Phenology Talkbacks, October 4 2022
It's the first weekend of October, and we already have student reports in the double digits! What a great way to start the month!
First, we hear Jaxen from Andrew Pierson's class at Lake of the Woods School in Baudette. The class has observed fall colors, the first frost, flocks of crows, wooly bear caterpillars, and a blue-spotted salamander!
John congratulates them on their great report and notes that the leaves will fall soon. He adds that the wooly bear caterpillar is the larval form of the Isabella tiger moth! There has long been a myth that the size of the red bands correlates to the length of the upcoming winter; however, that is not a reliable measure.
Isabel and Ava bring us the report from Angie Nistler's Science Nature Adventure Program at Bemidji Middle School. They've seen goldenrods, red squirrels, chipmunks, flocks of robins, deer, a bunny taken by an owl (!), a turtle in need of rescuing, a potential porcupine, and a doe and fawn! They also observed that the ferns are turning yellow and brown, the oak tree and beaked hazelnut are producing nuts and acorns, and the pine needles are turning orange. "Snap to it: Get into the wild and be observant!"
John says thanks! He adds that bunnies get taken by owls every day, but we rarely get the chance to witness it.
Miles and Abby report from Mr. Linder's class at Cohasset Elementary School. They noted the rapid changing of leaf color in many tree species, hard frosts, and the departure of many migrating birds. More deer are on roadsides looking for food, and squirrels and chipmunks are busy gathering food. "Onward and awkward!"
John says, "Onward for you guys, awkward for me!" He says thank you, reiterates a few of their observations, and adds that he's also seen chipmunks and squirrels adding to their winter stores.
Shiane reads the report from Josh Helmbrecht's class at West Rapids Elementary in Grand Rapids. During their excursion last week, the students noted a light wind, lots of wildlife (a daddy long-legs, a meadowhawk, another dragonfly, a Blue Jay, some chipmunks, a millipede, an eagle, and two cardinals), and the changing color of the birch trees. They also learned how to identify a sugar maple by its smooth-edged leaves!
John says thanks for the report and notes that his birches vary in color. One birch in his yard is green as an apple, while another is yellow as a lemon! "Birches are of their own mind when it comes to fall color change," he concludes.
Our next report comes from Collin Cody's class at West Rapids Elementary School in Grand Rapids. The students observed that the red maple was still green, sugar maple seeds were falling, paper birch seeds weren't ripe yet, and butternut leaves were 30% yellow. They also learned that basswood leaves are very smooth compared to the similar-looking elm leaves.
John agrees that the school's red maple was remarkably green last week. He adds that if you have maple seeds falling in your yard right now, that's a great sign that you have a sugar maple!
Cheyenne and Haley bring us the report from Matt Alleva's class at Hill City School. The students observed trees from 10-20% color change and up to 50% leaf loss. They noted that days are getting shorter and shorter and observed frost on the ground Tuesday and Wednesday. "While walking on his driveway in the woods, Stephen had a squirrel climb his leg and jump off at the knee. He swears it's true!" The class has seen fewer deer but increased turkey, fox, duck, grouse, and geese activity in the area. "It's a bird, it's a bee, it's phenology!"
John gets a chuckle from their class tagline and thanks the students for their report! He adds that while his ashes on lower ground have lost almost all their leaves, his upland ashes are just starting to turn colors. Then, he reiterates a few student observations, calling the report a "compendium of fall events!"
Laila is our reporter from the North Woods Community School near Duluth. They've noticed more frequent and harder frosts, including a deep freeze. The students saw faint Northern Lights last week and are looking forward to seeing more as the evenings darken! Garden plants are dying due to the frosts, apple trees are perfect for picking, trees are turning colors, and household and farm pets are changing to their winter coats. Chipmunks and squirrels are caching food in preparation for winter, and fewer birds are migrating through (but plenty of year-round flocks are foraging for food). One family spotted a snow goose moving through on its way from the Arctic! Insects have almost disappeared, but they found a tree frog hopping by a creek! "Did you know that a tree frog spends winter in a partially frozen state under litter, rocks, and logs? This concludes the phenology report: Have a great week, and be observant!"
John says thank you for the excellent report and notes that he recorded the first frost in Grand Rapids on September 28th. He reiterates some of the observations: there were many great ones!
Dawson is our reporter from Braham Elementary's trip to Long Lake Conservation Center:
"During our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center the week of September 26th, we enjoyed beautiful early fall weather. A gaggle of Canada Geese stopped at Long Lake on their journey south. A Belted Kingfisher and large group of Blue Jays also paid us a visit. In the morning the Bumblebees, Flower Flies and Soldier Beetles were on the remaining Golden Rod and Purple Aster. They didn't move at all and we thought they were dead, but they were just very cold. When the sun came out and they warmed up, they resumed collecting nectar and pollen. Our group found a Stinkhorn Mushroom. It's a weird looking thing that smells like… well let's just say it smells bad. The smell attracts flies. Stinkhorns are edible, but only when they are young and not slimy and smelly. No thanks. We found a lot of really cool stuff in the lake bottom, including Damselfly Nymphs, Water Boatman and Caddisfly nymphs. The Caddisfly nymphs were spotted scurrying around in the sand. They glue the sand together to make a shell that they use for protection. Pretty cool. We also found lots and lots of Dragonfly Larva. If this is any indication, next year's hatch of Dragonflies should be a big one. The lots of trees are starting to turn colors and lose leaves, but our favorite is the Red Maple. It's a great time to explore the world, and we want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside, and to live connected."
John says thanks for the great report and mentions that Belted Kingfishers stay in the area for quite a while. He adds that the yellow-and-blacked striped insects often found in flowers this time of year are flies that mimic the colors of hornets. This tactic scares away potential predators and seems to work pretty well! John congratulates Dawson on his excellent job describing the stinkhorn mushroom and adds that his field guide to mushrooms says, "Edible, but why would you?". Last, John points out the joys of getting out to check out what kind of critters live in the bottom of a swamp or pond: there are lots of cool things in there!
Lilliana reports from Ramsey Elementary's trip to Long Lake Conservation Center:
"During our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center the second half of the week of September 26th, we saw a lot of interesting nature. Wooly Worms were out and moving in the woods and the paths. We call them Wooly Worms, but we learned they are actually Wooly Bear Caterpillars and are the larva of the Isabella Tiger Moth. This week is the first week they have been seen at Long Lake. Long Lake's naturalists told us that people believe that the amount of orange on the caterpillar is an indication about how long winter will last. They say that's not true, but if it were, it will be a short winter. Our group also saw Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillars, also a first for the season. They are big, black and a little spikey. In other nature sightings Steve, Adrian and Jamie saw deer, Landon found a Garter Snake, Taeclen found a dragonfly, Adrian and the yellow group spotted a Redbelly snake, Emma found a Blue Spotted Salamander, Elise and Ava found a wide variety of mushrooms (but none that were edible), Kanyin found a leopard frog, Erik saw a wood frog, McLadi spotted a Ladybug and a Spring Peeper was seen. One group found a moth that looked like a stick and camouflaged itself perfect in a fallen wood, we think it might be a Sweetheart Underwing Moth. It was very cool. This week was also notable for what we didn't see. Our group did NOT see any deer flies or ticks, and we only had a report of ONE mosquito. This was nearly our first pest insect-free week! The leaves are turning colors, the sunrise is beautiful, and it's a great time to explore nature. We want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside, and live connected!"
John says thank you for the great report! The kids in Hill City have a 'pet' giant leopard moth caterpillar, which is a large, black, furry caterpillar. If you look between the spikey, furry parts, you'll see a spot of bright red skin: they're very fierce looking! The hairs aren't irritating (at least for John's scaly old hands).
Robbie and Brianna are our reporters from Mary Wilfahrt's class at Shakopee Middle School. They have noticed changing leaf colors, the first fall frost, and migrating birds. The plants are still alive: the frost hasn't killed them off yet! "That's what's happening in Shakopee West Middle School."
John says thanks and remarks that their first frost was the same day as Grand Rapids! Likely, it wasn't as cold in Shakopee as it was in Grand Rapids. John expects to hear more about leaves changing in the Shakopee region as the season progresses.
Evelyn, Elias, and Josiah report from the Stone household. Evelyn and Elias reported seeing "a frog as big as my mom's hand," paper wasps, otter scat, raccoons, deer, grouse, a yellow butterfly with black spots, and teals. The teals were lucky and escaped the hunters who were distracted by conversation! The hawthorn berries are dropping this week. Josiah reports seeing two coyotes along the road and an owl swooping overhead. "I saw its butt!"
John gets a good chuckle from their report and agrees that many ducks have lucky escapes due to hunters chatting in their duck blinds. John's definitely done it himself! He thinks the yellow butterfly with black spots was a common sulphur butterfly. [I'll add that this report sent my wife and me into peals of laughter: If you don't listen to the kids' voices, it's well worth it. Thanks, Stone family!]
What a week! Thank you to all the students, schools, and families who sent their reports. No phenological events are going to get past these kids!
Remember that you can add your voice to this list! We would love to hear from you. Get in touch with me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or John (email@example.com), or text 'phenology' to 218-326-1234.
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