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Phenology Talkbacks, April 26 2022

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Common Green Darner
Photo by iNaturalist user allan7
Common Green Darner

We have cause for celebration! Not only do we have three new schools reporting in, but they all have good news! Spring continues its slow advance north, bringing dragonflies, hepatica flowers, and wood frogs.

Congratulations and a big, hearty welcome to our new schools: Shakopee West, Bemidji Middle School, and TrekNorth! We are thrilled to have you on board. Let's jump right in!

Baudette, April 26 2022

Jakob brings us this week's report from the Lake of the Woods School in Baudette. Students spotted a flock of grackles and a woodchuck. On Sunday morning, one student saw a mostly-brown snowshoe hare! "At first, he confused it for the Easter Bunny, but that wasn't chocolate that this bunny was leaving in its tracks." Finally, they saw three turkey vultures just west of Baudette feasting on roadkill.

John is glad to hear the grackles have made it to the border with Canada and that woodchucks are finally coming out of hibernation. About time! Even though the weather is doing its best to slow things down, spring is inevitably on its way.

TrekNorth, April 26 2022

Kira brings us our first-ever report from TrekNorth in Bemidji! They ventured out on April 20th for their phenology walk; it was snowing but not too cold. The high for the day was 37 degrees, but snow remained on the ground. The students saw buds on the smooth rose bush, red oaks, paper birches, and balsam poplars, but they hadn't burst yet. The pussywillow buds, however, had completely opened! The beaked hazel is following along, showing pollen-bearing anthers. Soon, the students hope to see leaves and female flowers. The jack pine is still waiting for spring to advance further before developing; in the meantime, the students are looking forward to seeing what happens next!

John says a big thank you to Kira! What a great report. John agrees that the buds are closed on nearly all the marked plants, except for the willows and beaked hazel. On the hazel, the male flowers are beginning to distend, but again he confirms the report that no female flowers have emerged yet!

SNAP, April 26 2022

Ava brings us our first-ever report from the Science Nature Adventure Program (SNAP) at Bemidji Middle School! They made some excellent observations in their school forest. There were Canada geese and ducks in the wetland area: the water was finally open in some spots, and the geese were landing there! The students dug a hole to give them another place to land. The speckled alders were in bloom, but the other trees they track haven't changed much. The buds remain small and unopened because of the cold temperatures. On the other hand, the aspen trees that budded out a few weeks ago remain in the same stage. It wasn't just plants the students observed: they also saw a cardinal singing in a tree and many robins on the ground.
Impressively, the students made observations throughout the week, not just on their Monday SNAP day! Together, they spotted many deer, four pileated woodpeckers, a bald eagle, two turkeys, three loons, fifteen finches, three raccoons, a flock of juncos, and a large flock of migratory birds! (Watch out, wildlife, these budding scientists are keeping an eye on you!) They had more snow from the west and saw animal tracks in the fresh layer of snow. "Until next time, snap to it, get into the wild, and observe!"

John got a kick out of "Snap to it!"! There were some excellent observations there, ranging from waterfowl to speckled alder flowers to aspen buds. Thank you!

Cohasset, April 26 2022

Zach and Olivia bring us this week's report from Mr. Linder's 5th-grade class at Cohasset Elementary school. They've been busy! The students noted 21 additional minutes of daylight over the last week (a gain of 2.5 minutes per day). With the approach of the summer solstice, the amount of sunlight gained per day was decreasing. The snow is almost gone, and the students are curious about when the lakes will open up! On their nature walk, the students noticed that the buds on the black ash were breaking, the maples had swollen buds, and the willows had more fuzzy buds. Once they start to release pollen, the students will be able to determine which flowers are male and female. Some mystery flowers (lilies, maybe?) are growing quickly and losing their red color; this means they can begin to photosynthesize! The students have noticed many more robins in the area and heard more bird calls during the day. One student saw a deer losing hair on its side, and they're not sure why. (I would guess it's losing its winter coat, but it could also be ill or have parasites!) Mr. Leonard heard a saw-whet owl at his house, which scared his dogs. "Onward and awkward, and have a great day!"

John invites us to have not just a great day, but a great week, as long as we're onward and awkward about it! He says it's nice to get up at 5 o'clock and see some light in the east (I'll have to take his word for it- he lost me at "It's nice to wake up at 5 o'clock".). He reports that the willow buds are indeed swelling, but no pollen release just yet or female flowers. It would have happened a week ago in a 'normal' year, but no dice!

West Rapids, April 26 2022

Zoe brings us the report from West Rapids Elementary School. It was a nasty day for phenology, with a wind from the east and temperatures hovering around 35 degrees. Despite the miserable weather, the students heard and saw two bald eagles, beetle tracks in fallen trees, and observed that the tree buds remained stubbornly closed. 2022 is a year of slow progress. "You can learn anything!"

John commiserates that it was an icky, icky day for a phenology walk! He and the class are observing leatherwoods and some other trees for bud growth and development, and things are going nowhere right now. What a bummer of a spring so far! Even John was unable to coax any pollen out of the speckled alders. John starts to say that it was a bust, but immediately corrects himself- in phenology, the answer "no" is just as important as the answer "yes"! For instance, if you never write down "no" for something like "I saw a robin today," you'll never be able to distinguish between days you didn't look for robins and days where you looked but didn't see one. By writing "no" and "yes," you'll be able to identify a start and end date!

North Shore Community School, April 26 2022

Liv brings us this report from North Shore Community School near Duluth. The class learned about the pink moon on Saturday, April 16th! Despite the name, the moon does not turn pink: it was named for the pink blooms of the creeping flax, which blooms around the same time as April's full moon.
The north shore of Lake Superior got five inches of wet, heavy snow on Monday the 18th. The snow had melted and flooded a student's yard by the afternoon! Conversely, another student noted that their normally-flooded basement has remained dry this year.
On Friday, the students collected the last of the maple sap. They'll be using the syrup for a special pancake lunch! Individuals at the school have collectively observed: bright red dogwoods revealed by melting snow, a fox, many deer eating birdseed, a garbage-feeding bear, a skunk that managed to spray a dog, a sandhill crane, a mourning dove, four bald eagles hanging out in a tree together, a redheaded woodpecker digging for insects, a big flock of seagulls, and the return of flies for the summer. Whew! They sure have their eyes out!
Finally, Liv notes that April 22nd was Earth Day! Earth Day has been celebrated for 50 years and promotes environmental awareness. "Have a great week, and be observant!"

Johns says thanks for a great report! He mentions that, as a kid, he "played with skunks." (I desperately need more details on this aspect of his life.) Apparently, if you get sprayed by a skunk, your nose acclimates to the smell enough that you don't really smell it after 20 minutes or so. At least, that's what John says! I'll do my best not to test that theory myself. If your dog gets sprayed, though, you'll smell it every time the dog gets wet for almost a month!

Long Lake Conservation Center, April 26 2022

Jonah brings us the report from Long Lake Conservation Center! The lake is still frozen, so the Canada geese meandered around on the ice staring at the canoe that's out there. "The canoe and the geese, just waiting to be floating in water!" They found a bright orange cinnabar polypore mushroom on a downed tree and the shrapnel from an active woodpecker (so the insects must be moving!). They tapped the maple trees, and the sap flowed right away. The hydrometer showed the sap to be about 3% sugar. They also saw their first great blue heron of the season and a large group of trumpeter swans (Jonah points out that a group of swans is called a 'wedge' or a 'flight'!). Other sightings included: turkeys, sandhill cranes, a fox, squirrels, rabbits, spiders, tiny white moths, and a mink. The mink was running along the shore of Long Lake and went under an overturned rowboat. Shortly after, a chipmunk sprinted out the other side- a close call for the chipmunk! "It was a great week in nature, and we want to remind everyone to 'live connected'!"

John says a big thank you to Jonah- what a fun report! There sure were a lot of sightings. He compares the mink and the chipmunk to "Life of Pi": if you haven't read it, it's a book about a boy stuck in a life raft with a live tiger! Definitely a nerve-wracking situation.

Pequot Lakes, April 26 2022

Lucy and Bethy bring us this week's report from Eagle View Elementary. They had three inches of new snow (made of big, fluffy snowflakes!) and a layer of ice on the sidewalks. Where it isn't glazed ice, the puddles are a mix of iced-over and melted. Where it remains, the snow is covered by a thick crust; in other areas, the grass is showing through. The students spotted seven Canada geese and four trumpeter swans near the open water on Rice Lake. Their teacher saw a coyote on the ice, so the ice is still thick enough to bear its weight! At the school birdfeeders, the class has noticed chickadees and redpolls. The buds on the aspen trees have opened, in contrast to the crab apple trees whose buds are still tiny and tightly closed. Finally, the students spotted one tulip leaf emerging from the snow, and the rhubarb continued to materialize. They're ready for the snow to be done- "Bring on spring!"

John says, "Bring on spring indeed!" He, too, is disgusted by the snow and ready for it to end.

Baxter, April 26 2022

Kaydo and Rielle bring us the report from Baxter Elementary School. They reported extreme temperatures, having both a high of 73 and a low of 18 in the same week. They also had a big thunderstorm. The students noticed grass sprouting, dandelions emerging, buck antlers growing, and western chorus frogs croaking! They also sighted a beaver, a raccoon, an infant moth, some ants and worms, a mosquito bite (oh no!), a tick (boo!), a goldfinch, a great blue heron, and a pair of pileated woodpeckers. "Have a great week, and be observant!"

John says a big thank you and that it was a fantastic thunderstorm! He notes that the infant moth looks like a butterfly at first glance. It is small (wingspan is about an inch), orange- and black-colored, and never sits still. John says you can chase it forever, but it'll never stop flying! John also reports that his friend Dallas heard wood frogs in addition to the chorus frogs. He also warns that the ticks are out, so be careful!

Shakopee, April 26 2022

Seth and Averie bring us our very first report from Shakopee West Middle School! Over spring break, they grew corn from seed and are now planting it in their life garden. Their class trout (200 of them!) have become fingerlings and measure two to three inches long! The trout eat about 20 grams of food each day. They are tracking the phenology of white pines, white spruce, and milkweed, but have not noticed any changes yet. They're not just making observations in class- one student noticed lake levels rising from the rain, another noticed the sun is setting after 8 PM, and a third saw three chickadee nests on his roof (I'm so jealous!). "Science skills are life skills!"

John agrees that science skills are life skills (so do I!), and says a big thank you for the report! We can't wait to hear more. After all, the spring weather they see in Shakopee will eventually make its way north to John!

Northfield, April 26 2022

Kalianna and Silvia bring us this week's Prairie Creek Community School report. Spring is advancing! The forsythia is in bloom, the buds broke on the wild plum and lilac trees, they saw a rose-breasted grosbeak, and (drumroll, please!) they saw their first dragonfly! Yay! They also spotted a fox, a possum, and a murder of crows. "One more step on the phenology journey!"

John says well done! It's great the plums and lilacs are breaking bud- he's sure eager for that to happen in Grand Rapids. John reports that the first dragonfly is typically seen in late April, but it will be late this year (probably mid-May)! The forsythia isn't blooming at John's house yet, but it's a matter of time.

That does it for this week! Thanks to all the students for such excellent reports.

Remember that 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.
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.)
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.
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