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Phenology Talkbacks, January 31 2023

Photo provided by Angie Nistler.
The view from inside one of the quinzhees built by the Science Nature Adventure Program students in Bemidji!

Rejoice! Another Phenology Tuesday is upon us. We have four reports this week!

North Shore Community School phenology report: January 31st, 2023

Tiffany reports from Darcie Rolfe and Leigh Jackson’s class at North Shore Community School in Duluth. During the week of January 21st, the students noted the new moon. Tiffany notes that the new moon is the “first lunar phase, when the moon and the sun have the same elliptic longitude.” [Can we pause to appreciate these teachers and kids? They know so many things!] She also notes that as of January 26th, this January has been the second warmest on record. A late-arriving cold snap shattered the pattern, though, and has lasted through the end of the month. The silver lining of the cold is that the sun is back! A long period of dark clouds and snowfall left the students deprived of sunlight: at least the cold snap brings a little sunlight and Vitamin D with it. While out on their nature trail, the students noticed that the trees had a fresh covering of snow. The 2nd graders have been watching a Pileated Woodpecker, which has been active outside the classroom window. They (the woodpeckers, not the second graders) have been heard drumming on the trees in the forest: during EE class one day, one even flew over the students’ heads! Other birds seen this week include a Northern Shrike, Snow Bunting, Pine Grosbeaks, chickadees, nuthatches, and Downy Woodpeckers. The local deer have been making trails through the snow, flattening down areas to rest, and digging through the snow to eat grass and hostas. “Keep an eye out for Barred Owls and Great Horned Owls,” Tiffany reminds us. “They’re actively searching for small mammals in the deep snow. This concludes the phenology report: Have a great week and be observant!”

John thanks Tiffany for the excellent report and agrees it’s been a very warm January! He reminds us that, unfortunately, a warm January doesn’t mean an early spring. (For more on that, see last week’s report!) Either way, it’s always nice to have a mild January (though there’s plenty to be said for the sunshine that comes with colder weather!). John’s seen deer digging in the snow for food and heard Pileated Woodpeckers drumming too!

A pileated woodpecker flies across a grey sky. Its body is black, with black flight feathers on white wings. Its head is white with a black stripe through the beak and eye and a red cap. The image is captioned "Pileated Woodpecker in flight".
Pike Lake Elementary phenology report: January 31st, 2023

Rob Marohn, our Phenology in the Classroom teacher at Pike Lake Elementary, is our reporter this week! “Due to some poor planning, I find myself in my classroom with no children to read this report. The students have a day off,” he says! His class has put out game cameras and baited them with chunks of beef. One was set up deep in the cedars, and the other was in a small opening. The bait in the cedars was cleared out in a single day: they had 250 photos of a red squirrel chowing down! The students were surprised to learn that red squirrels are omnivorous. The squirrel wasn’t brave enough (or was too smart) to go into the clearing, but an ermine (weasel in its winter coat) found the bait by the end of the week. They got some great photos of it! [I apologize if I mangle the spelling of any names in the upcoming section!] In the forest, many trees are bent over from the weight of the snow. Zoe wonders if they’ll right themselves again or if it is permanent. Dylan was able to persuade some chickadees to eat from his hand, and enjoyed the feeling of their feet gripping his fingers. Georgia was comparing rabbit and red squirrel tracks: she found that rabbit tracks had a larger hind leg imprint. During a sleepless night, Allison got up to look outside: she spotted a Red Fox eating suet! [Definitely worth getting up for- I’m jealous! All I find when I get up at night is the inside of my refrigerator.] On her way to feed her bunnies, Rocky spotted an owl up in a tree: someone’s been attacking her chickens, and now there’s a clear suspect! At his lake house, Jace observed that the lake was covered in slush. He thinks the weight of the snow cracked the ice, then insulated it from refreezing. One student, Jer, saw a large piece of snow peeling away from a tree: it looked like a banana peel! Maria spotted a flock of chickadees at her aunt’s birdfeeder. “She felt happy because she liked to think about the birds accepting the seed they put out. She feels like she’s being helpful.” [MY HEART!] While watching the moon, Stanley was surprised to see it was twisted sideways and not oriented the way he’s used to seeing it. After looking it up at school the next day, he learned that it sometimes looks like a “C” and sometimes like a “U” because the earth is tilted on its axis. On Friday, Mason groaned to see the sky clear up: he knew the clear sky meant cold temperatures! “This concludes our report from the outer reaches of the Proctor School District. Be aware: Things are happening out there!”

John thanks Rob and says, “Boy, it must be great to be in his class.” [I’m definitely a bit jealous of his students!] His students come in with questions, and he’s able to give them a bit of direction to do the research and find the answers! We all need a Rob to help point us in the right direction. John loved seeing the images from the game cameras on KAXE’s Season Watch page: what a hungry weasel and squirrel! Regarding the bent trees, John informs us that some will rebound, but some won’t: he has a maple tree that got bent by snow, and to this day, it’s a bit bent out of line. The upper growing end is righting itself and becoming more vertical, however.

Two images of crescent moons are shown side by side. The left-hand image shows the crescent moon with the 'horns' facing upward. The right-hand image shows the moon with the 'horns' facing to the left. The image is captioned "Crescent Moon shapes".
Eagle View Elementary phenology report: January 31st, 2023

Vivian, Alexa, and Anika report from Deanne Trottier’s class at Eagle View Elementary in Pequot Lakes. When they recorded, it was -19 degrees Fahrenheit with a real-feel temperature of -34. Brutal! When they took their phenology walk [on a warmer day, I hope] they went to a new spot! They found lots of tracks and tunnels in the snow. The class followed them for a long way: at the end, they discovered a hole with a “wiggling vole and scat” at the bottom of it! [They must have scared the poop out of it!] The students also spotted a Bald Eagle and a crow. Later that day, another class was out and they saw similar tracks and another vole that ran atop the snow, then disappeared into a snow tunnel. At the school bird feeders, the students have observed chickadees, nuthatches, and Blue Jays (plus a big ol’ Grey Squirrel). When they were snowshoeing, the students found a lot of deer tracks in a few spots where the deer had bedded down for the night. “Keep looking for tracks when you’re outside,” the students say; “They’re easy to find in the snow. They all tell a story! This is Vivian, Alexa, and Anika reporting from Pequot Lakes!”

[They DO all tell a story! I love that!] John thanks the students for the report and congratulates them on their sightings. He reiterates the vole sightings (and reminds us of our favorite winter vocabulary word: subnivean, under the snow), and finishes off by celebrating seeing Bald Eagles still in the area, despite the cold weather!

A small hole is shown in a bed of snow. Leading to or from the hole are a series of small footprints. There is a shadow of grass falling over the snow and footprints. The image is captioned "A hole for a vole".
Long Lake Conservation Center phenology report: January 31st, 2023

Ella reports from Cohasset Elementary’s trip to Long Lake Conservation Center:
“During our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center on January 26th and 27th, we saw the sun for what seemed like the first time in weeks! During our explorations we observed a really fat Blue Jay, Nuthatches, Chickadees, Grouse, and Red-bellied and Pileated woodpeckers. One of the Long Lake Naturalists heard the Chickadee’s “Phoebe” call. That means at least one Chickadee is thinking about spring. Underneath the birdfeeder, we saw small tracks leading to a hole in the snow. We think it’s a mouse or chipmunk living there, popping up when it's hungry to eat the seeds the birds spill. We also saw lots of deer, fox and Porcupine tracks. A person in our group reported seeing a Red Fox outside his window at night. One of the highlights was a visit from Long Lake’s resident Porcupine. It was in the Red Oak eating bark, but climbed down and walked on the path. We all got a good look at it. It was a great time in nature and we want to remind everyone to…Unplug, Get outside, and LIVE CONNECTED!!”

John agrees- “Unplug, get outside, and live connected” are all valuable lessons! He also gets a good laugh from Long Lake’s celebrity porcupine. “That porcupine is a regular star down there. I think he’s adopted the students as sort of his weekly chance to show off: he probably brags to his friends, ‘Hey, check this out, they love me! I’m their star.” [You are a star, Mr. Porcupine! Keep struttin’ your stuff, we all love you.]

A single image of a porcupine on a white background is shown. It is a closeup of its face, showing its small eyes, large snout, and two orange front teeth. A graphic of a "#1" award has been added to the porcupine's chest. The image is captioned "Minnesota's Best Porcupine".

To top things off, one of our Phenology in the Classroom teachers from Bemidji, Angie Nistler, sent us photos of her SNAP students' quinzees. Her intrepid students took notes from the voles, weasels, and mice: they built subnivean tunnels between their quinzees!

Remember that you can add your voice to this list! Get in touch with me (, John Latimer (, 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
Charlie Mitchell (she/they) joined the KAXE team in February of 2022. Charlie 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, she 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?).