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Phenology Talkbacks, March 15 2022

Red-winged blackbird
Red-winged blackbird, photographed by iNaturalist user courtneycelley.

Maple syrupers, it’s that time! If you haven’t tapped your trees yet, it’s time. With temperatures dropping below freezing overnight and warming during the day, the sap will start flowing soon if it’s not already!

Talkback is your opportunity to share with us! Get in touch with me (smitchell@kaxe.org), John (jlatimer@kaxe.org), or text ‘phenology’ to (218) 326-1234.

Baudette

Carson reports from Baudette, and if you aren’t listening to these audio clips, boy howdy are you missing out! Two coyotes were observed near Mr. Pearson’s house, and Raylin has seen an abundance of Asian beetles around his house. Carson has seen a pileated woodpecker in his backyard, and Gus has heard deer sneaking around his family’s grain bins looking for spilled oats. John adds that he’s also seeing many coyotes active in his area, and that the Asian lady beetles are waking up. As things warm up, we’ll be seeing more of the Asian beetles!

Grand Rapids

Vera and Lydia report from Mr. Siegle’s 5th grade class at West Rapids Elementary in Grand Rapids. They observed bald eagles, who were busy building their nests. (John was along for their walk, and also got to see the eagle! The stick being carried by the eagle was initially mistaken for a garter snake, but they’re all still in hibernation. The eagles all over the area are refurbishing their nests- keep an eye out!) They also observed deer, squirrel, otter, and coyote tracks (I think we can all agree these kids are impressive at identifying tracks!). Ravens were observed in town, and squirrels were breaking into their late-season stores of pine cones. Dragon teeth (long icicles formed in spring from snow melting over overhangs) were observed on southern-facing slopes, and they had windy days with 18mph west winds.

Duluth

Lucille from North Shore Community School reports from Lake Superior. As the temperature varied over the last week, the ice and snow in the area has thawed, frozen, and thawed again. On Lake Superior, there was about 55% ice coverage. Though the cold is putting up a good fight, eventually the thaw will win as days lengthen and the sun’s rays grow stronger. The class (and the rest of us) are feeling some cabin fever! The class saw a lot of evidence of carnivores this week. Sharon saw the tracks of an adult bobcat leading into the woods, and Torin spotted multiple wolf tracks coming into and out of the forest. They think it was multiple adults! Allie saw three bald eagles feeding on a carcass in the woods. The students are noticing buds growth on some trees and the pussywillows, redpolls feasting at the birdfeeders, and the maple trees will be ready to tap soon. In PE class, the students are building snow shelters: the snow this week was easy to compact, which was great for this purpose. They remind us to ‘have a great week, and be observant’! John is also impressed by the students’ ability to decipher animal tracks, and adds to keep an eye out for budding pussywillows on your drives around town.

Pike Lake Elementary Students

Taylor reports from Rob Marone’s class at Pike Lake Elementary near Duluth. Though they’re looking forward to a change this week, the temperatures were trending cold (9 degrees below average at 23 degrees) during their reporting week. They’re winding down their game camera experiment, which was a resounding success with sightings of a grey wolf and a magpie (which are very rare in the area). Instead, they’re preparing for maple syrup season. With the rings of bare snow around the trees growing, the sap should be running soon as temperatures continue to warm. Camden reports a ‘nice big skunk’ foraging for food near his house! The skunks coming out of hibernation is a great sign that spring is on its way. Jeremiah observed two fox dens on the south-facing side of a hill. He wonders how the foxes know or learn that southern-facing slopes will be warmer! The students are truly asking some great questions, and even going the extra mile to conduct experiments to find the answers. Amira did a bird feeder experiment with four stations: one with peanut butter and popcorn, a second with a dill pickle (?!?) and sunflower seed, a third with Ritz crackers and peanut butter, and the last with Cheerios. After checking the feeders daily, she was surprised to find that the Cheerios were the birds’ favorite! Sophie also did an experiment, and reported seeing thirty-two birds at her feeder with black oiled sunflower seeds being the most popular. Finally, Jackson showed off his bird identification skills by distinguishing a downy woodpecker at his bird feeder (they look incredibly similar to hairy woodpeckers, which are also in the area). Be aware, things are happening out there!

I know John Latimer loves to observe budding trees, but it seems like Pike Lake Elementary is chock full of budding scientists! John adds that the photos from the game camera are amazing; they can be seen at the KAXE Season watch page. Like me, John is impressed by the science being done by the students (though he might have eaten the experiments before the birds could).

Phenology Workshop in Duluth

Rufus reports from our phenology in the classroom workshop at Pike Lake Elementary near Duluth. We walked around the school forest path and observed all sorts of fun things! Rufus reports that we saw yellow birch (John edits: black ash) with old flowers still on the branches from last spring. Wasps will lay eggs in the flowers, which renders the flowers infertile; instead, they become a house for the wasp larvae. If this happens, the flowers never finish growing and remain stuck on the tree. We also saw many tracks, including rabbits (two big back pawprints and two round pawprints in the front, with some droppings to match), deer (two toe marks, deep in the snow), and tracks of either a domestic dog or coyote. The deer have been browsing the buds of little bushes. Don’t be a stranger, be a world changer! John reminds us to keep an eye out for big, dark brown clumps stuck in branches- chances are that it’s a black ash that’s been visited by the wasps!

Long Lake Conservation Center

Greta from St. Joseph’s School in Rosemount reports from Long Lake Conservation Camp. During their stay at Long Lake, the students observed snow melting around the base of the trees: seems like the sap could start running in the next few weeks! They found evidence of redbellied and pileated woodpeckers, with lots of new woodchips and sawdust on top of the snow. Swans were seen flying over the campus, they captured (and released outside) a garter snake that was hanging out in one of the buildings, and they observed many buds on the trees! In astronomy, they saw the big dipper with its handle pointed down, and found the north star to the west of the big dipper. The porcupines spotted by last week’s students were seen again, still hanging out in trees close to one another but not in the same tree. The students got to observe twigs that had been chewed by the porcupines, and even got to see the tooth marks! More signs of spring were seen: it got up to 33 degrees, and the icicles were growing. One student said it tasted like spring (bonus points to this class for using all their senses!) They had a great week, and remind us to ‘Live Connected’! John adds that it’s the perfect time to be looking for signs of pileated woodpeckers. He adds that seeing two porcupines together is relatively rare, except during the mating season. The garter snakes spend their winters under the frost line, and basements often provide the perfect habitat for this. The snakes will be dormant and sluggish due to the cold temperatures, and won’t hurt humans or pets. If released out into the cold winter, remember that snakes can’t regulate their own temperature- without a place to stay above freezing, they will die (and make great food for eagles).

Northfield

Elliot comes to us from our southernmost school (so far): Prairie Creek Community School in Northfield, MN. They are definitely seeing signs of spring, and are going to tap their trees this week. The snow is melting in earnest, and they’ve spotted bud break on red elderberries. In bird news, Meadow heard a great horned owl, there are an abundance of hawks circling over the school, two robins were spotted, trumpeter swans were observed, great vees of Canada geese flew overhead, and dark-eyed juncos are still in the area. As we’ve seen across the state, the eagles are active! Like the eagle spotted by the North Shore students, they observed one eagle feeding on carrion (this time on a dead racoon), and like the students in Grand Rapids, they spotted one on a nest (this time with a fish). To top it off, Elliot thinks they heard a red-winged blackbird, though one hasn’t been observed by eye yet. According to their data (I LOVE that they have data!), the blackbirds should be back this week! On the mammal front, the class has seen lots of deer, rabbits, and squirrels, but no chipmunks yet. One more step along the phenology journey! John is impressed by how much these students are seeing! Being further south, it makes sense they’re already tapping the maple trees. Juncos are expected to leave right around the same time the robins show up. John’s as happy as the rest of us that there are increasing signs of spring!

Email from Matt: Houston TX

Well, if it is March, then down here that means it’s Rodeo season. The Trail-Riders ride into town on their horses, set up their chuck wagons, and make camp at Memorial Park. And the end of the trail ride is typically marked by cold and rainy weather, with mild temps and sunshine later, usually broken by cold spells down into the 40s. This week, for the third year in a row, my wife and I heard the call of a large owl that likes to frequent our rooftop. This bird looks to be over a foot tall, but it Is hard to scale its size. Knowing that yesterday would be the nicest, warmest ( 73°), and sunniest day of the week—with a cold front to come and promising temps in the 30s—we decided to walk out to the park to look for bluebonnets. Walking along Buffalo Bayou, we noticed how low the water was—only 2 feet or so. (Go fifty miles downstream, and this bayou has been dredged to 50 feet to host one of the largest ports in the nation.) When we got to our favorite bluebonnet hill, we discovered that we were just a bit too early. Only a handful of bluebonnets had started to bloom. I had never saw juvenile bluebonnets before, so I snapped a few photos (Nobody ever accused me of being a good photographer). And of course, this made me think of John Latimer—which is why I’m writing to you now. John, John, Heidi, Scott, Brett, Kari, David, Sarah, Dan and the rest of the crew: I just want you to know that your signal and the community that you’ve built stretch all the way across the nation – and beyond, I’m sure. So keep up the good work! Sincerely, Matt

Thanks for the kind words, Matt! It's so great to hear the impact the program is having across the state (and country, apparently). That does it for this week, but things are ramping up! Keep an eye out in the next week for more snow thaw, colorful shrubs and tips of tree branches, and eagles building their nests.

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

Stay Connected
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 20 years. She currently helms the Morning Show as News and Public Affairs Director. 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.
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?).
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