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Phenology Talkbacks, January 10 2023

Green pine needles are lined with heavy white frost. The frost is coming out from the needles in long, pointy spikes.
Lake of the Woods School student observations: January 10th, 2023

Happy Tuesday, phenology enthusiasts! It’s a great week this week, with 4 student reports and the first subtle signs of spring.

Lake of the Woods Phenology Report, January 10th 2023

Odin reports from Andrew Pierson's class at the Lake of the Woods School in Baudette. During the week of January 1-6, cold weather created beautiful icicles on buildings and frosted all the trees white. Deer yarded up in the cedar bogs and chickadees flocked to local feeders. A red squirrel popped out of an underground tunnel, possibly woken up from a winter nap!

John thanks Odin for the report and agrees that it was a great week for frosted trees. John’s local deer haven’t been visiting his nearby fields, since they too have gone to their yarding areas due to the deep snow. The deer are often lured to John’s neighborhood field since his neighbor feeds the crows. The deer like to steal the crow’s food!

North Shore Community School Phenology Report, January 10th 2023

Liam reports from Darcie Rolfe and Leigh Jackson's class at North Shore Community School in Duluth. December was a record-setting month in Duluth! They had 44.7 inches fall in December of 2022, compared to the previous record of 44.3 inches in 1950. The deep snow forced the 6th graders to break down tree branches and move the downed trees that had blocked the school nature trail. After their hard work, the trail was ready to get groomed for cross-country skiing! At the school’s bird feeding station, which is aptly named Chickadee Landing, chickadees were the only birds present during Ms. Rolfe’s class. The class will keep their eyes open this week to try to spot other species eating the black oil sunflower seeds! On January 3rd, two students found wolf tracks near the school’s compost shed. This was the first time that wolf tracks were seen in that area. Liam notes that January’s full moon is known as the wolf moon, because wolves were believed to howl more often during January. It was believed that wolves howl due to hunger, but we now know that they howl for many different reasons! The Ojibwe call this moon the Great Spirit Moon, while the Lakota call it the Hard Times Moon. “This concludes the phenology report. Have a great week and be observant!”

John thanks Liam for the great report! There are downed trees on John’s forest trails as well: it’s hard work getting them cleared. John remarks on the wolf tracks by the compost bin: it’s probably a popular place for wildlife to check out, since there might be food! He agrees with the Lakota that “Hard Time Moon” is a good name for this time of year: it’s cold and there’s not much food out there. Luckily for us, it’s been a decently warm January so far.

Four images are shown. The first shows a measuring tape in a snowbank: This is labeled "Deep snow". The second shows a small black-and-white songbird perched on a snowcovered branch. This is labeled "Chickadees." The third shows a large, dog-like pawprint in snow: this is labeled "Wolf Tracks". The final image is of a yellowish full moon, and is labeled "Great Spirit Moon."
North Shore Community School student observations, January 10th 2023
Eagle View Elementary School Phenology Report, January 10th 2023

Lucy, Hadley, and Elijiah reported from Deanne Trottier’s class at Eagle View Elementary in Pequot Lakes! They took their phenology walk on January 5th. The moon was still up in the sky and a day away from full. The plants were covered in frost, which they learned is called hoar frost! They tell us, “Hoar frost is feathery frost that forms on plants on cold winter nights when the water vapor in the air touches solid things that are already below freezing. Ice crystals form, and they continue to grow as more water vapor touches them. Did you know that hoar frost gets its name from the way the ice crystals make it look like hair or a beard? It reminds people of old age.” The snow in Pequot Lakes was very deep last week, and the students found deer, mice, rabbits, and squirrel tracks. The bird feeders at the nature center were full of chickadees, nuthatches, and Blue Jays. Ms. Trottier, their teacher, found something awesome: fox tracks ending in a wing print and a pile of feathers! She determined that a fox caught a grouse, and she found the aftermath! “It’s been a great week in Pequot Lakes for frost, tracks, and bird watching. This is Lucy, Hadley, and Elijah reporting: Let’s go outside!”

John thanks them for the report and agrees that it’s always time to get outdoors! He confirms that the word “hoar” in “hoar frost” refers to white hair or a white beard: In Old English, hoar meant old person. John reiterates a few of their observations, including the full moon, animal tracks, and birds at the feeder. “A fox eating a grouse?” he adds. “Everybody likes Ruffed Grouse!”

Three images are shown. A large blue songbird is labeled "Blue Jay". A set of small, round tracks in a fresh bed of snow is labeled "Fox Tracks". A close-up of a spruce tree covered in white frost is labeled "Hoar Frost".
Eagle View Elementary student observations, January 10th 2023
Prairie Creek Community School Phenology Report, January 10th 2023

Sorcha and Ruby bring us the report from Michelle Martin’s class at Prairie Creek Community School in Northfield, Minnesota. “Exciting news!” they say. “We have heard the ‘Phoebe’ song of the Chickadee! We hear it early in the morning. Ruby said it sounds like spring!” [I agree! It does!] The class is still waiting to hear the ‘pump handle’ call of the Blue Jay. The class spotted another sign of the upcoming spring: the willow branches are turning a bright yellow-green! The class has seen a lot of deer, a rabbit, and a cardinal. One student heard a barred owl call, and another caught a 17-inch walleye while ice fishing! Though the end of the week was warm, the beginning of the month had a big storm with thunder snow! Due to the snow and ice, many trees lost branches. “This has been Prairie Creek Community School: One more step along the phenology journey!”

Scott and John agree, they want some of whatever Sorcha and Ruby eat for breakfast! They put the performance in the phenology reports, that’s for sure. John hasn’t yet heard the ‘Phoebe’ song of the Chickadee yet this winter, but he’s looking forward to it. He agrees that the willows are certainly putting on some color: they’ll be even brighter by mid-February! The mention of the 17-inch Walleye set John to salivating; “That’s a nice fish. You’re making me hungry here!” Unfortunately for the folks in Grand Rapids, they didn’t get thunder with their heavy snow. But, it's always exciting when it does happen!

[Check out their report (lovingly portrayed in video form) below!]

That concludes our reports for the week! Remember that you can add your voice to this list! Get in touch with me (smitchell@kaxe.org), John Latimer (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).

Bonus: The automatic transcription service we use to convert spoken words to text sometimes makes errors. Here’s my favorite one of the week!

“Viggo saw a cardinal. Isaiah hurt a bard.” Watch out, singer/songwriters of Northfield…

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
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.)