91.7 Grand Rapids | 90.5 Bemidji | 89.9 Brainerd
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Phenology Talkbacks, August 16th 2022

A large black-and-yellow bumble bee in flight over a purple flower
A rusty-patched bumble bee in flight

John and Heidi started us off with an unusual talkback: someone called John Latimer at 5:15 AM, yelling at him about a phone call he had supposedly made to them at an equally absurd time. John checked his call log and found no record of a phone call!

Stupid spammers strike again. Luckily, it's not just spammers that Heidi and John had to deal with this week: they also heard from a delightful long-distance listener from British Columbia, Beth Haasken from Long Lake Conservation Center, and me.

Sarah from West St. Paul, August 16th 2022

My big news from this week is that my wife and I found a queen rusty-patched bumblebee! You can see photos here (and the identifications by actual experts, which we are not.) It made our week!

If I'm reading his tone right, John's a little skeptical of this finding. Meanwhile, Heidi hadn't heard of the rusty-patched bumblebee before: If you're in the same boat, the rusty-patched bumblebee is a critically-endangered native bee found in the Twin Cities area. John, being the polite human he is, would never cast aspersions on someone else's observations. Instead, he notes that it's an odd time of year for a queen to be out and about, which is absolutely true for honey bees! Honey bees tend to produce new queens in early- to mid-summer when the hive population is at its peak. This is the only time you'll catch a queen honeybee alone: she flies out for a brief period to mate, then returns to the hive (the old queen has either swarmed- taken some workers and created a new hive- or been killed by the new queen).

In our native bees, however, the cycle is different; new queens emerge in the late summer or early fall, mate, then overwinter in solitude. In the spring, she will find a colony nesting spot, lay eggs, and raise the first batch of workers herself. By mid-summer, the colony will have reached its peak size, and she'll begin producing the males and the next generation of queens. These reproducing offspring will leave the nest, mate, and (in the case of the queens) prepare to hibernate. When the cold weather arrives in the fall, the males, workers, and old queen die; the next generation's survival rests entirely on the shoulders (thoraxes?) of the lonely hibernating queens!

[To summarize: Neener neener, John, I write the web stories and, therefore, I get the last word! Plus, writing web stories gives me time to fact-check, while poor old John has to hope he can remember all the right facts, off the cuff, at the precise moment they're needed, without ever misspeaking. I think I'll stick to web stories, thanks, and leave the radio to the professionals!]

A large black-and-yellow bumblebee sitting on a purple flower. Its back is to the camera and you can see a small bald spot on the thorax and a yellow-and-black abdomen.
My pride and joy, AKA a rusty-patched bumble bee queen
LLCC, August 16th 2022

This week's report is brought to you by Education Coordinator Beth Haasken.

"A walk from my office to the shore of Long Lake is only about 200 feet but because there's so much to see it can take me 30 minutes. On my walk today, I spied Black-Eyed Susans, Pagoda Dogwood Berries, Butterfly Weed blooms and pods, Common Milkweed, Bull Thistle, Canada Thistle gone to seed (should have weeded them), Tansy (them too), Common Yarrow, Green Bulrush, Giant Goldenrod, Virginia Mountain Mint, Nodding Onion, Prairie Goldenrod, Prairie Ironweed, Asters, Purple Prairie Clover, Bee Balm, and White Water-Lilies. Two large oak trees are dropping lots of acorns. A chipmunk was so busy gathering/eating acorns on the path, I had to move for it. There are lots of bees (especially around the Bee Balm) and Carolina Grasshoppers. I spotted the season's first Hummingbird Moth on Arrowhead blooms. Along the way I encountered Frogs, Canada Geese swimming in oddly perfect single-file lines, Adult Loons and their little loon, a Kingfisher, and Solitary Sandpipers. It was a short but lovely little walk. You don't have to go on long adventures to see wonderful things. Unplug, get outside and live connected."

John walks at about the same pace as Beth: what's the point of hurrying when there are so many wonderful things to see?

A small, alert-looking brown rodent with large black eyes, a red nose, and tan and black stripes running along its back. The face is in focus while the back and tail are blurry. It is standing on a cream-colored fabric.
Eastern Chipmunk

Finally, we got this wonderful note from Hugh in British Columbia:

Hugh from New Westminster, British Columbia, August 16th 2022

"Hi there -- I just wanted to let you folks know that I have enjoyed The Phenology Report as a podcast for the last year now. I live in New Westminster, a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada.

With COVID, I became interested in observing nature around me (side note: I'm amazed at the variety of life that can be seen even in a big city); at some point, I tripped over The Phenology Report, and it's become an incredibly enjoyable part of my routine (and my mental health!).

John Latimer is a great and engaging host, and has inspired me to take my own notes about what I see around me. I'm also taking observations for Nature's Notebook, keeping track of the changes in a few different trees in my neighbourhood. I may not get to the multiple decades of observations that John has under his belt, but it keeps me off the streets and out of trouble. :-) I'm coming on a year of observations, so I'm just about at the point where I can start to see the cycles wrap around. 

(Side note: what kind of indexing system does John use to dig up his information? I'm always impressed at how he can do this!)

John is always asking for observations, so here are mine:

- A second (possibly third) brood of American Robins has hatched near me; so has a second brood of House Finches.

- Juvenile American Crows are slowly growing up. Side note: we have a big roost here in Vancouver, and in the fall and winter they fly in and out every day; I can count hundreds of them making their commute in the morning. It's been interesting to see them stop this in the spring and summer as they nest, and I'm watching for them to begin taking up the commute again.

- There are a set of seven maple trees (Norways, I think) planted along a street near me; they're in full leaf, with lots of insects living on them. Last fall I noticed that one -- only one! -- of them was notably behind the others in turning colours (by at least a couple of weeks), yet seems to be otherwise identical. I'm watching to see if it repeats this behaviour this fall, and am curious what might make one different in this way.

Thanks again for the podcast; I look forward to more reports.

All the best,


Three young robins sitting in a twig nest. Their beaks have a vibrant yellow color and they have brown-and-tan spots on the chest.
American Robin nestlings

Since receiving this email last week, John has been swapping emails back and forth with Hugh. Unfortunately, John's computer was fighting with him (again!) this morning, so he couldn't pull it up while on air. We hope to hear more from Hugh and from you!

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 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?).