Cartoon images of a camp site
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Phenology Talkbacks, November 29 2022

Lake of the Woods School student observations: November 29, 2022
Lake of the Woods Elementary School student observations: November 29th, 2022

Welcome back to another week of Phenology Talkbacks!

Lake of the Woods School, November 29th 2022

Jaxon reported from Andrew Pierson's class at Lake of the Woods School in Baudette.

The first Pine Grosbeaks of the season appeared this week, eating crabapples off of backyard trees. A chickadee feasted on deer scraps in a student’s yard. Timberwolves howled in a nearby forest: the class suspects they found a dead or wounded deer from the firearms hunting season!

John thanks Jackson for the report and affirms that Pine Grosbeaks have returned and love to eat crabapples. “Nothing says ‘out in the woods’ like wolves howling!” he adds.

Cohasset Elementary, November 29th 2022

Decklan and Adeline reported from Nathan Lindner's class at Cohasset Elementary. They observed warmer temperatures than in previous weeks: snow and ice melted. However, there was still enough ice for walleye fishing on Red Lake. A chipmunk ate from a feeder on Sunday. During their phenology walk, they learned about shrews and voles. Shrews are distinguished by tiny eyes, pointy noses, and shorter body lengths. Voles have larger eyes, rounded noses, stocky bodies, and are a bit larger than shrews. Both voles and shrews live a subnivean life in the winter, living under the snow and building tunnels through the snowpack to get from place to place. Shrews mark their trails with urine. While this may help them defend territory boundaries, it comes at a cost: American Kestrels can see in ultraviolet, so the urine acts as a neon sign pointing the way to an easy meal! Luckily for the shrews, American Kestrels migrate south for the winter. Instead, the shrews and voles need to fear owls, which can hear movement under the snow from 100 feet away. Over the coming weeks, the students will be measuring snow depth and continuing to look for new wildlife behaviors. “Like Mr. Latimer always says: Onward and Awkward!”

John thanks Decklan and Adeline for the report and adds that they’re a very attentive group of students! During their walk last week, they scared up a vole and chased it for a bit. They didn’t manage to capture it, but did get to make a few grabs! It was a perfect chance to observe and learn about subnivean tunnels. John adds that the chipmunk was out pretty late: an observation for the phenology books!

Cohasset students learned how to distinguish voles from shrews. Key factors include eye size, nose shape, and body length!
West Rapids Elementary, November 29th 2022

Lewie reported from Collin Cody's class at West Rapids Elementary in Grand Rapids. The phenology walk was warm with blue skies. A chickadee flew over the class’s heads, they dislodged some aster seeds, and found a speckled alder in a low-lying area. This week’s walk focused on tracks: students found deer tracks (fresh ones and older ones), squirrel tracks, dog tracks, and wild canine tracks.

John thanks Lewie for the report! He adds that they also compared dog to cat tracks, and knocked out seeds from the speckled alder cones. He also reports that they found new buds for next year’s male flowers!

West Rapids students learned about dog and fox tracks. Dog tracks have the front toes just a short distance in front of the heel pad, while foxes' front toes are a larger distance ahead. Generally, if you can draw an "x" between the toe pads without overlapping a toe, it's a wild canine!
Waubun School Forest, November 29th 2022

Riley and Reed reported from Nick Lenzen and Courtney Farwell's class at the Waubun School Forest Program. During the short Thanksgiving week, the average temperature was 32.3 degrees F with an average wind speed of 8.3 mph. Last year, the average was 32.4 degrees F with 13 mph winds: not much change in temperature, but a decrease of 5 mph in wind speed between the two years! Students saw many squirrels in their backyards during the warmer weather, and both saw and smelled skunks in the area. The students know that squirrels and skunks are occasionally active during the winter, and wondered about the hibernation patterns of other animals (such as raccoons!). “Thank you for listening to the Waubun School Forest Phenology Report. We are living the nature life!”

John hopes that ‘living the nature life’ means avoiding getting sprayed by the skunks! He adds that skunks and raccoons will hibernate for periods of time, but not in the same way a bear or groundhog does. The raccoons and skunks will occasionally get up and forage for food, then return to their hibernacula for another few weeks’ rest. So, while they definitely rest for much of the winter, they aren’t true hibernators.

Waubun School Forest students discuss patterns of hibernation in Minnesota's mammals.
Roots and Wings Forest School, November 29th 2022

Hazel and Kip reported from Leona Cichy's class at the Roots and Wings Forest School in New York Mills. The class kept an eye on the snow, spotting deer, mouse, squirrel, and rabbit tracks. They noted that rabbit tracks have a ‘Y’ shape, while squirrel tracks do not. They also saw three Bald Eagles, three Blue Jays, four geese, ten turkeys, a male pheasant, and three does. Outside the classroom, the preschoolers found a Rabbit Hutch Spider moving very slowly: during winter, spiders enter a diapause (period of reduced movement and suspended development). They become very sluggish and seek out a safe place to hide until the weather warms. [Me too!] “Thanks for listening!”

John thanks Hazel and Kip for the report. He’s enthusiastic about the Rabbit Hutch Spider, which presented such a great learning opportunity! John adds that diapause is like an insect form of hibernation. Much like mammals, spiders have evolved varied adaptations to meet winter’s challenges. While some spiders become sluggish and wait for warmer weather, others remain active throughout the winter. John found one last week walking across the snow!

Roots and Wings Forest School students learned about rabbit and squirrel tracks!
Prairie Creek Community School, November 29th 2022

Anita and Jimmi reported from Michelle Martin's class at Prairie Creek Community School in Northfield. It was warmer last week, melting almost all the snow and ice. The deer were active, and students saw a buck and a doe. Some families went hunting. Flocks of geese flew through the area and congregated on open areas of the Cannon River. One student spotted a Barred Owl near his house: the first sighting since spring! Other students found chickadees, pheasants, pileated woodpeckers, and hawks. The mammal report included a rabbit, squirrels, vole tunnels, a mole in a basement, and a mouse in a garage! The forecast predicted a snowstorm: the students are hoping for a snow day this week! “This has been Prairie Creek: One more step along the phenology journey!”

John hopes they got that snow day today! [I checked- after-school programs were canceled, but it looks like classes were still held today. Hopefully, they got to go skiing with their friends during the school day!] John always looked forward to snow days as a kid: he would grab a sled, head to the hill, and forget about school for the day. He adds, “Great report with lots of good opportunities to see different animals. Always a lot of fun to hear what’s happening in our southern regions: thank you, Northfield!”

Prairie Creek Community School student observations: November 29th, 2022

Thanks to everyone who contributes to our Phenology Talkbacks: it’s wonderful to hear all the exciting things going on throughout the state!

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!

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).

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.)