91.7 Grand Rapids | 90.5 Bemidji | 89.9 Brainerd
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Phenology Talkbacks, December 6 2022

West Rapids Elementary student observation, December 6th 2022

Happy December, phenology fans! We have some great talkbacks this week, including a dramatic vole chase, facts about freeze-resistant caterpillars and fishing spiders, and lots of animal tracks!

West Rapids Elementary, December 6th 2022

Addie and Rylee reported from Collin Cody's class at West Rapids Elementary in Grand Rapids. During their phenology walk, they saw jelly fungus and several voles. They said, “Did you know voles have short tails and no ears? Isn’t that amazing?” [It sure is!] The students also found a gigantic White Pine with a dbh (diameter at breast height) of 1.94 meters. On a nearby hillside, they noted a deer bed, deer tracks, and scat. “Onward and awkward!”

John thanks them for their report and adds, “We had so much fun chasing voles! I told the kids that as long as they had heavy gloves, go ahead and try to grab one. Well, oh my word! We walked into an area, and there had to be almost 30 voles running around. Every time the kids would focus on one vole, <laugh>, another one would run somewhere else, and they’d just scatter. Their teacher Collin and I just stood there and laughed!” Eventually, the students caught one and they were able to examine it. [This sounds hilarious- I’d pay good money for that footage!]

North Shore Community School, December 6th 2022

Leila reported from Darcie Rolfe and Leigh Jackson's class at North Shore Community School in Duluth. After an early warm spell, much of the snow and ice had melted, especially on southern-facing hillsides. The school creek had about two inches of ice on the edges, but the main channel still had rapidly flowing water; by the end of the week, the creek had almost frozen over. On Tuesday, the students measured 2-3 inches of snowfall. The class found a shrew building a subnivean tunnel, a vole den, a small flock of turkeys, squirrels stashing nuts and berries, and a Large Yellow Underwing caterpillar! Leila informed us that Yellow Underwings are named for their brightly colored hindwings, and belong to the family Noctuidae. The caterpillars, commonly called cutworms, damage plants by chewing through the stem at the base of the plant. Fascinatingly, the caterpillars are able to survive cold temperatures by producing their own antifreeze, made from glycol. When temperatures warm, they metabolize the sugary glycol and are once again vulnerable to freezing- so, it’s important to time it right! Lastly, Leila teaches us about fishing spiders! One was detected in the school forest last week, likely near the creek. Like wolf spiders, fishing spiders are huge: however, they are aquatic, running over water and even swimming to catch prey. They eat aquatic insects and even small fish! “Isn’t nature marvelous?” Leila says. “This concludes the phenology report: have a great week, and be observant!”

John thanks Leila for the report, saying “Boy, those kids are on it, aren’t they?” He adds that aspect- the direction a slope faces- plays a large role in how quickly snow and ice melt when temperatures warm. South-facing slopes, which get more sunlight, melt faster than north-facing slopes. John is also excited to hear about the Yellow Underwing caterpillar and fishing spider! He adds that if you see a really really big spider, it’s likely a fishing spider (their leg span is about an inch larger than wolf spiders).

North Shore Community School student observations: Dec. 6th, 2022
Eagle View Elementary School, December 6th 2022

Annika and Lucy reported from Deanne Trottier's class at Eagle View Elementary in Pequot Lakes. They say, “It was refreshing when we walked out the door and the wind hit our faces!” To make it even better, they had a new blanket of snow! It enabled them to detect the passage of deer, squirrels, and even a bear. (That must be a well-caffeinated bear- it’s up late!) The previous week had been cold and windy, and Rice Lake froze over. Their teacher, Mrs. Trottier, showed them pictures of otter tracks! They had been sliding and running through the snow near the ice. Some of the students were also out on the lakes ice fishing and skating! They reminded us, “Have an adult check the ice before you go on it.” [Good advice! I fell through the ice because my brothers and I were teasing my mom for being a worry-wort by jumping up and down on the ice. It turned out she was right, as always! Luckily, I was able to get out and back to shore quickly, and we weren’t far from home. Let the record show that when I broke through, both my brothers bolted for shore while my mom came to save me!] Their school bird feeders have been busy with chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and even a robin! The robin helped himself to a crabapple from a nearby tree, then took off when he saw the class watching. “Reporting from Pequot Lakes!”

John thanks Annika nd Lucy for their report! He shares their enthusiasm for a refreshing walk outdoors and for finding animal tracks in new snow. He’s interested in their robin sighting, especially at this time of year!

Eagle View_Dec6.png
Eagle View Elementary student observations: Dec. 6th, 2022
Roots and Wings Forest School, December 6th 2022

Rose and Hazel from Leona Cichy's class at Roots and Wings Forest School in New York Mills. It was warmer last week, so much of their snow melted. The class saw a pileated woodpecker, a few male pheasants, and even a bear! They also found two bird nests in the snow, which had probably fallen from the trees during high winds. They were made of grass and horse hair. [There follows a hilarious exchange about the “two horses that live in our school,”- it turns out they don’t live inside the building itself, just on the school grounds!] The class also found deer tracks and rabbit tracks. “Thanks for listening!”

John thanks Rose and Hazel for the report and says it’s always good to hear from New York Mills! [I’ll add that I’m fascinated by the bear sighting- seems late for one to be roaming around! Perhaps he found his den un-bear-able.]

Roots and Wings Forest School student observations: Dec. 6th, 2022

That does it for this week: I hope you all have a wonderful week, full of vole chases, exciting animal tracks, and new discoveries!

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!

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.
KAXE/KBXE Senior Correspondent
Sarah Mitchell (she/they) joined the KAXE team in February of 2022. Sarah 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, Sarah 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?).
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.