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Phenology Talkbacks, April 19 2022

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Spring peeper
Photo by iNaturalist user wildreturn
Spring peeper

Producer's Note: This interview occurred during KAXE/KBXE's annual fundraiser. If you are reading/hearing these student reports, you appreciate our involvement in local communities, schools, and the environment. We invite you to show your support for the phenology program by making a sustaining donation to help us continue this work. Donate now and become a part of a sustainable public radio community in the northland. Click the donate button at or text "DONATE" to 218-326-1234.

We start this week with an incredible fact: John Latimer is in his thirty-eighth year of doing phenology in schools! That is 4.5 times as long as King Tut's reign, or 1/10th of a giant tortoise's lifespan (in other words, a long time)! Here's to the Phenology in the Classroom program's continued success! Meanwhile, I've been here a measly 2 months, but hey, you gotta start somewhere (and KAXE's been an excellent place to start).

John also gives a little teaser for today's Phenology Report. There are finally some more signs of spring starting to show themselves! The silver maples have barely begun to bud out; John estimates about 1 in 50 buds are open. ("Is this optimism?!?" asks Heidi, shocked. I'm shocked, too, after John's rare episode of grumpiness last week! But signs of spring seem to cheer him up, so I think things are only looking up for ol' Johnny in the next few months.)


Cinnia brings us this week's report from Lake of the Woods School in Baudette. Students saw a lot of house finches and juncos. On Sunday, a student's dog chased a black mourning cloak butterfly. On Monday, snow and rain put yet another damper on spring's progress. Local rivers, however, show the warming trend- they finally opened up this week and are flowing over the banks. Gus continues to see lots of waterfowl, including mallards, wood ducks, and hooded mergansers!

John thanks Cinnia for her report and notes that the juncos are "thick around here." John is impressed with all the observations of waterfowl- mallards, wood ducks, and hooded mergansers galore! He describes the mourning cloak butterfly as having black wings with a cream-colored border and says that this is typically the best time of year to observe them. He hasn't seen his first one yet, but he hopes he will soon!


Macoons and Marley bring us this week's report from Apple Blossom Village in Bemidji! Last week, the students kept their eyes out, seeing two foxes, a big ol' squirrel, some deer, and Mr. John Latimer himself. A robin, three ducks, a turkey vulture, some geese, and some swans were also seen. They also saw a Compton tortoiseshell butterfly! Keep an eye on the weather!

John says a big 'thank you' to Macoons and Marley and says he had a lovely time with their class at Apple Blossom Village outdoor school! The students had a pretty great collection of observations- we're looking forward to hearing more.

Pequot Lakes

Addalyn, Addie, and Emme bring us this week's report from Eagle View Elementary in Pequot Lakes. Their phenology walk was snowy, and it was snowing again as they recorded their report. Stupid winter! Go away! The redpolls have mostly moved north, but they saw a big flock of juncos in the grass near the nature center, some chickadees, and one robin. On Rice Lake, the patches of open water are expanding and are spotted with Canada geese, mallards, and trumpeter swans. The geese, ducks, and swans spend most of their time sleeping on the ice or with their heads underwater, searching for food. Also, one of the students saw a loon! For mammals, they saw a squirrel (it looked well-fed), and they report that the black bears were awake and active. Deer have been moving about in yards and roadsides, where they are eating grass- the students also found deer prints in the snow at school. The trees are slowly getting ready for spring: the buds on the poplar trees are getting bigger, while the crab apple tree's buds are still small. There are a couple more stems of rhubarb poking up through the ground. Thanks, spring!

"Thanks, spring" indeed! John notes that the numbers of redpolls are certainly declining, while juncos remain in significant numbers. While the rhubarb is coming up at Eagle View Elementary, John has seen no sign of his yet!

Northfield, April 19 2022

Meadow and Leo bring us this week's report from Prairie Creek Community School, 'way down south' in Northfield! Brr- it's been cold, windy, and they even witnessed some hail. With all that cold weather, it's not too surprising that there haven't been many changes in the plants. The fly honeysuckle has broken bud, the elderberries have just begun leafing out, and the tulips are starting to pop up. At this time last year, the bloodroot and wood sorrel were already out! While the plants waited for warmer weather, the songbirds were pretty active. The students saw a wide range of songbirds, including starlings, red-winged blackbirds, robins, blue jays, cardinals, mourning doves, and even some cedar waxwings passing a berry back and forth! In the raptor report, they saw kestrels, hawks, eagles, turkey vultures, and... crows? Here, the students bring a great question to John; are crows raptors? (John says no! Crows lack the sharp, hooked beak and strong talons distinctive to raptors. Instead, crows belong to a family of birds called corvids, which includes ravens, crows, magpies, jays, nutcrackers, and more. The family is known for incredible intelligence- John recommends taking advantage of any chance to interact with them! I recommend this article for a quick, fun read on crow intelligence.) Near the water, the students saw kingfishers, wood ducks, several herons, and even some fluffy yellow mallard babies. ("So cute!!" says one. "It's not cute. It's science!" says the other!) There was also a dead Canada goose- possibly a victim of the avian flu. The final item in the bird report: the students saw two sandhill cranes flying over the road (watch out!). Meanwhile, the mammals were busy (or, as Leo notes, they were busy before they were killed: they found a dead skunk on the side of the road, and one of their dogs came home with two (dead) baby bunnies. RIP, little mammals! Finally, the most exciting news of the report: SPRING PEEPERS! These diminutive little froggies were heard on April 10, though they turned frogsicle again when the creeks and ponds refroze. We'll look forward to their calls as the weather warms and spring oozes its way north.

Spring Peepers

John was happy to hear such a great report- so many observations, it's hard to keep up! He notes that although the wood frogs usually start to call at this time of year, it'll be later due to all this winter weather (as the students noted as well!). In Grand Rapids, the red elderberries broke bud earlier in the season, but the buds were burnt off in the cold weather. Oh well- they'll just try again with a different bud. He was surprised to hear about the goslings and baby mallards! They take about 35 days to hatch, so it's possible that some overwintering or super-early arrivals got their start early to bring us those early-season fluffballs. And who can beat the sound of spring peepers? That's right, nobody. What an excellent, reassuring sign that better times are on their way!

That does it for this week! If you can, please help support the Phenology in the Classrooms project by becoming a sustaining member of Northern Community Radio (the link is at the top of the page). And, of course, remember you can add your voice to this list! We would love to hear from you. Get in touch with me ( or 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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