Phenology Talkbacks, November 15 2022
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John starts with a teaser for the phenology report: "I have a story that I'm going to tell during the phenology show that is so outlandish, that if I didn't have a photograph to prove it, I think people would call me a liar. Stay tuned."
We will, John!
Verena reported from Andrew Pierson's class at the Lake of the Woods School in Baudette. The class enjoyed the beautiful weather, and so did the spiders! The students saw many spiderlings taking advantage of the mild weather, spinning thin silk threads to float themselves into the air and disperse on the wind. Two White-tailed Deer sparred in a field, and the first Evening Grosbeak or the season appeared at a birdfeeder. After the snow on Friday, large flocks of Bufflehead Ducks staged on Zippel Bay.
John thanks Verena for the report and is excited to hear about the ballooning spiders! Many people are unaware of this seasonal phenomenon: it's excellent to observe if you get the chance. The spiders use strands of silk as tiny parachutes, soaring off to new habitats and hopefully finding a comfortable spot to spend the winter. John notes that there have been reports of Evening Grosbeaks from Southeast Itasca County and Cherry, Minnesota. The grosbeaks seem to prefer the feeders in Cherry; John mentions that they were seen there for several years while absent from the rest of the state. They are gorgeous birds; keep an eye out for their striking yellow and black plumage as they migrate into the area!
Reed and Emily reported from Courtney Farwell and Nick Lenzen's class at Waubun School Forest Program. Last week, their average temperature was 38.25 degrees F (2021's average was precisely the same; they wonder what it was in 2020!). The class noticed that pheasants and songbirds were puffing themselves up to keep warm, squirrels and birds were busy caching food for the winter, and large flocks of waterfowl were flying over as they migrated south. There were large flocks of turkeys in the area (one had 30 individuals!), but insects and frogs have disappeared until spring. Thanks to a blanket of snow that stuck around, the students could see all sorts of animal tracks, including deer, rabbits, birds, and squirrels! "Thank you for listening to our Waubun phenology report. Living the nature life!"
John agrees that living the nature life is living a good life! He reiterates some of their observations, adding that Blue Jays are especially active food cachers this time of year. You'll find ducks, geese, Trumpeter Swans, and Tundra Swans among the migrating waterfowl flocks. Turkeys don't migrate but remain in the area foraging for food. Now that snow is on the ground, it's much easier to track their (and other critters') movements through the forest!
Emmett reported from Darcie Rolfe and Leigh Jackson's class at North Shore Community School in Duluth. They noted that this week marked daylight savings, where we set our clocks back an hour, and a lunar eclipse! Lunar eclipses occur when the Earth blocks the sun's light from reaching the moon. Heavy winds were in the area, buffeting cars on the road and sending kids in from playing outside. On the 10th, a loud thunderstorm kept kids awake at night, filled a local skating rink, and flooded the creek in the school forest. The space where the students studied environmental education was found to be completely underwater! On the 11th, the precipitation had changed to snow and ice. Luckily, the deer have been preparing for the changing temperatures: the students noticed their coats are thicker! 16 deer were strolling down Glenwood Street, enabling a student to observe their winter fur. The leaves had completely fallen from the trees, and the forests were bare. A pond in Cromwell held a whole flock of swans: a beautiful sight! "Have a great week, and be observant!"
John thanks Emmett and concurs that the winds were powerful last week. Unfortunately for would-be eclipse observers, the cloudy weather obscured the view! John doesn't know of anyone who managed to get a photo. He adds last remaining leaves on the trees likely fell due to the strong winds and thunderstorms.
McKenzie and Elise reported from Steve Dahlberg's class at the Holy Rosary School in Detroit Lakes. A flock of Trumpeter Swans put on an air show, flying in a V formation just ten feet off the ground. Turkeys were hard at work foraging in nearby corn and hay fields while bucks chased does through the woods and open areas. Does and fawns foraged along the roads. Three Bald Eagles (two adults and a juvenile) were soaring over the lake; one dove for the water, but trees obscured the view, so the hunt's outcome was unclear. Vast flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds flew through the area looking for food, and pheasants startled from underfoot in the prairie. As if this cornucopia of wildlife wasn't enough, the students heard a pack of coyotes howling! "This is Holy Rosary School signing off. Thanks for listening!"
John thanks them for the report and reiterates a few of their observations. He adds that while he sees few pheasants in his area, there are likely more in Detroit Lakes. John's neighbor Marvin saw a buck, six does, and a fawn in his yard. The buck only had one antler (he had likely lost the other in a sparring contest) and was probably just a year and a half old; while he seemed hopeful about mating with a doe, the does were uninterested.
Annette and MaKenzie reported from St. Michael-Albertville West's trip to Long Lake Conservation Center:
"During our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center on November 9th through the 11th it was rainy and cold, but it didn't stop us from exploring nature and seeing some pretty unusual things. The rain filled the bog, and seemed to bring it to life. Our group saw a VERY slooooowwwww moving wood frog, and few bog cranberries, but the highlight was what we think was a Short-tailed Weasel, also known as an Ermine, chasing a vole. It has already turned completely white for winter. The chase lasted less than a minute. They ran out of sight before we could see if the weasel caught his prey, or if the vole survived to see another day. Because the bog was so wet, a couple of students sank in to past their knees.
Other sightings included lots of earthworms cruising out and about, a mouse was spotted in the thicket, a few slugs were seen, the deer were out and about, and a porcupine was sitting in the hollow of a tree. Everyone was able to get a good look at it. We are still seeing lots of Blue Jays and a few Canada Geese, but no Robins were observed."
John thanks them for the report and adds, "If you haven't been over your boots in a bog, you really have not lived. You gotta go out and experience that. Even this time of year, I've gone over the top of my boots in a bog! <laugh> Throw a little snow in there with the water, and it's a happy day. You can't do much better than that! <laugh>" [I agree entirely, John! Though I prefer my feet to stay dry whenever possible, it can be worth it to get a little wet and cold sometimes.] Dave McMillan, the manager of Long Lake Conservation Center, sent this note: "LLCC has three porcupines who visit campus. We've named them "Pork" "Chop" and "Loin". These students saw Loin." He also sent a picture of Loin: take a look!
Lucy, Hadley, and Elijah reported from Deanne Trottier's class at Eagle View Elementary in Pequot Lakes. They had rough weather for their phenology walk, battling wind, rain, and snow. Big puddles had formed, and some even had ice around the edges! The students have seen many White-tailed Deer, Chickadees, and Dark-Eyed Juncos. Just west of Pequot Lakes, a bear was still out despite the late season! This week marked the first turkey sighting by an Eagle View student. On the water and in the air, swans and geese are moving through. A flock of 47 Canada Geese was on the lake one day and gone the next! They conclude, "Since the time changed, it's dark in the morning and almost dark when we get home from school. We can tell that winter is coming! This is Lucy, Hadley, and Elijah reporting from Pequot Lakes!"
John thanks them for the excellent report and congratulates them on getting out for their phenology walk despite the lousy weather! He adds that black bears are mostly bedded down for the season, but they are often disturbed by hunters in the woods, leave their nest, and are seen for a brief period before they find a new spot to rest. In the next few weeks, they'll fall into a deeper sleep.
Isaiah and Viggo reported from Michelle Martin's class at Prairie Creek Community School in Northfield. Their big news of the week: Measurable snow! They had a full half-inch and were expecting more. The class learned how to make six-sided snowflakes, forming a new obsession! Many large flocks of birds are migrating through, including Cedar Waxwings and American Robins. Blue Jays have been busy, moving around and calling in flocks. Rodents were active: there were sightings of mice, moles, and voles! Squirrels have been moving around caching food, and "word has it that a giant squirrel named Simon (our principal) is going to run in a squirrel run to raise money for Give to the Max day on Thursday." The students have also seen two ducks, a rabbit, rabbit tracks, many dead possums, and even a live possum. "That's all from Prairie Creek Community School: One more step along the phenology journey!"
John thanks them for the report and congratulates Michelle Martin, Isaiah and Viggo's teacher and the Environmental Teacher of the Year Award winner!
Until next week, I'll leave you with John's closing words: "We've been listening to the voices of children who are outside doing phenology and having a great time doing it. And you can, too: you just need to open up your eyes, put your phone in your pocket, and take a look at the world you're wandering around in and enjoy it. With the new snow on the ground, it's a pretty good time to be out looking at animal tracks, among other things. There's lots of things to check out there!"
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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).