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Phenology Talkbacks, August 9 2022

A small plant with vibrant green leaves and small white flowers on delicate stalks.
Photo by iNaturalist user shaelahi
Broadleaf enchanter's nightshade

Things were quiet this week as we wait for our beloved students to return from their summer adventures! However, a few folks were kind enough to send in their observations, so there's no need for John to cry himself to sleep just yet.

Carol from Eveleth, August 9th 2022

A friend of mine noticed a flower in the midst of my ostrich fern garden. I'd not noticed it before. So, today, I did a bit of research with iNaturalist and the Minnesota Wildflower site: it turns out it's broad-leafed enchanter's nightshade! I'd only been familiar with the dark purple, vining, deadly bittersweet nightshade. Enchanter's nightshade has the tiniest delicate white flowers along the top of delicate stalks that are about 6 inches long and sprout at an angle between the main stem and a pair of leaves. Along the delicate stalks are tiny, hairy, teardrop-shaped fruits. The broad-leafed enchanter's nightshade is about two feet tall in my garden. I learned that it is one of several native nightshades in Minnesota. They do look a bit like a weed, but the delicate flowers have enchanted me this week.

John wrote back to Carol and told her that he had become familiar with nightshades quite by accident. He was visiting a friend and started wandering the edge of their property. At the border between the lawn and the woods, John found a dwarf enchanter's nightshade, a smaller variety of the species Carol described. It had the same broad leaf and little stalk with tiny white flowers: just gorgeous! John reports that they're blooming now, so it's a great time to look for them if you're out wandering. You never know if you'll have some rarer nightshades in addition to the more common bittersweet nightshade! The bittersweet nightshade has vibrant purple-and-yellow flowers and grows tomato-like fruit (though not edible). John concludes, "So check 'em out, get out there and observe. You won't be sorry!"

Next, we hear from Ruth, a long-time contributor of phenology notes!

Ruth, August 9th 2022

I'm just wondering if the DNR has gone out this year to check eagles' nests like they have in the past to see how many babies there are and how many active nests there are. It just seems there are a lot fewer eagles and other birds around this year, I assumed because of avian flu. As an example, my entire family of pileated woodpeckers is gone. On another note, my flycatcher family has fledged, but when the family was out with the youngsters, I was watching the snow and noticed a chickadee with them. After a while, I noticed the chickadee picking out bugs and such from the pine trees and going and feeding them to the fledglings. I am sure there was at least one adult flycatcher because the babies would go and beg for food, but the chickadee was a surprise!

John says he hasn't heard of that before [me either!], but that's the reward of observing! You get to see unique behaviors. [I know I'd happily trade a few fingers from my left hand to see that in person- I hope Ruth can get a video!] As far as eagles go, John says that March and April were particularly abysmal for raising young eagles. They had an awful time of it. It snowed often, was cold and windy, and was just an all-around horrible time to be stuck on a nest incubating eggs. In the case of the eagles next to John's house, they were unsuccessful in bringing fledglings out this year. Overall, however, the eagles have done an incredible job of recovering. John isn't sure if the DNR continues to do eagle surveys [they don't]. The bald eagle has been delisted as threatened because their recovery has been so remarkable; it may be that this year was just a bad one for them! John notes that if the nest fails (as it did at his house), the parents stop spending time there. There's no reason for them to be there without young; they can roost wherever. Instead, the adults just hang around good fishing spots. So, although John doesn't see many eagles himself, he's confident there are plenty around still!

Last week, John and Scott talked about snakes after the Long Lake campers reported seeing a garter snake in the bog. The naturalists there hadn't seen a snake in the bog before. David was listening in and contributed this message!

David from New York Mills

David reports that he grew up near two bogs bisected by a road. When he was 10-12 years old, he made a little raft they would take in the bog to visit a little island that floated around the bog. While out there, they stumbled across a 4-5 foot snake with green and yellow stripes! It scared the kids, who were pretty young. So, he can attest that there are garter snakes in bogs! He isn't sure how deep the bog was, but it never went dry.

John agrees with Dave that garter snakes are often found in bogs! On Monday, John was at the SPRUCE project bog and saw a garter snake. His associate Kyle Pearson also saw some garter snakes in the area. John concludes that they're pretty widespread; if there's a food source out there (frogs and small mammals), they'll follow it.

Our final note this week is from Julia, a Long Lake Conservation Center naturalist.

Julia from Long Lake Conservation Center, August 9th 2022

Wild raspberries are still in abundance and blueberries are ripe in the bog. Gooseberries are ripening (all berries eaten by photographer for purely scientific reasons). Maybe the first signs of chicken of the woods re-appearing and large patches of False Chanterelles were spotted on campus. We also found clumps of ghost pipes. In other news, the Loon was teaching its baby to dive in the shallows. The chick is now spending more time away from mom and dad and growing more independent. They grow up so fast. The Milkweed is just starting to form its pods and the Monarch caterpillars have formed chrysalises in the butterfly house.

John agrees that the raspberries are doing great this year! He says that if you're downwind of a patch, you can smell them; the smell always leads him in for a taste!

John declares, "I'm in the bear group when it comes to berry picking. They go from paw to mouth, paw to mouth: there's no pie, no jam, no jelly. None of that. It's just, 'Oh, raspberries, let's eat some!' Pick a couple handfuls and..."

Heidi: "Smash them in your face?"

John: "Yep."

With that classic John/Heidi banter, we conclude the talkbacks for this week!

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.

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 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 the KAXE team in February of 2022. Charlie 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, she 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?).