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Phenology Talkbacks: March 8 2022

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A Minnesota porcupine, captured by iNaturalist user blakemross
A Minnesota porcupine, captured by iNaturalist user blakemross

This week’s phenology talkbacks begins on an unexpectedly less wholesome note than usual, with Heidi being horrified as John hopes for an innocent rabbit’s death by hawk. John manages to recover by pointing out that all things are eventually eaten by something or another, and that’s the way of life.

For some odd reason, they decide to change topics, getting into the heart of the show- phenology talkbacks!

Baudette March 8 2022

Raelynn comes to us from Baudette! Their class has been observing a pile of woodchips under an ash tree, which they thought could be from an insect. However, they noticed a larger hole higher up- they suspect a pileated woodpecker was responsible for the woodchips! A classmate named Cooper saw a flock of magpies, and the class notes that the deer are congregating in yards and fields, struggling to navigate through the deep snow. They’re all excited for spring to come! John adds that he has also been seeing woodchips and other signs of wildlife in the snow. It’s fun to see all the stories written on the snow for those who look!


Adeline is reporting from Mr. Linder’s 5th grade science class. The class has noted increasing sunlight and rain followed by sleet. (John points out that we’ll have a lot more sunlight in the evenings next week, as daylight saving time ‘springs forward’ on Sunday morning.) John joined their class last week to label the trees on their phenology trail, and the class plans to take photographs of the trees weekly to document the process of the trees leafing out. The students have noticed increased bird song and activity at the bird feeders, as well as geese and ducks on the Mississippi. Everyone is on the lookout for robins and other signs of spring! Onward and awkward!

Grand Rapids

Lauren reports a nice warm day for their phenology walk, a welcome change from the cold February! There’s mud on the ground, another sign of the warming weather, and the class got to see deer, squirrel, and weasel tracks. A white breasted nuthatch appeared to serenade the class with its song (a wha-wha-wha rapidly repeated over 2-3 seconds). John confirms that the day was wonderful and the tracks abundant!

Hill City

Odin reports from Ms. Magner’s 2nd grade class at Hill City Elementary. The class notes a lot of roadkill deer, and hypothesizes that the deer are using the roads more because the snow is too deep in the woods. Continuing the theme of energy transfer in the food chain from the beginning of the broadcast, the class notes that the dead deer are great food for the eagles, ravens, and crows. Odin and his classmates are also excited spring is on its way! Their teacher, Mrs. Magner, has seen a racoon visiting her bird feeder, and classmates Ethan saw a chipmunk and Cindy smelled a skunky odor on her dog. Chickadees are busy singing their spring song, and woodpeckers are drumming away. There’s still a lot of snow on the playground, and classmates are trying to guess when it’ll disappear- the latest guess is June 18th! (John agrees with the class- let’s hope warm weather isn’t that late in coming). Work hard and be kind!

North Shore Community School

Shannon reports from North Shore. Classmates were out and about this week, with Isaiah skiing and Lucile’s brother almost getting stuck jumping into chest-high snow outside their house (John adds that Duluth gets some extra snow compared to the surrounding areas, thanks to the lake effect). Ms. Jackson went snowshoeing, and Jonah and Sage noticed the ice was kind of slushy when they went ice skating and that their skate blades fell through occasionally. (John notes that since ice is darker than snow, it absorbs more sunlight and melts faster. Gotta love Minnesota kids, who treat going through the ice so casually!) The fluctuating temperatures have led to many freezes and thaws, so the school parking lot has many icy spots and the snow is very crunchy. The students have observed a lot this week, from a limping deer (Maddie), a coyote (Anna, Twyla, and Karina), and a horse shedding its winter coat (Liv). Isaiah saw tracks by a knocked-over garbage can, and started an investigation. The tracks were smaller than those left by a bear, but about the right size for a deer. Even the shape fit- they looked like two water droplets with eyeballs! They’re certainly around- Peyton saw two crossing the road near the bus stop. Maverick saw a coyote on the road, and several people spotted a wolf in Grand Marais. The class also notes the brightening willow branches, the loss of snow on trees, and the downy and hairy woodpeckers are drumming in the mornings! (John adds that the willow branches lighten up in the spring sunlight the same way our skin tans in the summer). A pileated woodpecker made an appearance on Peyton’s morning dog walk, and a bald eagle soared over Cheyanne’s house. The class is certainly living up to their tagline- ‘have a great week, and be observant’!

Long Lake Conservation Center

Chloe and Zoie from Bertha Hewitt join us from Long Lake. They saw many signs of spring, including a balmy (for Minnesota) 40 degree day and lots of melting snow. They saw some bald eagles that they think are migrating to their spring nests, as well as chickadees, redpolls, three types of woodpeckers (pileated, downy, and redbellied), squirrels, rabbits, and signs of deer. (John adds that it sure is a great time out there right now, with the bald eagles moving through and all the woodpeckers!) The chickadees are singing their spring song, which the students think sounds like “Long laaake!” The snow has a thick crust, allowing small animals to escape the heavier predators, who break through the crust. In other fun wildlife sightings, they saw two porcupines (possibly a mated pair)! The stargazing was wonderful, with clear skies and “a sky as dark as a crow’s feather”. They remind us to ‘live connected’!

Remember you can add your voice to this list! Get in touch with me (, John (, or text ‘phenology’ to 218-326-1234.

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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?).
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