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Phenology Talkbacks, October 25 2022

Rejoice! We have seven excellent student phenology reports this week, with turning tamaracks, adorable otters, and migrating monarchs. Enjoy!

Cohasset Elementary, October 25th 2022

Declan and Adeline report from Nathan Lindner's class at Cohasset Elementary. They estimate that trees still have about 20% of their leaves. Some trees have less, such as the Black Ashes (2%) and the Silver and Sugar Maples (15%). The white spruce dropped most of its 3-5-year-old needles, and the tamarack trees have begun to change color (10% yellow). The buckthorn, an invasive shrub, is still green. The students also observed many species of birds, including juncos, robins, Blue Jays, chickadees, and flocks of migrating geese. Other animals, such as deer, grouse, squirrels, and mice, were observed in open areas foraging for food. Over the next month, the students will watch for freezing water, snow, and Christmas products on the shelves before Halloween and Thanksgiving. "Onward and awkward!"

John says, "You go onward, I'll go awkward!" He thanks the students and mentions that the leaves are really dropping now, with only the willows with plenty of leaves left. John's looking forward to seeing how much the tamarack trees have turned when he visits the school this week!

Cohasset Elementary student observations, October 25th 2022
West Rapids Elementary, October 25th 2022

Noah reports from Colin Cody's class at West Rapids Elementary. During their phenology walk, it was sunny and a little chilly. The trees were dropping their leaves in large numbers (25% leaf coverage on sugar maples, 10% on red maples, 18 lonely leaves on a speckled alder, and nearly 100% leaf loss on butternuts and basswoods). Birch seeds were almost ripe. While on their phenology excursion, the students saw two eagles, snails, and a red angle worm!

John thanks Noah for the report and mentions that a little red maple is holding onto a few leaves. He expects they'll almost all be gone by this week- the strong winds and rain probably knocked the rest down!

West Rapids Elementary student observations, October 25th 2022
Waubun School Forest Program, October 25th 2022

Max and Carter report from Nick Lenzen and Courtney Farwell's class at Waubun School Forest Program. They had a short week last week due to the MEA break, and the students took advantage of the long weekend! 20 students went hunting, and 9 successfully harvested an animal (a 45% success rate!). The average temperature over the week was 31.6 degrees F, compared to 54.6 degrees F in 2021 (a difference of 23 degrees!). During their time in the forest, the students noticed lots of signs of woodpeckers, as well as identifying Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, Yellow-bellied, and Pileated Woodpecker sounds and signs. What a collection! "We are living the nature life!"

John thanks Max and Carter for the report and says he doesn't want to be a critter in the Waubun area: Their hunters have a high success rate! John mentions that the yellow-bellied sapsucker will likely migrate south soon, but the other woodpeckers will stay in the area throughout the winter. They'll begin to drum in late December and early January as they establish new territories.

Waubun School Forest Program student observations, October 25th 2022
Holy Rosary School, October 25th 2022

Ethan and Levi report from Steve Dahlberg's class at Holy Rosary School in Detroit Lakes. Things are changing quickly there: a River Birch started the week entirely yellow and had turned completely brown just 4 days later. The first hard frost of the year struck on Sunday morning. One student saw a massive flock of blackbirds on the side of the highway, another saw a dead fox, and multiple students spotted white-tailed deer (including two fawns practicing their headbutting!). Birds were also busy: students observed an eagle with a fish in its beak, 13 turkeys foraging for food, and an unlucky Wood Duck (which made an excellent meal). "Thanks for listening!"

John thanks Ethan and Levi and mentions that he's been observing many of the same things! The River Birch outside the studio was completely green last week, and John has seen vast flocks of blackbirds flying south.

Holy Rosary School student observations, October 25th 2022
Long Lake Conservation Center, October 25th 2022

Tenley, Benny, Chloe, and Malin report from Aitkin, McGregor, and Hill City's trip to Long Lake Conservation Center:
"During our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center October 17th through the 19th temperatures dropped into the low 20s and ice formed along the shore of Long Lake. It's the first temperature in the 20s since last May. Sunrise with the mist rising off the lake is really pretty. A flock of Canada Geese stopped in for a while on their journey south. We wonder if this will be the last we see of Geese until spring. Our group saw a sundog in the morning, a flock of Juncos, and an immature Bald Eagle flying over the lake. Nuthatches, Chickadees, Common Grackles, and Pileated, Snowy and Downy Woodpeckers have been active on the bird feeders. There was a report of a Garter Snake in the woods. It's very late getting into its hibernaculum. Our group had a couple of close encounters with animals. During Thicket class, a chipmunk joined a student who was hiding and sat with him the entire time. It was a very friendly chipmunk. A porcupine wandered through the heart of campus and didn't seem to care one little bit that students and adults were nearby. Lily saw an otter feeding this morning. Long Lake's naturalists say that this was the first sighting of otters in nearly a month. There were officially no ticks on our trip. Last year, the last reported tick sightings at Long Lake was November 5th. It's a great time to explore nature and we want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside and to… LIVE CONNECTED."

John thanks the students for their report and laments that he had four deer ticks on him yesterday! So, they're still out (at least in Grand Rapids). John is surprised that the students saw a garter snake, as it's late for one to be still lingering outside its hibernaculum! He concludes, "Chipmunks, porcupines, and otters: lots of native natural animals for them to check out. Very, very cool." [Indeed!]

Long Lake Conservation Center student observations, October 25th 2022
Roots and Wings Forest School, October 25th 2022

Kip and Hazel report from Leona Cichy's class at Roots and Wings Forest School. Their week started cold (RealFeel below 10 degrees!) but warmed up by the end. The days are getting shorter. The animal report included a Red Fox and a juvenile Bald Eagle. The class noticed that the trees had dropped almost all their leaves, and even the tamaracks turned all yellow!

John thanks Kip and Hazel for the report and adds that many juvenile Bald Eagles are mistaken for Golden Eagles. [Can we have a virtual round of applause for these young kids that can identify a juvenile Bald Eagle? I think I was 20 when I could reliably distinguish them from other big birds!] John notes that he also keeps an eye on the tamarack trees as they turn color and shed their needles.

Roots and Wings Forest School student observations, October 25th 2022
Prairie Creek Community School, October 25th 2022

Ruby and Ravi report from Michelle Martin's class at Prairie Creek Community School in Northfield. They have a lot to report, as it's been a few weeks since we've heard from them! They thought they'd seen the last of the dragonflies two weeks ago, but a student saw one on October 23rd. They even saw a Monarch Butterfly this week (2 weeks after the last sighting!). There are other persistent critters out, as well: bees, snakes, a snapping turtle, and an outspoken (outcroaken?) frog. The class has seen many mammals, including voles, mice, raccoons, porcupines (!), squirrels, chipmunks, and an 8-point buck. The bird census includes Bald Eagles, geese, swans, juncos, turkeys, vultures, and a murmuration of starlings! [+20 vocabulary points!] However, they have yet to have a flock of starlings land in one of their trees this year. Most of the plants are yellow, and most leaves have fallen already. The class saw its first snowflake on October 14th and concluded, "Brr! I guess winter's coming, even if it's 60 degrees today. Gotta love fall in Minnesota! That's all from Prairie Creek: One more step along the phenology journey!"

John thanks Ruby and Ravi for the great report and reiterates some of their observations. He expects to hear plenty more about snow over the next few months! [I'll add that a murmuration is a large flock of starlings that move in a distinctive, coordinated manner: see a video of this incredible behavior here! As a side note, this National Geographic article, which discusses murmurations, was one of the things that made me decide to be a biologist. It makes me indescribably happy to hear about them from our beloved student phenologists!]

Prairie Creek Community School student observations, October 25th 2022

That'll do it for this week: who knows what we'll learn next week?

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 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.
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.)