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Phenology Talkbacks, December 13 2022

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Hello, phenology enthusiasts! Ye Olde Covid is running through my household at the moment, so instead of your usual article, here is a lightly edited transcript. I hope to be back in full force next week!

John Latimer:
For many of you who listen to the radio every week know that Tuesday mornings are devoted to phenology. You also know that, on this particular moment in the morning, we bring you our student phenology. We encourage you to join us and add your voice. This is community radio, after all, and what more portions of a community than where we live and what's going on in our neighborhoods can we bring. So if you have reports that you'd like to send along, if you're unsure how to do it, you can email us: comments@kaxe.org, or you can email me jlatimer@kaxe.org and I'll help you figure it out. And I will help you by putting you in touch with Sarah Mitchell [smitchell@kaxe.org], who really knows what's going on and can make all sorts of things happen auditorially, which are beyond my abilities. Funding for student phenology is provided in part by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Our reports this week include Isaac, who is a student in Andrew Pierson's class at the Lake of the Woods School in Baudette.

Lake of the Woods School, December 13

This is Isaac with the phenology report for December third grade through ninth. Third graders have reported many ravens flying around the area, especially along roads feeding on roadkilled deer. Bobcat tracks were spotted in the fresh snow on Sunday. Hillary reports the beautiful frost covered trees on the balmy Friday morning after Thursday's negative-20 degrees temperature. Finally, the big lake reportedly has over 12 inches of ice. Ice fisherman are flocking out to find walleye.

John Latimer:
Nice job, Isaac. I loved it. Ravens and bobcat tracks, the frost on the trees after a balmy morning. Yeah, good word, balmy. I like that. And 12 inches of ice on lake of the woods. So, if you wanna go somewhere where you can drive with comfort and assurance, well, try the lake of the woods! It sounds like 12 inches. That'll hold a car, and it'll probably hold a small truck too, if that's your nature. I'm more of a walker/skater/ice boater, so I try to stay away from those areas with cars <laugh>. All right. Our next report this morning comes from John and Jonah. And John and Jonah are students in Zac Erickson's class at Cohassett Elementary School in Cohassett.

Zac Erickson's class at Cohasset Elementary School, December 13th

John and Jonah:
Hello, our names are John and Jonah reading for Mr. Erickson's fifth grade science class at Cohasset Elementary School. We have made a lot of observations over the past week. Since it was a bit cold and snowy today, we decided to stay inside the classroom and learn about Northern Minnesota birds. We learned about bird identification, including a bird quiz. Mr. Latimer showed the class pictures of birds, and we had 10 seconds to list out things about birds. We listed colors, size of the tail, feathers and how long the birds were. Our class learned about different types of birds after the quiz. We also learned about robins, nuthatches and how to define them based on their details like wings and beaks. Mr. Latimer taught us how to tell the difference between a male and a female cardinal. A female cardinal has lighter red-gray color on the breast, and the male has darker red color. It was a lot of fun to learn about the different birds of Minnesota. We can't wait for next week's nature time.

John Latimer:
Well, you've made it boys. I'll be there in several hours. Four hours from now I'll be seeing you. Or maybe, yeah, four hours from now I'll talk to John and Jonah and congratulate them on their initial report. Zac Erickson is a new teacher to our group, and his class is very, very excited about learning about nature, so I can't wait to hear more from them. Our next report is Britta, and she is reporting from Leigh Erickson and Darcie Rolfe's sixth grade classes at North Shore Community School in Duluth.

North Shore Community School, December 13th

Hello, from North Shore Community School on the North Shore of Lake Superior. This is the phenology report for the week of December 3rd, 2022. My name is Britta and I'm your phenologist. For this week on Saturday, December 3rd, the temperatures hit a low of zero degrees Fahrenheit in the morning, and it was around 10 degrees throughout the day with wind speed of 10 miles per hour. Ms. Jackson noticed sea smoke on Lake Superior on this day also. Sea smoke occurs when the air temperature is colder than the water temperature. Until the lake freezes, we will be able to observe this cool phenomenon on frigid days. Mason noticed on Tuesday the sixth that it was snowing like a shaken snow globe. The snowflakes were huge.

On Wednesday the seventh, there was a full cold moon. Several students reported seeing a ring around the moon and the planet. Mars is also visible. Mars is the closest distance to earth for the next 10 years. On this very night, Mars reached opposition, which means it is positioned on the exact opposite side of earth from the sun. The full moon completely obscured the view of Mars during the night for a period of time. This is known as the Mars Occultation. On Thursday the 12th, Mason noticed that the temperature hit a bitter negative four degrees Fahrenheit at his house. In Lakeside, Ms. Jackson's class noticed that the ice on the creek at school had a few different frozen layers of water. In some spots, the ice would hold several sixth graders, and in others, the ice was only a thin layer and students were easily able to break the ice. The trees on the nature trail have about two inches of snow on them. Many students have been noticing lots of rabbit tracks and deer tracks in the snow. Tiffany has observed a large rabbit in her yard, along with several smaller ones. She has also noticed that her horses' whiskers are starting to freeze at night. Ms. Jackson's class found several snowshoe hare tracks out on the school nature trail on Thursday, December 8th. An abundance of chickadees have been enjoying the bird seed: an easy meal, a chickadee landing near our school trail. A few nuthatches, blue jays, woodpeckers, and grosbeaks have been observed as well. This concludes the phenology report. Have great week, and be observant.

John Latimer:
Nice job Britta. Lots of interesting notes there. Sea smoke: I was aware of it, but I've never heard it called that before. And you see it wherever you have liquid water this time of year, because most air temperatures are below 32 degrees presently. Although the warm southerly breezes that we've had over the last three or four days have really kept the temperatures right in that neighborhood. I know all the snow melted off my deck. So, sea smoke: warmer water, cooler air. Nice discussion about Mars and the moon. We've been cloudy the last couple of nights, so you haven't been able to see it. But on the seventh, there was an occultation of Mars. It was not visible this far north, but if you were a little bit south of here, you probably got a chance to watch the moon pass in front of Mars. And, I think they reported their first negative temperatures.

I don't know if this is the first or not, but this past week I had the first really noticeable negative temperatures. It was down to nine below zero one day. And, the ice on the creek there by the school: It's a very cool place. They've got this little creek that runs through their woodlot, and some of it was thick and some of it is thin, which is the nature of ice under moving water. So if you are thinking about walking on a river or a stream, you should also think about how you're going to get home with wet clothing. So be careful! And snowshoe hares. Until last winter, I had not seen any snowshoe hares around my house for several, well, like two decades. And then finally, there were some snowshoe hare tracks last winter, and I was pretty excited! So perhaps they're making a comeback. Our next report comes from Vivian, Emmaline, and Bethie from Eagle View Elementary School in Pequot Lakes.

Eagle View Elementary, December 13th

Vivian, Emmaline, and Bethie:
Brrr! It was two degrees below zero when we took our phenology walk in Pequot Lakes. On Thursday, December 8th, we got a little fresh snow and the sun was glistening on the ice crystals on the snow and the grass. It was a full moon on Wednesday night, and we could see both the moon and the sun in the sky. This morning we saw a Pileated woodpecker that seemed to be following us on our walk. He flew from the crab apple tree to the spruce trees to the big willow tree. We think he was waiting for us to leave so he could get to the bird feeders. We had had a lot of chickadees and Blue Jays and Red-breasted nuthatches at our own bird feeders. The coolest thing that we saw last week was the tunnels under the snow. We think they were made by voles. [Editor's note: the transcription A.I. translated this to "wolves," which makes for a great mental image.] The tunnels help them travel under the snow safe from predators, and gives them a place to find food. We have a lot of fun following their tunnels. There have been a lot of deer tracks in the fresh snow, and we saw a place where some deer have slept down at night. Hope you had a great chance to get outside and explore. This is Vivian, Emmaline, and Bethie reporting from Eagle View Elementary.

John Latimer:
Nice report. Vivian, Emmaline and Bethie. That was great. I really enjoyed that. Two below on the morning of December 8th, and Pileated woodpecker, following them along. Chickadees, Blue Jays and Nuthatches at their feeders, and vole tunnels, and we've talked about that. And for you students over at Eagle View Elementary in Pequot Lakes, that behavior of the voles is called "subnivian," which literally means "under snow". So subnivian, it's a very cool thing. And deer beds. And speaking of deer beds, there are lots of them to be discovered out there. Those are our phenology reports from our students this morning. As always, if you have reports that you'd like to share, we'd love to hear from you.

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.
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.
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?).