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Phenology Report, November 29 2022

Bald Eagle carrying stick
Bald Eagle carrying stick

This week, John starts the Phenology Report with a note on Bald Eagles! John is lucky enough to live very close to a nesting pair of Bald Eagles. In late February and early March, eagles begin nesting (they have their babies in the last half of April.) Typically, we don’t think of them as active in the nest during November!

However, John has compiled over 25 notes of nesting activity in November. On November 25th, he saw the pair hanging out near the nest, and one of them brought a stick to the nest! This is the 7th time he’s observed this behavior in November (the other dates are 11/21/92, 11/10/98, 11/10/01, 11/1/03, 11/20/05, and 11/7/16).

Around November 6th, 1999, several days of strong southwesterly winds blew down the eagle nest that had been active since 1985. John was heartbroken! He feared that he’d lost his opportunity to observe the nesting eagles. A mere 5 days later, however, the eagles began to rebuild: not in the original tree (a white pine), but in a nearby aspen! That nest still stands and was used from 2000-2016.

In 2017, the eagles began to build a nest in a white pine tree. They switched to the new nest for four years, then, in 2022, switched back to the aspen nest. John still isn’t sure why they! Unfortunately, this year was a terrible year for raising young: the horrendously cold weather in April made sitting on eggs miserable, and John suspects that many eagle nests failed.

That brings us to last week when the eagles were back and working on the nest. Whether they choose the nest in the aspen or the White Pine tree, John will have a great view: he can see both nests from his bedroom window!

Of course, John’s attention wasn’t solely focused on the eagles: over the last week, he’s also seen winter birds (Pine Grosbeaks and Evening Grosbeaks) in addition to the local Blue Jays, Red-breasted Nuthatches, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Chickadees. A few Goldfinches also visited his feeders, in addition to the Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, and Pileated Woodpeckers.

John mentions that these species have been well-represented on our Season Watch Facebook page! Lots of folks are photographing birds at their feeders or in the wild, and many of them get great images of otherwise inconspicuous birds. They’re also a focus of our Season Watch Newsletter! These are just a few ways of staying engaged with nature during these cold months.

John adds that there are a few noteworthy phenology events in trees at the moment. The Black Locust, which is an ornamental tree that isn’t native to the area, has very different phenology from our native trees. It holds its leaves far longer. Right now, the leaves have finally fallen, but the branches are laden with large seed pods (they resemble giant pea pods!). They’re easy to find this time of year. As you’re driving, watch for big bare trees with large, orangey-brown pods: they’ll be black locusts! The Ironwood trees are also always interesting: they keep their leaves all winter (like some Red Oaks).

John’s friend Dave found a chilly little wood frog on the ice last week. It was out on the skating rink after a warm spell, then froze into the ice when the temperature dropped. John’s not sure if it’ll recover. They can survive freezing solid, but thaw-freeze cycles can’t possibly be good for their cell walls! Wood frogs generally overwinter in the leaf litter and are sound asleep by November, but John has one other record of wood frog activity in November.

The bare trees make finding bird nests easier, and John found a Red-eyed Vireo nest last week! Red-eyed Vireos typically build their nests in the fork of a tree. They lace fibers around the fork, and the nest hangs below. Often, they use bits of birch bark in nest construction. John often spots oriole nests, Red-eyed Vireo Nests, American Robin nests, and Blue Jay nests this time of year. Often, they’re in spots that John has unknowingly walked past all summer, unaware that a whole baby bird saga was playing out just a couple feet away. As he points out, that’s a sign of a good nest! The best nests are well-concealed, and the parents use tricks to get in and out without drawing attention to their vulnerable offspring.

John concludes, “Well, life is full of adventure and oftentimes some moderate discoveries. And those are the fun ones!” So, I hope you can get out there, find something fun, and enjoy the fresh snow.

See something noteworthy? We would love to hear from you! Get in touch with me ( or John (, or text 'phenology' to 218-326-1234.

For more phenology, 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 the KAXE team in February of 2022. Charlie creates the Season Watch Newsletter, writes segment summaries for the website, and coordinates our Engaging Minnesotans with Phenology project. With a background in wildlife biology, she enjoys learning a little bit about everything, whether it's plants, mushrooms, aquatic invertebrates, or the short-tailed shrew (did you know they can echolocate?).