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Phenology Talkbacks, January 24 2023

A furry, grey-and-tan cat sits in deep snow. It has small black ear tufts, golden eyes, and a white chest. One paw is lifted.

What a wonderful week! We have 9 reports to brighten your day today, including the triumphant return of our friends at Pike Lake Elementary and a note on bobcats (!) from KAXE volunteer Julie Crabb!

Lake of the Woods School phenology report, January 24th 2023

Claire reports from Andrew Pierson’s class at Lake of the Woods School in Baudette. During the week of January 14th-20th, the class spotted small tracks (possibly from a Red-backed Vole), two insects (a house fly and a winter crane fly), and a Cedar Waxwing!

John thanks Claire for the report, and notes that the Cedar Waxwing is pretty far north for this time of year! “Believe me,” John says, “you can throw a rock into Canada from Baudette if you’ve got a good arm.” John also notes that the warm January we’ve had makes it more likely for insects to emerge.

A bird sits on a bare branch. The bird has a yellow breast, tan head and wings, and a distinct black line running from its bill through its eye to the crown of its head. It also has vibrant yellow markings on the tips of its wings and tail. It is captioned "Cedar Waxwing".
Cohasset Elementary School phenology report, January 24th 2023

Piper and Arthur report from Zac Erickson’s class at Cohasset Elementary. It was cloudy and a bit breezy for their phenology walk. The class took clippings from a shrub-willow, buckthorn, dogwood, tree willow, tamarack, and sugar maple. They will observe the clippings every day over the following weeks, as the warm weather in the classroom encourages the buds to open. Mr. Latimer also discussed the differences between pines and spruces: needles are attached in clusters on pines, while they’re individually attached on spruces. They also learned that Balsam Firs are identifiable by their pointed, triangular shape!

John thanks Piper and Arthur for the report, and mentions that two classes at the school are doing the twig experiment. One class is on the east end of the building, and the other is on the west: they’re interested to see if the difference in available sunlight makes a difference on when the buds open! John adds that this is a great experiment to run at home: clip a small branch or twig from a tree, put it in water, and keep an eye on it. Each week, clip a bit off the bottom: this will keep the twig healthy and hydrated. Then, you can see bud break, flowering, and maybe even leaves forming up close!

A coniferous tree is silhouetted against a blue sky. An acute angle has been superimposed, showing how steeply triangular the shape of the crown is at the top of the tree. It is captioned "Balsam Fir/ So steep! So Pointy!".
West Rapids Elementary School phenology report, January 17th 2023

Luca reports from Collin Cody’s class at West Rapids Elementary School for the week of January 10th. Their phenology walk was warm with clouds and no wind. During their walk, they saw a beetle, dragon’s teeth (icicles that form on snowbanks), Black-eyed Susan seeds that had fallen on the snow, vole urine and scat (Mr. Latimer even saw the vole itself running on the snow), some tansies, and a mystery plant! Mr. Latimer pointed out the buds on Jack Pines. “Well, that’s all I got, folks!” Luca concludes. “Remember to always stay onward and awkward!”

John gets a chuckle from that: “They always ask me about the awkward part, at which point I fall over.” He adds that they discussed albedo, which has to do with how reflective a surface is: if a surface is white, a lot of the light (and heat) is reflected back, while a black surface will absorb the light and heat. When snowbanks heat up, the snow melts and often forms little icicles. John calls these little icicles “dragon’s teeth”: try to find some this week and you’ll see why!

A dirty snowbank in a parking lot is shown. On the side of the snowbank, small clear icicles have formed. The picture is captioned ""Dragon's Teeth" Icicles".
West Rapids Elementary School phenology report, January 24th 2023

Julio reports from Collin Cody’s class at West Rapids Elementary for the week of January 17th. They’ve been enjoying the nice winter, and even got to go back on their old trail for their phenology walk! They spotted animal tracks, but more importantly, they harvested some branches for their phenology experiment. They gathered branches from a Red Maple, Sugar Maple, Paper Birch, Basswood, Butternut, Speckled Alder, Leatherwood, and Beaked Hazel. They’ll be observing the branches and noting how the buds break and form flowers!

John thanks Julio for the report and encourages us to try the experiment ourselves: it’s a good one!

A twig with two red flowerbuds is shown against a blurred background. The image is captioned "Branch Experiment".
North Shore Community School phenology report, January 24th 2023

Dominic reports from Darcie Rolfe and Leigh Jackson’s class at North Shore Community School in Duluth. The week began with warm weather, rain, and puddles, but as the temperature dropped, the rain turned to snow and the puddles became ice. They got another 3-4 inches of snow! Dominic notes that the days are now 9 hours and 22 minutes long, and there is a new moon. Student observations from this week included a small rodent, hoof tracks with two spikes in the back, cardinal calls, and a grey-and-black toad seeking refuge in the school greenhouse. They also saw bird tracks, fur, animal scat, and blood near the school compost bin: At first, they suspected a grouse had eaten a mouse. The next day, however, they saw a few crows: suspicion now rests with them. The 6th graders are still working on their quinzees. They have added sticks to the exterior and are now scooping out snow from the inside. Dominic says, “The word “quinzee” comes from the indigenous peoples of Alaska and northern Canada. A quinzee is like an igloo, but an igloo is a snow shelter made with snow blocks. A quinzee is a big pile of snow that you go into and hollow out from the inside. This concludes the phenology report: have a great week and be observant!”

John thanks Dominic for the great report and reiterates a few of the observations. He adds that cardinals have a unique call that they begin in the springtime: now is a great time to be listening for it! John was gratified to hear that the toad was in the greenhouse: “a toad outside would be one little hockey puck with legs,” John says!

A large toad fills the image. It is a peachy-orange color with bumpy skin and dark eyes ringed in gold. The skin under the chin is lighter in color. The image is captioned "Winter Toad".
Pike Lake Elementary School phenology report, January 24th 2023

Lily and Miles report from Rob Marohn’s class at Pike Lake Elementary School near Duluth. Lily was lucky enough to spot a Barred Owl eating a mouse outside her kitchen window! The owl was not kind enough to leave a pellet behind, though (Lily checked). Miles has been looking at the triangles at the base of trees formed by blowing snow, and he wonders how hard the wind needs to blow to form those triangles. Students have noticed icy slush falling from the trees, a Pileated Woodpecker working on a birch tree (“Allison was astonished watching it: She thought it looked like a wood zebra!”), mouse tracks, and wing prints in the snow. Allison, who saw the wing prints, hypothesized that they were from a hawk going after a mouse. Nora investigated the snow and found that a thin layer of soft, shiny snow covered a layer of crunchy white snow. She thinks it formed when the snow warmed up, then froze overnight (making it crunchy), then snowed again. “This concludes our report from the outer reaches of Proctor School District,” Lily and Miles conclude. “Be aware! Things are happening out there.”

John thanks Lily and Miles for the report, and welcomes Pike Lake back to the Phenology Talkbacks show! We are so happy to hear their voices again. John agrees that “astonishing” is a great word, and an emotion we need to feel more often! He also loved the observation of wing prints in the snow: “Oh, talk about fragile beauty,” he exclaimed. “Those are some of my favorite discoveries.”

A Barred Owl sits on a dead squirrel on the snow-covered ground. The owls' eyes are partly shut and it is looking toward the camera. The owl is grey with brown bars and fluffy white feathers on the chest and wings. The image is captioned "Barred Owl and its prey".
Long Lake Conservation Center phenology report, January 24th 2023

Mabel and Ned bring us the report from Long Lake Conservation Center:

“Hello this is Mabel and Ned from St. Wenceslaus school in New Prague.
We had overcast, mild winter days for our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center January 18-20. When we tried playing our snow snakes game on the lake the slush kept them from sliding very far, a packed down path on land worked better.
On our wolf howling walk at night the sky was cloudy but the snow on the ground made it so we could see our way through the woods without flashlights.
We also saw a porcupine in a red oak tree, we could see that it had eaten the bark off most of the top branches of this same tree, it must be a yummy one. We could also see the trench looking path of the porcupine leading to and from the tree and lots of little twigs on the snow beneath its favorite branches. In the woods we noticed an area where the snow from the trees had dripped onto a few remaining yellow maple leaves and the snow underneath was dyed yellow. Other nature observations included; blue jays, pileated woodpeckers, rabbit scat, deer tracks, raccoon tracks, and the Long Lake staff reported seeing snowy owls and a barred owl along their drives into work.
It was a great gray week in nature and we want to remind everyone to… Unplug, Get outside, and LIVE CONNECTED!!”

John thanks Mabel and Ned for the great report, and loves that they were playing Snow Snakes! It’s a great game where you pack down a trail (or find a well-frozen lake), let it get nice and icy, then throw a stick down the trail: the furthest stick wins! John remarks that the Long Lake porcupines must be the most-observed porcupines in all of Aitkin County [I’d argue all of Minnesota!]. They’ve certainly found a good spot. Regarding the maple leaves that dyed the snow yellow, John astutely observes that there are other things that make yellow snow. However, leaf color leeching into the snow is a fun one to observe: go find a maple tree and see if you can see the same effect!

A yellow sugar maple leaf lies on fluffy snow. It is captioned "Maple leaves dyeing snow yellow".
Eagle View Elementary phenology report, January 24th 2023

Hadley, Lucy, and Alex report from Deanne Trottier’s class at Eagle View Elementary in Pequot Lakes. Their phenology walk this week was somewhat quiet, with a few cros and chickadees. They ventured off trail and found that the snow was quite deep: it’s a good thing their class has snowshoes! Though they haven’t seen many animals, the ground is covered in tracks. As good observers of nature, the class is asking questions: “How big are the tracks?? How far is it between the footprints? Where do the tracks lead? Are there any signs of food (like chewed-up seeds) by the tracks? Are there spots where the animal rested, like patted-down snow or tunnels?” They wonder what questions we, the listeners, ask! Using these questions, the class has determined that deer, squirrels, mice, and rabbits have all left tracks behind. “This is Hadley, Lucy, and Alex reporting from Pequot Lakes. Be sure to get outside and explore this weekend!”

John agrees it’s a great idea to get out and explore! He reiterates a few of the observations, and enthuses about their set of questions about animal tracks. [I love it too! Great job!] He mentions that if you like detective stories, deciphering animal tracks would be a great hobby for you!

Four footprints are shown in snow. The middle two prints lay on top of each other. The image is captioned "Animal Tracks".
Julie Crabb phenology report, January 24th 2023

Julie Crabb (Green Cheese Trivia host extraordinaire) reports from Meadowlands. Saturday morning, she noticed a big mess of blood behind her house and the riverbank. With a little investigation, she hypothesized that a deer carcass was laying in the deep snow! Julie, her daughter, and her grandson went on an expedition to check it out, and confirmed that it was a dead deer. The cause of death was unclear, however: was it lame? Did a coyote or wolf attack it? They put up a game camera to see what animals were stopping by to feast. A little while later, she poked her head out the window and spotted a bobcat on the gut pile! The bobcat saw her and stood stock-still: after about 5 minutes of watchful silence, it went back to eating. When it eventually walked off, Julie was able to see its bobbed tail and confirm her identification: Definitely a bobcat! She can’t wait to see the game cam footage!

John thanks Julie, and is excited to hear about the sighting! “There are lots and lots of bobcats in Minnesota,” John explains. “Almost no one sees them because they are very, very secretive. If they see you, hear you, or smell you coming, they’re going to disappear. You will never see them. But (back to the tracks!) if you’re looking at tracks, you will certainly see the tracks. And, of course, a game cam and a nice pile of venison for those bobcats can certainly bring them into view.” [Thanks, Julie, for sharing! I’m so excited for you, and please share those pictures when you get them!]

A grey, black, tan, and orangey cat stands in a snowdrift. The ears have small black tufts and the eyes are golden. The tail is black and very short. The image is titled "Bobcat".

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).

Corrected: January 27, 2023 at 2:05 AM CST
Lead photo corrected from a lynx to a bobcat. And I call myself a biologist!
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 has worked at KAXE/KBXE for over 22 years. She currently helms the Morning Show as News and Public Affairs Director where she manages producers, hosts local interviews and programs, oversees and manages web stories and establishes focus areas of programming like phenology, clean energy, Indigenous voices, Strong Women, local foods, clean energy, economic development and more. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North. In 2018 Heidi received the “Building Bridges in Media” award from the Islamic Resource Group for her work on KAXE/KBXE hosting conversations about anti-Muslim movements in rural Minnesota. During the pandemic, Heidi hosted 14 months of a weekly statewide conversation on COVID-19 for the AMPERS network.
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?).