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Phenology Talkbacks, February 28 2023

A dark grouse with a white belly stands on packed-down snow. He has bright yellow eyebrows and a pink area on his neck. His wings are held out to his sides, and he is in the middle of his mating display. The image is captioned "Sharp-tailed Grouse".
A dark grouse with a white belly stands on packed-down snow. He has bright yellow eyebrows and a pink area on his neck. His wings are held out to his sides, and he is in the middle of his mating display. The image is captioned "Sharp-tailed Grouse".

It’s time for your weekly dose of adorable nature reports- enjoy!

Lake of the Woods School phenology report, February 28th 2023

Emma reports from Andrew Pierson’s class at Lake of the Woods School in Baudette. During the week of February 11-17, they saw an unkindness of ravens (‘unkindness’ is the collective noun for ravens), a flock of starlings munching on crabapples, and the first Bald Eagle of the season. They haven’t seen one since November!

John thanks Emma for the report and adds some fun facts about ravens and crows. Both are corvids, a group that also includes jays and magpies. Researchers have found that ravens and crows can anticipate events and outcomes of their actions, create tools, and even recognize human faces (and pass that information on to relatives)! John agrees that Bald Eagles are back in greater numbers, and he’s happy to hear the starlings have survived the winter (likely from scavenging from fast food joints).

A large flock of ravens flies up from the snow-covered ground. In the background is a leafless deciduous forest. The image is captioned "'Unkindness' of Ravens".
Photo by iNaturalist user kpmcfarland.

John also got a report from Jeff Bircham, a retired conservation officer who has been monitoring the Sharp-tailed Grouse lekking grounds. These grounds are where male grouse gather to dance, court females, and establish their ‘pecking order’: as of this morning, the lek has begun!

West Rapids Elementary phenology report, February 28th 2023

Aisley and Colton report from West Rapids Elementary School. On their phenology walk on February 21st, they had sunny weather with a moderate breeze. They went looking for lichens, and were met with great success! The class found the Common Greenshield lichen on a Black Ash tree, as well as a Star Rosette Lichen. They also discovered a flock of 10 female Pine Grosbeaks, and a dead vole that had been hit by a snowplow. Later that day, a student caught a vole at recess! “As Mr. Latimer says, ‘Onward and Awkward!’”

John thanks Aisley and Colton for the report and tells us that the students are great vole detectors; “I wouldn’t want to be a vole in the West Rapids Elementary School area right now! They definitely know where to look, and they are on top of them pretty quickly. I encourage them to be very careful.” He adds that they worked to identify a few other lichen species during their walk, and that it was great fun! The flock of grosbeaks kept them company, flitting around in the Scotch Pines and fruit trees nearby. John was disappointed that they didn’t have a male grosbeak with them: he would have loved to show the students the magnificent colors!

The image is a close-up shot of a greenshield lichen. It is circular with green, leaf-like lobes that stretch out from the center. The newer lobes are smooth and pale green, while older sections are pitted and somewhat yellowish. In the background are tree bark and another kind of lichen. The image is captioned "Greenshield lichen".
Long Lake Conservation Center phenology report, February 28th 2023

Jacob reports from the Conservation Corps’ Chainsaw Orientation at Long Lake Conservation Center: “While we were in the woods, we didn’t see too many critters. That’s probably because of the chainsaw noise, but the Long Lake naturalists said they saw a bunch of cool stuff. The new snowfall was great for tracking: saw a large canine tracks - possibly wolf, lots of fox tracks AND a large cat, maybe Bobcat? It was interesting to see the highway systems of trails that deer and predators follow. We also saw 13 white-tailed deer in one area, Bald Eagles, Bald Eagles, Dogwoods brightening up the ditches on our drives into the center, the first skunk sighting of the season, Blue Jays and Pileated woodpeckers. And we did not see...Redpolls, none this winter after last year being a very big tear for redpolls in this area. It was a great week and we want to remind everyone to…Unplug, Get outside, and LIVE CONNECTED!!”

John thanks Jacob for the report. He adds that in addition to animal tracks, he also looks for seeds fallen on the fresh snow; birch seeds and speckled alders often drop their seeds at this time of year. John was happy that the report prompted him to think about the trail system that critters build for themselves: there’s a lot of movement out there! He agrees that the willows are brightening up and skunks are out and about. While he wouldn’t go so far as to call February “The Month of the skunk,” the smell of skunk is definitely an important part of the month. Like the folks at Long Lake, he’s been disappointed by the lack of redpolls at his feeder this year: however, he did spot one last week!

Bonus: LLCC's celebrity porcupine was featured on Lakeland PBS this month. Check it out!

A brown porcupine stands on snow. A small twig is held in its paws. The image is captioned "Dill Prickles".
Contributed by Dave McMillan
Eagle View Elementary School phenology report, February 28th 2023

Hadley, Lucy, and Anika report from Deanne Trottier’s class at Eagle View Elementary in Pequot Lakes. The weather was -20 degrees, very cold, and icy. They had 8 inches of new snow! During the week, Lucy saw a lot of chickadees, Bald Eagles, and squirrels. Anika watched chubby grey squirrels hanging out by the bird feeders, and Leah has seen deer digging in the snow looking for food. The deer are sticking closely to their trails and yarding areas in order to avoid wasting energy by going through the deep snow. The class started the twig experiment last week: they have ‘tricked’ some cut branches to flower and leaf out early, by bringing them inside and giving them plenty of water. So far, the willows have a lot of fuzzy buds (just like the commonly-known pussywillows), which help protect the bud from cold weather. The oak twig still has its old leaves and has not shown any signs of new growth. The maple buds are bright, the birch isn’t changing much, and the crab-apple tree is beginning to bud! The class also has a mystery branch: it has a tiny, neon-green leaf. “This is Hadley, Lucy, and Anika reporting from Pequot Lakes. Bundle up and be careful not to slip when you go outside!”

John thanks them for the good advice! John has done the twig experiment for many years with many groups of students, and always finds it exciting. “You never know which of your branches are going to sprout,” he remarks. “Some do, some don’t. And sometimes, [you can have] two red maple branches, and one will sprout and one won’t! So, it’s kind of luck of the draw.”

A close-up shot of a fuzzy grey bud on a smooth red twig. The background is indistinct. The image is captioned, "Pussywillow bud".
Roots and Wings Forest School phenology report, February 28th 2023

Cassie, Neta, Hazel, Rose, and Porter report from Leona Cichy’s class at Roots and Wings Forest School in New York Mills. They are our youngest class: a mixed group of K-2nd graders! Last weekend, the class participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count. During the Backyard Bird Count, citizen scientists estimate bird populations before spring migration. The class spotted 11 woodpeckers, 14 turkeys, three chickadees, four Bald Eagles, two Blue Jays, one cardinal, three pheasants, six crows, two grosbeaks, 11 swans, and three owls! Outside of birds, they also found rabbits, squirrels, deer, and bobcat tracks in the woods. The class also learned about eagles, and shared these Bald Eagle facts: They can travel up to 225 miles per day, have a wing span of 6-7.5 feet, eat 0.5-1 pound of food per day, and don’t grow their full white tail until they are 6 years old! The students are watching the DNR’s Bald Eagle live camera. The eagles are sitting on at least one egg! “Thanks for listening: Stay wild!”

John thanks them for the great report, and is thrilled that they participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count! They found an impressive number of species. John adds that he’ll be talking about Bald Eagles in his phenology report this week: how handy that the class reminded him of some fun facts!

An adult bald eagle flies with its wings outstretched over a blue lake. It has a dark body and wings, with a white head and tail. The image is captioned "Bald Eagle showing off its wingspan!"
An adult bald eagle flies with its wings outstretched over a blue lake. It has a dark body and wings, with a white head and tail. The image is captioned "Bald Eagle showing off its wingspan!"

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.
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?).