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Phenology Talkbacks, October 18th 2022

Image taken by Aria Robertson, a SNAP student!
Colorful trees along the SNAP phenology trail in Bemidji.

This week marks the beginning of John's 40th year doing phenology on the radio! John and Scott start the morning with a discussion on tree colors. The pin oaks have turned a deep red, but they will soon fall and leave (pun intended) us with only the yellow willow trees to give color to the forests. The trees and shrubs that are green this time of year are primarily non-natives: the ubiquitous and incredibly invasive buckthorn is particularly prominent! John's rule of thumb: if it's green this time of year, it's probably not a native species!

Then, they get to this week's eight student reports, including TWO new schools! Let's get cracking.

Lake of the Woods School, Oct. 18th

Claire reports from Andrew Pierson's class at Lake of the Woods School in Baudette. The students have seen inky-cap mushrooms and flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos in their yards. One student saw a skunk scampering along the side of a road. [Stay safe, skunk!] The tamarack trees were finally turning yellow.

John says thanks for the nice notes and that he's also seen juncos at his house! Dark-eyed Juncos are dark grey birds with white bellies, a pale bill, and distinctive white feathers on the outside of the tail. They are primarily ground feeders and move in big flocks. John adds that the sighting of inky-caps (in the genus Coprinus) is interesting and that he's also seen yellowing tamarack trees. "It's not too late to get out and enjoy a bit of fall color. I hope you will do the same!" he concludes.

Lake of the Woods School student observations, October 18th 2022
SNAP program, Oct. 18th

Isabel reports from Angie Nistler's Science Nature Adventure Program at Bemidji Middle School. They have seen a lot of animals this week, including skunks, raccoons, garter snakes, grouse, pileated woodpeckers, and deer. On their phenology walk, they found baby deer tracks and saw a young deer on the trail and some shaggy mane mushrooms. The trees are putting on a great display of color, with red oaks nearly purple! Unfortunately, those colors were covered by a blanket of snow. The cattails are dying, but some painted turtles are still basking in the pond. The milkweed pods are open and are spreading their fluffy seeds in the wind! "SNAP to it, get into the wild, and be observant!"

John thanks Isabel for the report and notes that the shaggy mane, inky cap, and Coprinus all refer to the same mushroom! It's a late-season mushroom that is relatively abundant. He also notes that the garter snakes and painted turtles are at the end of their season. The snakes will go to their hibernacula, spending the season in big groups below the frost line. The turtles will dive down into the mud at the bottom of ponds and hold their breath through the cold winter (all seven months!).

Photo by Aria Robertson, a student in the SNAP program!
Milkweed seeds
Waubun Forest School Program, Oct. 18th

Kenly and Clara report from Courtney Farwell and Nick Lenzen's Forest School Program in Waubun. Last week, they had an average temperature of 51.4 degrees F, just 0.4 degrees lower than last year's average temperature of 51.8 degrees F. They had their first snow of the year on Friday, with a snow depth of 1/3500 inches (compared to no snow in October 2021). They wonder what it will be like next year! The students saw their first Dark-eyed Juncos of the season and noticed they didn't seem as plump as they were last year. Due to the noise and commotion of construction, they haven't seen as many birds: they hope that once the work is complete, they'll see more! "Thank you for listening to Waubun phenology: Living the Nature Life!"

John says thanks and welcome to the program! He particularly enjoyed their snowfall measurement: he was stuck in a 6th-floor room in Minneapolis when the snow came, so he couldn't get out to measure it. [While poor John was languishing indoors, I got to be with the class at Waubun on Friday. It was terrific! They have a beautiful school forest, engaging teachers, and great students. Plus, there was an abundance of lichens, many friendly birds, and I even found a beautiful round-lobed hepatica tucked up under a tree trunk! They're my favorite springtime flower. I hope to be back to visit soon!]

Waubun Forest School Program student observations, October 18th 2022
Hill City School, Oct. 18th

Steven and Tyler report from Matt Alleva's class at Hill City School. Their ash tree has wholly changed color and lost 25% of its leaves. The red osier dogwood has lost all its leaves, and its bark has turned a deep red. There is one lonely leaf still clinging to the highbush cranberry tree, the beaked hazel has lost all its leaves, and the white/bur oak has only 3% of its leaves left. There was snow on the ground Friday morning, and many students saw deer, turkeys, and owls. A family dog got sprayed by a skunk three times! "It's a bird, it's a bee, it's phenology!"

John thanks the reporters and compliments their teacher on a great program! John visited Hill City School earlier in the year and met the students (and the trees). He noted that their black ash tree is on high ground and, therefore, will likely hold its leaves longer than black ashes on the low ground: he's seen this pattern hold across the region!

Hill City School student observations, October 18th 2022
Holy Rosary School, Oct. 18th

Averi and Reagan report from Steve Dahlberg's class at the Holy Rosary School in Detroit Lakes. The students have observed four raccoons (including three wrestling in a garbage can!), hundreds of red-winged blackbirds flying south, a garter snake, white-tailed deer (including bucks and fawns), a jackrabbit, and red-bellied snakes. They've also noted the falling maple leaves, frost on the roofs of houses, and many stratus and nimbostratus clouds.

John says thanks for the nice report! He has seen a few Red-winged Blackbirds but adds that the western part of the state sees enormous flocks of them. While in Red Wing one year, John watched a constant stream of Red-winged Blackbirds flying by for 40 minutes! He mentions that the garter and red-bellied snakes seen by the students are likely heading to their hibernaculum for the winter and that his maple trees are bare as well.

Holy Rosary School student observations, October 18th 2022
Long Lake Conservation Center, Oct. 18th

Maggie reports from Waconia Middle School's trip to Long Lake Conservation Center:

"During our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center from October 12th through the 14th winter arrived. The first official snowfall of the year happened on Thursday, October 13th, close to the average date of first snow. As the temperatures dropped we watched the Garter Snakes leave their forest territory and head to their hibernaculum for the winter. On Wednesday Dozens of Garter Snakes were spotted approaching and nearby the hibernaculum on Wednesday, with many clustered and seen entering it. When our group peered into the opening of the hibernaculum, a baby Blue Spotted Salamander came out of the hole. Is it normal for Salamanders and Garter Snakes to share the same hibernaculum? Other sightings included the arrival of a flock of Juncos and a large group of Blue Jays. In the bog, the Tamaracks have now turned about half gold in color and some of their needles are starting to fall off. Many of the Pitcher Plants have turned completely purplish red, and during our Bog trek we saw two voles. Our Naturalists tell us that this is the first sighting of voles in the bog in a while. More Milkweed pods have burst open, but many are still closed. Oak trees have joined the autumn fun, and are now full color, and leaves are falling as fast as the snow. It's a great time to explore nature and we want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside and to… LIVE CONNECTED."

John thanks Maggie for the report and is excited that the students could see snakes heading to a hibernaculum! He informs us that snakes hibernate together in old animal burrows, tunnels, or basements. They're happy as long as there's decent humidity and it's below the frost line! The blue-spotted salamander is unlikely to share the space with them: likely, the salamander was just exploring before bedding down for the winter under a log or the leaf litter.

Long Lake Conservation Center student observations, October 18th 2022
Roots and Wings Forest School, Oct. 18th

Timmy, Finley, and Kip report from Leona Cichy's class at Roots and Wings Forest School in New York Mills. The students saw a magpie, a bald eagle, robins migrating south, and lime green tamaracks turning yellow. On Thursday and Friday, it snowed: Winter is coming! "Thanks for listening!"

John thanks Timmy, Finley, and Kip for their report! He's happy to have reports from New York Mills; it's wonderful to hear what's happening in the Western part of the state!

Roots and Wings Forest School student observations, October 18th 2022
Bonus clip: John's 40th year doing phenology on the radio and the Many Purposes of Pumpkins.
North Shore Community School, Oct. 18th

Kaden reports from Darcie Rolfe's class at the North Shore Community School in Duluth.

  1. Friday, October 7th: A student saw tree frogs sitting under leaves while raking. 
  2. Saturday, October 9th: A garter snake slithered across the Knife River Superior Hiking Trail.  
  3. Sunday, October 9th: There was a bright orange "hunter's moon." 
  4. Monday, October 10th: 95% of the maple tree leaves had fallen. A student saw a deer peeling bark off trees for food. A student heard a barn owl outside their room.  
  5. Wednesday, October 12th: The grasses and ferns began to turn brown. Lower branches of birches had lost their leaves. Chickadees and crows were abundant. An ant was seen in the school forest. A mosquito landed on a student's arm (a surprise, with the cold weather!) 
  6. Friday, October 14th: First measurable snowfall 

Most leaves have fallen, leaving a beautiful carpet on the forest floor. There have been multiple sightings of tree frogs at night, under leaf litter, and in sheds. Household cats have been catching mice in large numbers, and red squirrels are caching food for the winter (and eating compost). Flocks of geese have disappeared, so they think they have all moved south for the year. Some students have seen chickadees drinking nectar from hummingbird feeders. Grouse are active in the region. "This concludes the phenology report: Have a great week, and be observant!"
John says thanks for all the great observations! "Those kids are led by two dedicated teachers who help them and encourage them. And boy, they bring in multiple reports of a lot of things going on. A great report! Thank you so much."

North Shore Community School student observations, October 18th 2022
Bonus clip: Last sightings of the year and snarky phenologists.

Thanks for another great week! I can't wait to hear what everyone sees over the next seven days.

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.
KAXE/KBXE Senior Correspondent
Charlie Mitchell (she/they) joined KAXE in February of 2022. Charlie creates the Season Watch Newsletter, produces the Phenology Talkbacks show, coordinates the Phenology in the Classroom program, and writes nature-related stories for KAXE's website. Essentailly, Charlie is John Latimer's faithful sidekick and makes sure all of KAXE's nature/phenology programs find a second life online and in podcast form.

With a background in ecology and evolutionary biology, Charlie enjoys learning a little bit about everything, whether it's plants, mushrooms, or the star-nosed mole. (Fun fact: Moles store fat in their tails, so they don't outgrow their tunnels every time conditions are good.)