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

Phenology Report, December 27 2022

A ray of light beams up from the horizon line. The light is yellowish, and illuminates the underside of clouds. The forest appears to be a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees.

It’s time for the final phenology report of 2022! John starts by wrapping up a few Phenology Talkbacks that they weren’t able to get to in the morning: you can listen to those here. He also passes on a report from Peter Harris from Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center for December 23rd.

“No buildings have blown away, but lots of branches on the ground and no birds at the feeders. The FedEx driver still had shorts on, with a down parka. The hourly average wind speed at Wolf Ridge increased steadily from 38 mph at 6 A.M. to 56 mph at 4 P.M. We had a two-minute average speed of 67 mph. That means we have easily had gusts exceeding 70 mph. Category one hurricane-force winds start at 74 mph. Wow, now that’s way cool. This low really is a bomb cyclone! The weather anemometer site sits at about 57 feet. It sounds like a freight train. As I sit in the science center, visibility is well over a mile. All snow is windblown. Drifts are starting to pile up on the trail. Zora the fox is all cozy in her hutch. I suppose I should head home: this is a weather geek’s dream!”

Tornado Bob would be right there with him, John says!

Dallas Hudson, a phenologist from Akeley, had an interesting owl sighting that he reported to John. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a sudden movement at the birdfeeder: an owl had swooped and hit something on the ground just under the feeder! The Great Horned Owl sat on its prey, obscuring Dallas’s view. Eventually, the owl moved and he identified the prey as a cottontail rabbit. The rabbit didn’t struggle: whether it had been killed on impact or if it just died quietly, Dallas wasn’t sure. Eventually, the owl flew off with the rabbit. John and Dallas did some research and discovered that Great Horned Owls generally weigh about 3.1 pounds. A cottontail rabbit weighs between 2-4 pounds. So, that owl was able to pick up its own body weight and fly off with it! “That’s kind of the way nature is,” John remarks. “It’s tough to be a rabbit, especially when you live in the presence of owls and other animals that would just as soon eat you as look at you.”

A large owl with long ear tufts sits in a birch tree. It has an orange facial disc, a white bib, and dark brown, black, and tan coloring. The caption reads, "Great Horned Owl."

John’s feeder has been more placid, with sightings of the familiar Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches, chickadees, and Hairy, Downy, and Pileated Woodpeckers. A flock of Evening Grosbeaks visited for a brief hour but didn’t return. Occasionally, John will spot a Red-bellied Woodpecker at the feeder.

In other years, December the 27th has seen flocks of Boreal Chickadees, Hairy Woodpeckers drumming (2013), and chickadees singing their “Fee-bee” songs. Chickadees begin singing this song in late December or January, and sing it more frequently as the weather warms. Woodpeckers also begin to drum around this time of year. On 12/27/2009, John’s neighbor Marvin reported a Brown Creeper. In 1994, there was a light rain.

Two birds are shown side-by-side. The Black-Capped Chickadee, shown on the left, has a black 'cap' on the head and beige sides. The Boreal Chickadee, shown on the right, has a brown cap and rufous sides. Both birds have dark chins and white breasts.

John also checked his reports of previous years’ temperatures and snow depths on New Years day:

  • 1984: Temperatures were warming and the ground was covered by 18 inches of snow.
  • 1991: It was warm with seven inches of snow.
  • 1995: Four inches of snow and a beautiful solar pillar at sunset. (Solar pillars are big bands of bright orange light that shoot up from the sunset. In order to form a solar pillar, atmospheric ice crystals must align just perfectly to refract the light.)
  • 2012: We had just 0.75 inches of snow.
  • 2013: There were 4 inches of snow and it was bitterly cold at -12 degrees F.
  • 2019: The latest spring on record. There were 14 inches of snow and temps at -22 degrees F.
  • 2022: We had 12 inches of snow on the ground and temps at -28 degrees F. While on a walk with his dog, a maple tree popped so loudly that the dog was startled!

John predicts that this New Year’s Day will have 20+ inches of snow on the ground: one of the snowiest winters on record. However, temperatures should be warmer than in past years: John doubts we’ll hit negative temperatures. A mild, snowy New Year’s Day sounds great to John [and to me]!
See something noteworthy? 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, subscribe to our Season Watch Newsletter or visit the Season Watch Facebook page.

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.
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?).