to get outside!"

Yellow lady's-slipper
Photo by iNaturalist user rachel_bosley
Yellow lady's-slipper

John thanks Sam and agrees that it's a great time to get outdoors! John has seen pink and yellow lady-slippers blooming this season and seen reports of the showy lady-slipper in bloom. He says, "It's an excellent time to get out and tromp around in a swamp near you." He adds that with all the pollen flying around, you probably feel the effects if you're allergic! For everyone else, the pollen bloom makes for pollen-covered cars, windows, and outdoor furniture.


Ruth, Axel, and Pearl bring us the Newstok family report! Last week, they were playing hide and seek when Pearl and Axel spotted a moving hummock in the swamp. It turned out to be a porcupine! While Axel and Pearl called the rest of the family over to take a look, the porcupine climbed up a tree. They were able to get a few pictures, then left it alone with its porcupiney thoughts. Then, Axel found a small frog sitting on a leaf. It was tiny, measuring only half an inch long, and didn't even bend the leaf with its weight! Later that day, their parents found another frog that looked similar. They think it might be a yellow morph of a wood frog! Another morning, Axel and their mom saw a beaver swimming in the lake.

North American porcupine
North American porcupine

Ruth says that they found a few Jack-in-the-pulpits while playing hide-and-go-seek. While kayaking, they observed two adult loons but no babies. Swallowtail and monarch butterflies fluttered around their yard throughout the week.

Pearl mentions a burdock plant with gigantic leaves and a tall stalk: they found it while playing hide-and-go-seek! (They sure see a lot of cool stuff while looking for each other in the woods!) Down in a low-lying area surrounded by cedar trees, it was about 15 degrees cooler than in their yard. The dragonflies don't mind the heat, though! "Millions" buzzed around their yard during the week, cutting down their mosquito population. The horseflies and ticks continue to be a bother, though! They conclude, "John Latimer, would you like to go swimming with us sometime? Our lake is refreshing and cool, but we wonder about the temperature at the Tioga Mine. Heidi Holtan, since we learned that your favorite mode of transportation is the kayak, would you like to kayak at our lake sometime? Bye bye!"

John says, "How can you turn down an invitation like that?". (You can't! Have fun!!) John was at the Tioga Mine Pit yesterday and found it delightful. He reports a pleasant temperature on the surface, with really cold water about 8 feet down. "So, if you were really hot, you didn't have to dive very deep to find the thermocline. It was right there, and boy, it was refreshingly cool below that line!" John notes a few things from their report, including the porcupine (always fun to see those!), the blooming Jack-in-the-Pulpits, and the small frogs. John suspects they were spring peepers or boreal chorus frogs. Both species are less than an inch long and colored pale grey-brown. The spring peeper has a dark X-shape on its back (you have to get pretty close to see it), which could help the family distinguish between the two species. John notes that those frogs, though tiny, were probably full-grown! Most baby frogs aren't out of the tadpole stage at this point in the season (and if they emerged early, they couldn't have dispersed far from the water yet!). Speaking of babies, John hopes that the loons on the Newstok's lakes will hatch an egg or two soon!


On our walk through Dodge Nature Center this week, my wife and I found a finch nest! The robin's nest we had been observing fell over in a storm, so we're happy to have a new batch of baby birds to monitor. The finch nest was pretty messy, with rings of poop around the outside, suggesting the babies are hatched and old enough to poop over the edge (though maybe their parents are to blame!). The nest is too high for us to see in, so we'll have to wait for the babies to grow up a bit and start peeking over the edge. Later in the walk, we saw a painted turtle laying her eggs in the orchard, plus a swarm of toadlets that had just emerged from the pond! They were tiny, about the size of my pinky fingernail. Very small, extremely cute, and absolutely everywhere (the toadlets all emerge at once, using an evolutionary technique called predator swamping. The strategy is to overwhelm the predators- they can't eat them all! Sea turtle hatchlings use the same strategy.)
John says thanks and remembers a year "when the baby toads came out in such numbers that I couldn't walk through my lawn without stepping on some. There were that many. I think there had to be 50 or more per square meter, just an unbelievable population of toads!". He adds that if conditions are right and all the eggs are successful, there can be a veritable explosion of toadlets. He points out that since I live in the cities, summer arrives a little earlier than in Grand Rapids. Although I'm surrounded by toadlets, it may be another week or so until the Grand Rapids toadlets emerge!

American toadlet
Photo by Hayley Madland
American toadlet

I also asked John how heat waves affect phenology, especially in young birds. He points out that plants have no problem- give them high humidity and plenty of heat, and they'll "grow to beat the band!". Birds, however, may struggle a bit more. John tells of a blue jay nest he found last year in his garage. During a hot summer day, John looked in on the nestlings, who looked hot and pathetic. He misted them with a cool water bottle, and the birds reached up and drank the water droplets off the branches. John informs us that birds get most of their liquids from their food, such as worms and insects. They also lose less moisture than we do. When humans exhale, we lose a lot of water (think of how humid your breath is). On the other hand, birds lose very little moisture this way, and they need less because they are smaller. So, while the heat is uncomfortable for all of us, the birds are better equipped for it than we are!

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.

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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.)