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Phenology Talkbacks, September 20 2022

 Students sighted these species in Baudette this week!
Students sighted these species in Baudette this week!

It is a beautiful day, everyone! Our beloved teachers have blessed us with FOUR student reports this week, and your friendly local phenology coordinator [that's me!] is thrilled. Let's get into it!

Baudette Sept. 20

Hillary is our first reporter of the day, reporting from Andy Pierson's class at the Lake of the Woods School. The students noticed maple trees turning color, flocks of geese, a late-emerging monarch butterfly, and a rain of acorns falling from an oak tree!

John says "thanks" to Hillary and mentions that geese heading south is a sure sign of fall! The geese John observed this week have not headed south yet, but are flying around from food to water sources. As for the late-emerging monarch butterfly, John wonders if the one the students saw has made it to Grand Rapids yet! Over the past week, he has seen several in the area as they sneak through on their way south. The maple trees are certainly beginning to turn color; John's seen it in Grand Rapids, and the leaves are just starting to fall. Soon, John will notice the first bare trees of the fall [I beat him to it, though that's more thanks to damage from the emerald ash borer than the changing seasons.] Finally, Heidi feels bad for the kid being pelted by falling acorns while laying in their hammock- that sure makes it less peaceful! The acorns at John's house are falling as well. The white oak acorns are generally cut from the trees and hauled away by squirrels and chipmunks, while the red oak acorns are left alone. Apparently, the critters don't find them as tasty!

Bemidji Sept. 20

Connor and Ben bring us our report from Tami Worner's math class at TrekNorth High School. In their math class this week, they were busy calculating the volume of shapes and solids! They went on a nature hike to find these shapes in nature. The most common shape they found was circles: mushroom heads, cross sections of trees, leaves, raindrops on leaves, a red fungus on a dead tree, and a hole where a branch used to be. They also found triangles and cones: a stick in a triangle shape, layouts of trees and flowers, anthills, and dirt piles. The most challenging shape to find was a pyramid: can you think of any?

During their walk, they were surprised by their better-than-expected observational skills. They wonder why manufactured things are made into perfect shapes while natural things are not! Next week, they'll be learning about taking measurements in nature. Then, they can calculate some areas and volumes from their natural environment! They end with, "We're doing math in nature!"

John is thrilled with this idea: get the students outside, do some math, and look at some shapes! It's an idea that he hadn't thought of before. He reiterates a few of their findings and agrees that anthills make a perfect cone shape. He's stumped for pyramids, though! [So am I! Crystals in ice or rock, perhaps?] John contemplated honeycombs or cells within wasps' nests but decided they weren't quite pyramid-shaped. If you have an idea, send a note to! John concludes by stating, "That's a real new twist on phenology and I am thrilled to hear it!"

 Shapes from my balcony in West St. Paul!
Shapes from my balcony in West St. Paul!
Hill City, Sept 20

Tyler and Reed bring us the report from Matt Alleva's class at Hill City School. The trees and shrubs are having a hard time right now! A tree fell on their red osier dogwood, causing some damage. The speckled alder also died back, but some branches are hanging in there. Their highbush cranberry has no berries and lacks healthy leaf cover this year. The students report that leaves started to change color on the red osier dogwood, the highbush cranberry, the witch hazel, and the white bur oak. The oak tree hasn't produced any acorns.

In the area, the students noticed that deer and skunks had dramatically increased their activity over the last week! There were two bear sightings, geese spotted migrating, and a student saw two bald eagles! They conclude with, "It's a bird, it's a bee, it's phenology!"

John says thanks [and I'd like to extend my congratulations on an excellent tagline!]. John visited Hill City yesterday and agrees that their red osier dogwood suffered a devastating blow from a falling branch. He notes that while the American hazel turns red, beaked hazels turn yellow; a handy way to tell them apart! He concurs that white oaks are dropping acorns and leaves and that deer are just beginning to move out of the forest and into the fields. The two bear sightings reminded John that the pregnant female bears are denning up this time of year. The older males might wait until October. He adds that not all bears dig dens; some just find cozy spots above ground to pass the winter. He concludes with a note to watch out for skunks; you don't want to tangle with one of those!

Hazel comparison
Hazel comparison
Northfield, Sept 20

Aspyn and Elliot bring us the report from Michelle Martin's classroom at Prairie Creek Community School. They have focused on insects, observing dragonflies, monarchs, woolly bears, crickets, grasshoppers (fewer than last week), and flies (annoyingly abundant). The birds have been active as well, with sightings of herons, sandhill cranes, hummingbirds (maybe a baby!), geese ("So. many. geese." they say), and a junco. They're not sure about the junco because it would be a whole month earlier than their average sighting! They're going to wait for a second sighting to confirm it. The sumac is beginning to turn red, while the ashes and walnuts are turning yellow. They've found walnuts and acorns on the ground- the squirrels are happy! For the mammals, they've seen squirrels (including white ones and three having a fight), chipmunks, gophers, and a fisher (probably). Finally, they saw a lot of toads and "three friendly tree frogs," plus a lucky teacher found a salamander in her basement! They conclude, "One more step along the phenology journey!"

John says "thanks" for the report and gets a good chuckle out of their account of "So. many. geese."! He reiterates a few of their observations and focuses on the junco. John congratulates them on handling that so well; he does the same thing! If he sees a species that seems out of place (or out of season), he waits to see if he can see it again to confirm the sighting. John concurs that the sumacs are absolutely spectacular, from Northfield to Grand Rapids! The smooth sumac is "absolutely scarlet," and he notes that the bright yellows of the walnuts and black ash are also gorgeous.

 Amphibians found by students and teachers in Northfield this week
Amphibians found by students and teachers in Northfield this week
Palisade, Sept 20th

Though they couldn't make a recording this week, this is the update from Long Lake Conservation Center!

"Fall is definitely in the air, but summer is not giving up quite yet. The big news of the week is that our Loon chick is nowhere to be found. It was last spotted on Saturday. Our Loon expert friends say there are two options. The first is that our little friend became strong enough to fly, and joined a raft of Loons on a bigger lake. The other option is that it ventured too close to shore and became a meal for a predator. We may never know, but we're clinging to the idea that it's chilling with some friends on another lake. Either way, goodbye little dude. We enjoyed watching you grow up. Some of the highlights this week include a flock of migrating Blue Jays, mixed with a handful of Grey Jays. Unfortunately, they didn't stay long enough to pose for a picture, but they sure were fun to look at. There was a hatching of Snapping Turtles. We saw four who made it to Long Lake. Winter Berry Shrub has its berries. These beautiful red berries remain on the shrub all winter long, even after its lost all its leaves. Many animals eat the berries, but however tasty they might look, you should NOT EAT THEM. They are toxic. Some leaves are beginning to turn, especially Red Maples, Birch and Aspen. With warm days and cool nights, it's a great time to explore the world and we want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside and to LIVE CONNECTED."

 Blue jay and grey jay comparison
Blue jay and grey jay comparison

John says thanks and that it's a great time of year to get outside and enjoy phenology! Get out there and enjoy.

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!

Bonus: The software I use to convert audio to text sometimes messes up. Here are the highlights for this week:

"Red osier dogwood" became "Red ulcer dogwood!" Ouch.

Corrected: September 26, 2022 at 7:30 PM CDT
Corrected spelling
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.
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.
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?).