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Phenology Report, August 9 2022

Bur oak has fuzzy acorns and broad, smooth lobed leaves. Red oak has acorns with a smooth cap and pointed lobed leaves. Bush maple has red seeds attached to a wing.
Acorns and samaras

It's a packed week for the phenology report! We have updates on acorns, berries, flowers, bird migration, and more.

John has been keeping an eye on the oaks in his yard and isn't finding many acorns! He pawed around in the young bur oak's branches but could only find a few young acorns. The larger bur oak and red oak had none, though he looked closely with his binoculars. He suspects that since last year's crop was so bountiful, the trees may be recovering this year!

In contrast, the bush maple in John's yard is covered in seeds. Bush maples are shrubs, not trees; the largest reach only 15-20 feet tall, and they are rare (most are 8-12 feet tall). Like other maples, they have winged seeds called samaras. As the fall progresses, the bush maple samaras will get progressively redder, eventually turning a coral red/orange color: John says they're gorgeous! Look around your neighborhood: depending on your region and the amount of sunlight, they may already be turning color.

John's also keeping track of the seasonal fruits:

  • Pagoda dogwood is beginning to show a blush on the berries, and the structure holding the berries is turning red (characteristic of dogwoods: worth taking a look next time you have the chance!). Fruits in sunlight develop more rapidly than fruits in the shade, changing from green to orangey-red to a deep blue. 
  • Black chokeberry- Ripe: can be distinguished from the chokecherry by a scar or flower remnant at the bottom or end of the fruit (like an apple). 
  • Chokecherry is just approaching full ripeness at John's house (mostly dark purple, with some still reddish). Unlike the black chokeberry, the fruit is smooth except where it attaches to the stem. 
  • Blueberry is almost done. Very few green berries are left on the plants, and many of the berries are soft and squishy. 
  • Northern gooseberry can be distinguished from the prickly gooseberry by the lack of pricks on berries. Berries are getting ripe; purple berries are much more flavorful than red berries. 
  • Raspberry is producing heavily right now! Go out and enjoy them! 
  • Pin cherry- done for the season. 

    Black chokeberries are dark red with flower remnants on bottom of fruit. Chokecherries are smooth, dark red fruits in a bunch. Pagoda dogwood has blue berries at the end of a red branching structure. Blueberries are vivid blue on a short plant. Northern gooseberry has a green striped fruit with no spines. Prickly gooseberry has a green striped fruit with spines. Red raspberries are vivid red with many bumps, on a spiny stem.
    Late summer fruits

Flowers in bloom right now:

Plants setting seed:

  • Spotted touch-me-not (aka jewelweed) seeds are starting to ripen. The flowers are orange, with trumpet-shaped structures attached to a 'fishhook' shape. When a hummingbird reaches its tongue through the fishhook structure, the pollen-bearing surface of the jewelweed touches the hummingbird's forehead. When it visits the next flower, it deposits that pollen on the female part of the plant, accomplishing pollination. When they form, the seeds are held in small banana-shaped structures that explode on contact- they're pretty fun to trigger! Plus, jewelweed is a highly desirable plant, so you can explode the seeds with abandon. 
  • Common milkweed and swamp milkweed are developing pods. The pods are edible, so now is the time to go out and forage some if you'd like! 

    Common milkweed is shown with a green developing pod with a bumpy oval shape. Swamp milkweed is shown at its ripe stage, with the pod broken open and white, fluffy seeds emerging. Spotted touch-me-not is shown with an intact seed pod that looks like a brown sugar-snap pea.

Hummingbirds are back at John's feeders. Three weeks ago, he didn't see them often; they were busy feeding their young. Since the young have fledged, the hummingbirds are emptying John's feeder almost daily. Soon, the male hummingbirds will fly south, and the females will follow them shortly after. If you feed hummingbirds, you can increase the sugar to a 3:1 ratio instead of 4:1 as August progresses: they need all the help they can get during migration!

John has also been visited by rose-breasted grosbeaks and their young. They'll likely be migrating south soon. The sandhill cranes are out in the fields, and one family that John's been keeping tabs on has one colt (young crane). The family started the summer with two colts but only have one remaining; better one than none! Similarly, the trumpeter swans on John's lake have three cygnets (they started with four). They are now about the size of a Canada goose, so they're getting pretty big!

John encourages you to keep an eye out for the nighthawk migration, which typically begins around August 21st (though John has reported seeing them as early as August 13th). You may also start to see monarchs migrating; there are lots of them out right now sporting brand-new, fresh wings: they've just emerged from their chrysalises and are getting ready to head south!

rose-breasted grosbeak is black with a white chest and red bib. Ruby-throated hummingbird  is green with a red throat and white upper chest. Sandhill cranes are shown silhouetted in flight against the sky, with necks stretched forward and legs held behind. Trumpeter swans are white with black beaks, flying with their necks extended and their much shorter legs held behind. Common nighthawk is shown in silhouette, with sharply curved wings and a long tail.

Along with the monarchs, John has seen white admiral butterflies and northern pearly-eyes. Carolina grasshoppers (the ones with black wings with a white border) are also making themselves known; look for them as you walk along. If you see one hovering about three feet above the ground, it's likely a male trying to impress a female! John's also seen quite a few dragonflies, including Canada darners, blue dashers, common white-tails, pondhawks, red meadow hawks, and 12-spotted skimmers. The meadowhawks will persist into October.

See something noteworthy? 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 22 years. She currently helms the Morning Show as News and Public Affairs Director where she manages producers, hosts local interviews and programs, oversees and manages web stories and establishes focus areas of programming like phenology, clean energy, Indigenous voices, Strong Women, local foods, clean energy, economic development and more. 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. During the pandemic, Heidi hosted 14 months of a weekly statewide conversation on COVID-19 for the AMPERS network.
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?).