Phenology Talkbacks, November 1 2022
It's an excellent week for phenology! Beautiful fall weather allowed our students to get out and enjoy the outdoors: as a result, we have nine great reports!
Landon reports from Andrew Pierson's class at Lake of the Woods School in Baudette, where robins and deer are actively foraging. (The robins were eating crabapples while the deer were feeding along the roads and fields.) A student saw a flock of small brown and white birds on the side of the highway, likely a group of Snow Buntings! The milkweed pods have finally burst and are spreading their seeds in the wind.
John thanks Landon and has seen many of the same events happening in Grand Rapids! In the last week, John saw robins and deer foraging near his house (the deer were eating acorns and apples), and he saw his first Snow Bunting of the year. He also noted the milkweed pods bursting!
Kirsten and Cyrus report from Tami Worner's math class at TrekNorth High School in Bemidji. They are learning about equations for lines and how to model things that change at a constant rate. To observe this in real life, they went outside! They took five strides and measured their distance from the starting point. Then, they took another five strides and measured the distance again. They did this six times. If their stride length was consistent, the data should fall into a straight line when plotted on a graph! (They also waved at 31 cars, and 16 drivers waved back: just under half!)
While they were outside, the weather was sunny, warm, and just a little breezy. They saw seagulls and reflections in the pond but no ice or turtles. The oak trees were the only trees left with leaves, but there was a little green grass left.
John thanks the students and is excited to hear they're working with stride lengths! In the days before GPS, John's dad and other foresters would use something called a 'tally' to measure distance. Each 'tally' was 1/16th of a mile, and each forester would calculate how many strides it took to reach a tally. John and his dad had similar stride lengths, reaching a tally every 65 paces. Four tallies was a 'forty,' a quarter mile. The foresters would measure distances through the woods by counting paces and tallies! While it wasn't as accurate as GPS, it did a good enough job to function: John is thrilled that the students are learning a similar system as part of their math class!
Adelaide, Nico, and Isabelle report from Angie Nistler's Science Nature Adventure Program at Bemidji Middle School. The students saw an 8-point buck, an Osprey nest, some deer droppings, a few turkey tracks, an "abnormally long millepede" (!), 3 minks, a snapping turtle crossing a road, a Red-winged Blackbird, a fox, and a raccoon. Other sightings included moose tracks (not the ice cream!), three skunks, a giant toad, and a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos. During their phenology walk, the students observed no activity in the pond and that only a few trees had any remaining leaves. The Tamarack trees turned a beautiful golden color. They ended their time by collecting colorful leaves and natural items to create art: In this case, the phrase "Snap to it!" They conclude, "Until next time, SNAP to it, get into the wild, and be observant!"
John thanks Adelaide for the writing and Nico and Isabelle for their reporting! He reiterates a few observations, then notes that Osprey nests are often very prominent, balanced on top of powerlines or other tall, pole-shaped structures. He suspects that the snapping turtle they saw will be the last one of the year and predicts that the tamaracks are winding down their color for the year.
Kira and Lily report from Nick Lenzen and Courtney Farwell's class at Waubun Forest School Program. Last week's temperatures averaged 47.2 degrees F, compared to 47.8 degrees in 2021 (a difference of 0.4 degrees). In their forest, about 95% of the leaves have fallen, creating great drifts of leaves on the ground. This caused the students to wonder how many trees were in their school forest! They used a sample to estimate the total number of trees. In 240 acres, they calculated there were about 1,310,888 trees! They also wondered how many leaves would weigh 50 grams: the answer turned out to be around 132 leaves/50g. At their 'sit spots,' the students observed minute changes in the forest around them: one noted a small piece of bark that had been lodged in some moss. After high winds over the weekend, the bark had fallen! Similarly, a tree with 10 leaves on Friday was down to 4 on Monday. They wonder when it will lose its last leaf! Finally, they noted the loss of 12 minutes of daylight between Monday and Friday. "Thank you for listening to our Waubun Phenology: living the nature life!"
John thanks Kira and Lily for their report and enthuses over their calculations!
[I'm pretty excited too! Using their measurements (plus a little googling: a healthy mature tree grows about 200,000 leaves per year), I calculated that the total yearly weight of fallen leaves would be around 381 billion grams. That's as if the forest was growing and discarding 3,500 blue whales every year! (Blue whales weigh about 105 million grams.) A caveat: this calculation assumes that every tree in the woods is a healthy, mature specimen. This isn't realistic in a natural forest, where only a minority of trees are healthy adult specimens. Still! How great is the image of 3,500 blue whales dropping from the forest canopy every fall? Watch out below!]
Regarding the loss of daylight, John adds that the rate of change will slow as we approach the winter solstice. Still, we'll be losing sunlight until the first part of January.
Kaylee and Jakara report from Matt Alleva's class at Hill City School. Their trees are completely bare, and the Red Osier Dogwood bark has turned a deep, scarlet red. The students saw two foxes over the last week, in addition to migrating swans, a snake, an owl, many deer, ruffed grouse, and a snoopy squirrel peering in through a window!
John thanks Kaylee and Jakara for the report and concurs that all the trees are bare: even the black ash on high ground near the school!
North Shore Community School
Rio reports from Darcie Rolfe's class at North Shore Community School in Duluth. The students calculated that we've lost almost an hour and a half of daylight over the last 28 days! On Monday, Oct. 23rd, there was a thunderstorm with 0.4 inches of rainfall. Students at the bus stop at 7:20 noticed that it was very dark! The region is turning the corner to winter, with entirely bare trees and no frogs croaking nearby. The class has observed many ruffed grouse, including two that feasted on backyard apples. Despite the late season and oncoming weather, mosquitoes were still flying about! They were in good company since water striders were still observable on the stream's surface. The report finishes, "Did you know that since they live on the surface, water striders often eat land insects and spiders that have fallen into the water and struggle helplessly to get onto the surface. Water striders also eat mosquito larvae. This concludes the phenology report: have a great week, and be observant!"
John thanks Rio and mentions that thunderstorms (with snow!) can occur as late as November and as early as February. John has seen some midges but no mosquitoes (midges are smaller than mosquitoes and don't bite).
Erik and Maddie report from St. Michael's in Albertville's trip to Long Lake Conservation Center:
"Our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center on October 26th through the 28th was notable for what we are still seeing and what we are no longer seeing. Our group saw Canada Geese, Chipmunks and Snakes. In the bog, there are still a few cranberries. Of course, we ate them. The Tamarack are at peak color and dropping needles. About half of the Milkweed Pods have burst, releasing the silk that carries seeds on the wind. What we are no longer seeing are Robins, Mosquitos and Ticks. There were reports of Leopard frogs earlier in the week, but we didn't see any. In other sightings, five deer – all does and fawns – were spotted in the early evening, and almost all of the trees have lost their leaves. It's a great time to explore nature and we want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside and to… LIVE CONNECTED."
John thanks them for the report and mentions that the chipmunks are heading into hibernation. He suggests that the cranberries are in the bog because no one's eating them! The lemmings will happily scarf them down once they're covered in snow.
Lola reports from St. Michael's in Albertville's trip to Long Lake Conservation Center:
"During our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center on October 24th through the 26th the march toward winter retreated and our group had lots of sightings typical of mid-Autumn. The biggest example of this is that frogs were everywhere. Patrick saw one hopping across the path, and another person in our group caught one. They were mostly Leopard Frogs. This surprised us because it snowed recently and temperatures dipped into the 20s. We thought they would be at the bottom of the Long Lake by now. There was a report of a Garter Snake in the woods and a Redbelly Snake was found in the entrance way of a building and moved back outside. We even heard crickets at night. In other sightings, Mia saw deer tracks and scat, but our group didn't see any deer. It's about the time of year when we start to find deer rubs, but we didn't see any. Our group saw a flock of Juncos, lots and lots of Blue Jays, and White and Red-Breasted Nuthatches and Chickadees on the bird feeders. In the bog and along the shores of Long Lake, the Tamaracks are at peak golden color and needles are dropping. Other than Oak trees, most of the leaves have fallen from the trees. Winter IS coming, but Autumn fought back this week and we were thankful it did. It's a great time to explore nature and we want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside and to… LIVE CONNECTED."
John thanks them for the good advice (and great report). There were a lot of amphibians and reptiles in that report, including leopard frogs, garter snakes, and red-bellied snakes (likely the last of the year, according to John). While tamaracks are in their beautiful golden colors, the other native trees are bare (except for the red oaks, which hold onto their leaves well into the late season).
Betty and Emi report from Michelle Martin's class at Prairie Creek Community School in Northfield. They have had low clouds in the morning, making the whole area look like a haunted house! The oak trees still have their leaves, and some are huge! The insect report included grasshoppers, wooly bears, pill bugs, and box elder bugs. Reptiles were more sparse, with just one only turtle sighting! The bird report included juncos, cardinals, Blue Jays, robins, eagles, hawks, a kestrel, and murmurations of starlings. Notably, they did not see a vulture: perhaps they're gone for the season! Squirrels rounded out the report, with red squirrels staying busy and grey squirrels wishing they'd go take a nap. "One more step along the phenology journey!"
John thanks Betty and Emi for their report and mentions that Grand Rapids has had similar weather, with frost in the mornings and warm afternoons. He also hasn't seen a Turkey Vulture in several weeks, so he suspects they've left the area!
For more phenology content, subscribe to our Season Watch newsletter!
Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).