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Phenology Report, June 28 2022

John Swartz via KAXE-KBXE Season Watch FB Page
Trumpeter swan and cygnets

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What do dead birds, flowers, bug bites, spit, screaming, swans, and foraged tea have in common? They're all mentioned in John's phenology report this week!

John begins with an update on local flowering plants:

  • Getting ready to flower:  

    • Tall meadow rue 
    • Black-eyed Susan  
    • Basswood, a tree I remember because the large, sturdy leaves can make great emergency toilet paper (it's in the name, after all): John, a more dignified man, knows it for the flowers. Apparently, they smell amazing and make great tea when dried! 
    • Marsh cinquefoil, which is not a true cinquefoil but has similar leaves. Look for a purple flower when it blooms. 

      Basswood leaves and flowers
      Photo by iNaturalist user Rice0708
      Closeup of basswood flowers and leaves

  • In full bloom:  

    • Maiden pink, a 5-petaled flower found in sandy, dry hay fields. Flowers measure about 0.75" across. 
    • Thimbleberry, which is covered in 1.25-1.5" white flowers) 
    • Blackberries 
    • Raspberries 
    • Common fleabane  
    • Cow parsnip, found along roadways: 6 feet tall, with a disc of flowers "as big as a pie" on top, with maple-shaped leaves as big as your hand. 
    • Rough cinquefoil. All cinquefoils have five petals. Rough cinquefoil has bright yellow flowers and is also called "rough strawberry" because they look strawberry-like. They produce no edible fruits. 
    • Sulfur cinquefoil is 15 inches tall with a 5-petaled pale yellow blossom. 
    • Tufted loosestrife (not to be confused with the purple loosestrife, which is invasive). 12" tall, with bright yellow half-inch-wide pom-poms where the leaves emerge from the stem. The pom-poms don't have a lot of petals and look very fluffy, like a ball of yellow hair. 
    • Curled dock (previously known as Indian tobacco: the deep, dark brown color of ripe seeds resembles that of tobacco) has a green flower, distinct little flakes of seeds with 2-3" wide, 8-10"long leaves with curled edges (hence curled dock!).  
    • Bush honeysuckle (found alongside trails: look for twin yellow flowers)
    • Red-osier dogwood will flower all summer (called indeterminate flowering). 

      cow parsnip
      Photo by iNaturalist user mihow
      A field of cow parsnips

  • At the end of bloom: 

  • Setting seed: 

Wild strawberries are ripe and well worth the search. ("If you want to ruin your opinion of store-bought strawberries, go out and pick a handful of local wild ones," John says!) He recommends finding them in sandy areas, as there is less undergrowth and they are easier to find! John and his neighbor Marvin were out last week and found some slightly underripe berries, which means they'll be perfect this week. Marvin's granddaughter collected enough to make wild strawberry jam (an awe-inspiring feat- they're fragile, small, and it takes a considerable quantity to make anything out of them!) John says it's one of the best gifts he's ever received.

wild strawberry picking
Foraged wild strawberries

It wouldn't be an accurate representation of summer in Northern Minnesota without mention of the mosquitos! John notes that hot days host far fewer mosquitos than cool days. He was entering phenology data into his phone last week, and the mosquitos were swarming the backs of his hands. When he could spare a hand to slap them, he frequently killed 5-10 mosquitos in a single slap! The worst mosquitos John ever saw were along the Prairie River, where they were rising in clouds from the grass at his feet. He also remembers a spot near the Kawishiwi River, where just clapping your hands in the air could kill five mosquitos at a time. Aside from those two, though, the mosquitos right now are the worst he's ever encountered! He encourages us to "get out and kill your fair share," which is one of the more bloodthirsty quotes I've ever gotten from this otherwise-wholesome show.

Another insect that is making itself apparent is the spittlebug. Have you ever seen what looks like spit or frothed milk on the stem of a plant? John identifies the bug responsible: the spittlebug. If you gently blow the foam away, you'll see a small green or yellow nymph perched on the plant beneath. The spittlebug orients itself with the head down and tail up, then inserts its mouth parts into the plant. It pumps the fluid from the plant through its body, feeding on it and using the tail hairs to agitate the liquid and create bubbles. The bubbles protect the spittlebug from drying out and from predators- a neat trick!

Meadow spittlebug
Photo by iNaturalist user Malcolmjames
Meadow spittlebug "spit"

Moving on from spit, let's talk about screaming. As we know, John keeps detailed records of hundreds of seasonal events every year- it turns out that one of them involves crows screaming at each other! Apparently, the couple of weeks after young crows fledge is full of unique screaming calls. John says they only do it in late June and early July and that it's associated with fledging (getting out of the nest and gathering as a family). He concludes, "So, if you are hearing crows making weird noises right now, it's entirely normal."

John's final notes are somber ones. He found a dead cygnet (baby swan) at the end of his driveway. Because it was about 400 meters from the lake, John assumes that an eagle or hawk caught it, then dropped it: a fox, raccoon, or coyote would have eaten it instantly. The cygnet was large, about the size of a teal. John left it, knowing that whatever predator dropped it would need the sustenance and would likely be back for it.

He also found a dead turkey poult (juvenile) in his yard. It was about the size of a de-feathered crow (weird comparison, but okay, John!) and had its pin feathers (feathers that have emerged from the skin but not unfurled- they look like pins). Due to the lack of opened feathers, he initially had some difficulty identifying it. After ruling out songbirds due to size, John consulted Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings and determined it was a turkey poult.

Turkey poult
Charlie Hertel
Turkey poult

Though these losses were sad, John does leave us on a hopeful note. Trumpeter swans were once completely extirpated in Minnesota, but after the 1983 reintroduction of 24 birds by Carol Henderson, the state now hosts over 30,000 swans! The reintroduction was a massive success, and we are the proud stewards of the largest trumpeter swan population in the contiguous United States. Turkeys, too, continue to thrive here. So, although John had the misfortune to stumble across two sad losses this week, both species' populations remain healthy. "I take heart from that," concludes John.

That does it for this week! Remember that you can send in your reports, anecdotes, and observations! We would love to hear from you (or your children/grandchildren). Contact me (smitchell@kaxe.org) or John (jlatimer@kaxe.org), 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 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?).