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Phenology Talkbacks, March 22 2022

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American robin with a snack
Photo by iNaturalist user courtneycelley
American robin with a snack

We have seven reports this week, or, as John says, one for each finger! The Talkbacks program is your opportunity to share with us! Get in touch with me (, John (, or text ‘phenology’ to (218) 326-1234.

I’ll start things off with a report of my own. I’m working today from my parents’ house near Marine on St. Croix, MN, where there is maple syrup boiling on the stove, birds at the feeder, and spring in the air. The bird feeder is quieter than usual, running at a steady rate of 2 bpm (birds per minute), with the majority being chickadees (30 visits over the course of 20 minutes) and white-breasted nuthatches (16 visits). Also represented are red-breasted woodpeckers (6 visits) and downy woodpeckers (2 visits).

I’m really fun at parties, if you can’t tell.

With bird statistics out of the way, let’s launch into some student reports!


Raelynn joins us from Baudette. The deer are flocking to the bare strips of ground along the roads, where sun and warm temperatures have melted away the snow. Sharp tailed grouse are dancing at the local leks (a lek is an area where two or more males of a species perform courtship displays. Check out a sharp-tailed grouse lek from Baudette here! They zoom around like tiny, sad airplanes, and I love them. If you’re willing to arrive to the blind before dawn, you can reserve an observation blind at a variety of locations across Minnesota). In other bird news, the horned larks have returned to Baudette! Finally, the class tapped a maple tree outside their classroom, but the sap hasn’t started running yet. John adds that the deer must be relieved to have something approximating green food again, after spending all winter eating sticks. However, it does make it more risky for drivers on the roads!

Grand Rapids: Amelia and Ava

Amelia and Ava bring us this week’s report from Grand Rapids! The students are enjoying the warming weather, melting snow, and watching the braided rivers of meltwater forming on roads. The red maples have swelling buds, but the students don’t think they will burst for another few weeks. Be sure to be respectful, responsible, safe, and kind! John joined the class last week for their phenology, and he echoes that it was a very pleasant day with elongating alder catkins and beautiful willows.

Grand Rapids: Gavin

Gavin joins us from Grand Rapids, where they are enjoying clear skies, light winds, and warming weather. Green grass and thick mud are appearing along sidewalks, as well as running water in the creek. Everything is wet from all the meltwater. The snow depth is starting to decrease, measuring 14.5 inches to 29 inches. Spring is coming! John agrees, spring is coming (grand) rapidly! He reports that the kids were struggling through deep snow during his visit, so things are definitely changing quickly in the Grand Rapids area.


Adeline is our reporter this week from Mr. Linder’s class. They note that we may have moved our clocks forward for the last time- there is a bill that may be passed to end daylight savings time! The class is enjoying the warmer weather and the melting snow (though they may have another snowstorm on Tuesday). This week, the students documented their first pictures of their trees: they will take another picture each week until summer. It will be fun to see the flowering and leafing out process! For now, there isn’t much going on, but they did find a pussywillow with fuzzy buds. The class has continued to note dragon’s teeth growing on snowbanks facing the sun. One student smelled a skunk, a sure sign of spring, and another heard many woodpeckers drumming. More signs of spring are sure to come- in the meantime, onward and awkward! John makes the recommendation that anyone interested in phenology might enjoy taking weekly photos of the trees in their yard or area. It is definitely fun to be able to see the advance of spring (and, if you’re really feeling ambitious, the onset of fall) play out over a matter of moments on your phone! Remember to try to frame the picture similarly every time to get a consistent image between weeks.


Jackson brings us this week’s report from the Duluth area! The students are struggling with the maple trees, which refuse to provide sap despite ideal temperatures (above freezing during the day, below freezing at night). The students fought their way through deep snow to the buckets, and found them ‘dry as sawdust!’. Hopefully, they will have more luck in the upcoming weeks. Jackson has observed some squirrels attempting to get seeds from a bird feeder, and spotted coyote tracks in the snow. Kelso found some grouse feathers behind his house, and while he was trying to figure out why they were there (and if it signaled the arrival of spring), he was startled by another grouse that broke cover right under his feet! Gavin noted that the crusty snow puts on a great show this time of year, looking like ‘crystals in the glimmering sunshine”. He also points out that the buds on the trees are getting bigger! While this year’s flowers are preparing for spring, the cattails are still up and dispersing seeds from last year. Nora and her mom saw two immature bald eagles flying over the road. Jersey notes that while the snow is still very deep, it’s getting slushy- maybe it will melt soon! Meanwhile, Allison has been pondering a mystery. She found a strange track on the walk to her bus: it looked like a dog track, but not quite, and showed deep scratch marks next to some bird tracks. Maybe a canine was attacking a bird, though there was no blood. She reports that the mystery tracks are still on her mind (been there- I hope you find an answer! If you have a photo, try sending it to the folks at the Minnesota Wildlife Tracking Project- they're a great resource and amazing people!). Be aware, things are happening out there! John agrees- going through deep snow to the trees is hard work. The trees make you sweat for that delicious maple syrup!

Long Lake Conservation Center

Edwin, from Great River School in St. Paul, reports to us from their trip to Long Lake Conservation Center. What a trip! They got to see many ‘firsts’ of spring this year. They enjoyed the spring’s first 50-degree day, first rain, and observed a lot of snow melting away before their eyes. Adding to the list of firsts, they saw the first tadpole of spring! At first, they thought it was a wood frog tadpole, but then decided it would develop into a green frog or maybe a leopard (frog). Overhead, geese and trumpeter swans were flying in great vees over the lake. (Edwin adds: “Welcome back! We missed you!”). In other bird news, they saw a ruffed grouse trying (and failing) to hide in a tree; downy, hairy, and pileated woodpeckers, bald eagles, chickadees, nuthatches, and the very first robin of the season! (Sidenote: my automated transcription service translates “pileated woodpecker” to “humiliated woodpecker”, and I laugh every time.) The cattails are shedding their fluffy seeds, and with the grass and the moss showing, it’s finally starting to look green! The spring sun is waking up the Asian beetles, the students discovered a spider cozied up in a hole in a tree, and they think they saw a winter crane fly (but no mosquitoes). The melting snow showed a few tracks, including a deer mouse and rabbit that had been out and about under the full moon. A group of deer walked across the lake one night, which is a risky business this time of year! Finally, the folks at Long Lake share in the sorrows of maple syrupers across the state- despite perfect weather, the sap just isn’t running. Hopefully it will pick up within the week! Edwin leaves us with the happy thought that spring weather is finally here, and reminds us to “Live Connected!”. John agrees that there are some flies that come out this time of year, including march flies (they are small like mosquitoes, but thankfully don’t have mosquito mouth parts) and some moths. John is thinking about the tadpole the students saw. It couldn’t be a newly hatched tadpole from this year, but both the green frog and the mink frog have tadpoles that take two years to mature- so it’s likely the students saw one of those species!


Sorcha brings us this week’s report from Prairie Creek Community School, and as there is no possible way for me to improve on this report, I’ve transcribed it in full here. That being said, and I cannot emphasize this enough, listen to these recordings. You will thank me.

“Hi, this is Sorcha from Prairie Creek Community School waaaay down south in Northfield, Minnesota. Hang on to your hats, folks! It's been a busy week down here. We have... robins! Tons of robins! The first one showed up last Monday, and since then they have been everywhere. We even saw some being *ahem* romantic. We are seeing pairs of cardinals too, and Meadow reported geese building a nest in her pond. We are watching for crows with nesting material, but haven't seen that yet. We saw our first sandhill crane on the 16th. The same day, we saw and heard our first red winged blackbird! Sky also saw a pelican on the 16th. On the 19th, we saw our first kestrel on the telephone wire by school. We are still waiting for our first vulture and our first heron. But wait! There's more! We have seen trumpeter swans flying way up high and two eagles with fish. There are a lot of chickadees and nuthatches. We still have juncos too. Large flocks of waxwings have been eating the last of our crabapples. They’re being helped by all. of those. robins! We are hearing drumming from woodpeckers too. If birds aren’t your thing, we’ve seen other animals too! We saw our first mole tunnels today and are watching for worm castings. When we were on a hike, a vole ran out of its melting subnivian (under the snow) tunnel, and we watched it for about two minutes while it tried to find a new place to hide. There was an opossum sighting, and sadly, a beaver that had been killed crossing the road. There was also a coyote roadkill. We think it would be interesting to collect roadkill data. We’re excited to watch the plants and trees in the coming weeks. The maple buds are swelling and the maple trees are starting to halt sap production. We’re hoping to boil what we have on Wednesday. This has been Prairie Creek Community School. One more step on the phenology journey!”

John seconds my impression- Sorcha is welcome to the radio station anytime! We’re glad to see that spring is finally in full swing in Northfield, and we’re looking forward to the season making its way northward in the next couple weeks.

Thank you to all the other wonderful students who submitted reports! These audio clips are the highlight of my week, every week.

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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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.
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.
Charlie Mitchell (she/they) joined KAXE in February of 2022. Charlie creates the Season Watch Newsletter, produces the Phenology Talkbacks show, coordinates the Phenology in the Classroom program, and writes nature-related stories for KAXE's website. Essentailly, Charlie is John Latimer's faithful sidekick and makes sure all of KAXE's nature/phenology programs find a second life online and in podcast form.

With a background in ecology and evolutionary biology, Charlie enjoys learning a little bit about everything, whether it's plants, mushrooms, or the star-nosed mole. (Fun fact: Moles store fat in their tails, so they don't outgrow their tunnels every time conditions are good.)
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