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Phenology Talkbacks, April 5 2022

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American/pine marten (Ojibwe: waabizheshi)
Photo by iNaturalist user gonodactylus.
American/pine marten (Ojibwe: waabizheshi)

We’re back with another week of phenology news, featuring a report from a brand new scbool! Deanne Trottier’s class at Eagle View Elementary joins our community of classrooms from across the state. We are thrilled to see the program grow!

Each week, I put the audio from the radio through an automated transcription service to help me write these summaries. The service converts the audio into a written transcript... or tries to. Here are some of the more notable errors it made in this week’s talkbacks:

  • ‘Porcupines’ became ‘pork coupons’.
  • ‘Trumpeter swans’ became ‘trauma swans’... the poor swans had a rough winter, I guess.
  • ‘Bald eagles eating a carcass' became ‘bald eagles eating a car kiss’, which is a very different image!

Anyways, on to the nature news!


Gus brings us this week’s report from Lake of the Woods School in Baudette. A snowshoe hare was observed, still in its white winter coat. The class also welcomed the first mourning dove of the year, and observed an American robin at a bird feeder! The maple sap is running- they got their first measurable amount of sap from the classroom tree on March 18th. Last year, the first day with measurable sap was March 9th. (It brings me immeasurable joy that they’re keeping records!) So far, they’ve collected nearly 5,500 mL of sap in 15 days. John adds that there’s a great photo of a snowshoe hare transitioning to its summer brown on KAXE’s season watch page. He also provides a helpful conversion: 5.5 liters is about a gallon and a half!


Matthew and Abel report to us from Mr. Linder’s 5th grade science classroom at Cohasset Elementary. Since last week, we’ve gained 24 minutes of daylight! Unfortunately, it’s still snowing. The class got snow on Monday the 30th and April 4th, but they hope that will be the end of it. On their phenology walk, they noticed the quaking aspen and pussy willows are breaking bud, with nice fuzzy buds that are visible from the road. The rest of the trees haven’t broken bud yet, but the maple tree buds are quite swollen, a sign they may break soon! The students also saw a redpoll that didn’t look very healthy, and hypothesized that it may have eaten some seeds that had laid on the ground for too long. They also saw their first robin and some trumpeter swans. Their teacher, Mr. Linder, got to see a pine marten near his house, probably hunting squirrels! I am so jealous, as pine martens are at the tippity-top of my ‘want to see/’want-to-hold-in-my-own-two-hands-and-probably-get-badly-bitten' list. The class has noticed more deer on the sides of the roads, probably because the lack of snow on roadsides makes it easier to find food. Mr. Linder’s kids found a frog buried in mud in their backyard. It seemed dead, but they thought (correctly!) that it was probably just hibernating. They left it alone- I'm sure it’ll wake up and resume its froggy life soon! Onward and awkward! (Seriously, listen to these! No amount of good writing can do these kids justice.)

John sadly reports that the students’ hopes are likely to be dashed with the snow today and tomorrow, but eventually the last snow of the season will come and go! He points out that the aspens and willows are related, so they have similar flowers. All are pretty fuzzy right now! He also notes that it’s unusual to find frogs buried in the mud, but I’d argue that it’s just unusual for humans to go rooting around in the mud in these cold early spring days! A chance meeting is unlikely, but if you (like Mr. Linder’s kids, or me) are playing near ponds and rivers and stirring up the mud and the muck, you may come across one or two. John reports that wood frogs generally start to sing around the 16th of April, followed by the boreal chorus frogs (this year, it’s likely to be a bit later).

West Rapids: Clay

Clay reports to us from Mr. Cody’s 4th grade classroom at West Rapids Elementary. It was a nice day for their phenology walk, a little chilly and overcast with a 10-15mph breeze. They observed firmly closed buds on the sugar and red maple trees, as well as buds on the aspens. On the butternut trees, they could still see seed pods. At the creek, they noted melting ice and snow, and saw deer tracks!

John agrees that they got to see lots of dragon’s teeth on the snow banks (dragon’s teeth are the icicles formed by melting snow- can you guess what they look like?). He also points out the different phenology of red and sugar maples- the red maples break bud much earlier than the sugar maples.

West Rapids: Sam and Mason

Mason and Sam report from Mr. Siegel’s 5th grade class at West Rapids Elementary. On their phenology walk, they noticed a 16mph wind going southwest, and it was 39 degrees. They saw the first spiders of springtime! The spiders were surprising- the class expected that early-emerging spiders would be bigger and with more hair, in order to cope with the cold, but the ones they saw were very small and without hair. It’s great they’re forming hypotheses and checking them against their observations! In wildlife news, the class observed robins, red squirrels, and crows, as well as a chipmunk (one of the first of spring!). A student also observed a cardinal near their home! The plants are busy as well- the leatherwood is expected to flower soon, and the aspens are in flower, but the butternut buds are still tight. The class thinks they saw the first violets of spring! Finally, they learned how to tell the difference between a sugar maple bud and a red maple bud (sugar maples are pointy, red maples are boxier!).

John was also excited to find the spiders with the students! He adds that the leaves are still hanging on the ironwood trees, and that he’s excited to learn more about the butternut trees with the class as they conduct their observations together.

North Shore Community School

The week started off with heavy snow, which melted rapidly on the driveways and sidewalks due to the warm temperature. The new moon is on April 1st, and the northern lights will likely be present in the sky on March 31st and April 1st. The rivers and lakes in the area are beginning to open up, and the class maple trees are giving variable amounts of sap- some produce a lot, some only a little, and sometimes the sap freezes in the buckets. With the warming temps this week, they’re hoping for a good supply. The class has, as always, kept a sharp eye out for wildlife. Aiden saw a great horned owl both in the morning and through much of the afternoon, and Drea saw a flock of about 50 dark-eyed juncos (and reminds us to slow down while driving, so they can fly out of the way)! Jonah saw a great blue heron on the bus ride to school, one of the early arrivals for the season. It’s not just the students in the class keeping an eye out- they've recruited their families as well! Nick’s sister, Kimmy, saw two bald eagles feeding on a carcass. Peyton spotted two redheaded woodpeckers on Wednesday. Lucy saw a large herd of deer (at least 20!) eating grass on the side of the highway- it's finally accessible due to the melted snow! On the same day, Gunny noticed another herd on the way back from Two Harbors. Kaiya saw a porcupine in her backyard. Levi saw a snowshoe hare while outside building a fort for EE class. The students noticed that mammals in the area seem to be searching the newly uncovered grass for things to eat. Have a great week, and be observant!

John hopes the new snow melts rapidly, because he is “not shoveling anymore”. We’re all fed up at this point, John, so you’re in good company there! John was happy to admire a lovely crescent moon last night, and notes that the winter moon is high in the sky, while it is lower in the sky in the summer. He was happy the students got to see a great horned owl! John hasn’t heard his resident owls calling, and thinks they’re likely sitting on their nest right now. He says to keep an eye out for juncos, and that if you really want to lure them in, put out some white millet!

Long Lake: Read by Heidi Holtan
Long Lake: Original

Thomas, from St. Raphael Catholic school in New Hope, reports from Long Lake Conservation center (due to some overexcited squirrels in the background of the report, Heidi read this broadcast on Thomas’s behalf!). During their trip to Long Lake, winter fought back quite a bit! The cold and snow did not stop the squirrels from chasing each other as part of their spring courtship. The students think that it looks like they're having a lot of fun! Porcupines were spotted in their den trees and seem to be happy there after being on the move for the last couple of weeks. The class thinks that “they're settling and getting ready to give birth after a seventh month gestation. Porcupines give birth between April and June. Maybe we will see some babies! By the way, the Long Lake teachers like to call the porcupines 'stabby squirrels'. We all think it's really funny!” The class tapped maple trees and although the trees were awake, the sap was flowing very, very slowly- just a few drips. They were still able to taste the sap and it was very sweet; however, it was frozen in the bucket. The group trekked into the bog and ate the leaves of the Labrador plant, which they report has “a really weird, weird taste”, as well as needles from black spruce trees. Finally, they remind us that warm weather is ahead and to ‘live connected’!

Beth at Long Lake Conservation Center chimed in! She says: “So, yes, occasionally we may call porcupines "stabby squirrels" as a funny and engaging way to begin a conversation with students about porcupines. No, porcupines are not a type of squirrel, but...porcupines and squirrels are both of the order Rodentia/Rodent, the largest order of mammals, which also includes muskrats, beavers, chipmunks, and many more.”. Thanks for the clarification, Beth!

John is happy to have more information on porcupines from the Long Lake team, and says that if you want to learn more about those squirrel chases, listen to this week’s phenology report!

Pequot Lakes

Lucy and Bethy give us our very first phenology report from Eagle View Elementary in Pequot Lakes! They reported three inches of new snow and a layer of ice on the sidewalks- the snowflakes were big and fluffy. There are a lot of puddles, some of which are covered by ice and others that are already melted. Before the new snow, there was some grass showing through, but the snow piles that remain are very crusty. On Rice Lake, near their school, they spotted trumpeter swans and Canadian geese! The birds are staying close to the open water. This is probably a smart move on their part- one of the teachers saw a coyote on the ice, so predators are definitely still out there and the ice is still strong enough to support their weight. At their birdfeeders, the class is noticing chickadees and redpolls. The crabapple trees have small buds, and the poplars have a bigger bud burst near the tops of the trees. Finally, they observed one tulip leaf poking up through the soil, as well as a rhubarb! The class says they are ready for the snow to be done- “bring on spring”!

John welcomes the Eagle View Elementary students to the show (I do too!), and what a great report! He agrees that the rhubarb coming up is a sure sign of spring, and that seeing swans and geese on the open water is always a lovely sight.


Aspen and Bodie bring us this week’s report from Prairie Creek Community School in Northfield. They saw their first vulture and heron on March 30th, as well as doves. They’ve been observing the ice formations, which form tiny balls on the ground and “sapsicles” on the trees (that’s a great term!). They also spotted worms! In plant news, they have spotted a few maples flowering, as well as pussy willows. They’ve observed starlings, juncos, nuthatches, and a lot of red-winged blackbirds. One more step on the phenology journey!

John and Heidi share my enthusiasm about the term “sapsicles”, and look forward to seeing all those signs of spring (turkey vultures, blue herons, doves, maples flowering... so many!) up north.

That does it for this 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 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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