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Phenology Talkbacks: Students share mid-March observations, explore relationship between temp and attendance

scatter plot graph
Tami Worner
A scatter plot graph, titled "Students in Class vs. Outside Temperature," shows the relationship between the outside temperature and the number of students in class. The data points are distributed without a clear pattern, and the trend line is very flat. The X axis (temperatures) ranges from 20 degrees below zero to roughly 32 degrees, and there are data points throughout the range. The Y axis (number of students in class) ranges from 0 to 20, and all data points fall within the 10-20 range.

Students and listeners from across the state send in their nature reports. Depending on the season, reports may cover wildflowers, wildlife, weather and other wonders.

This week, we're switching it up!

In honor of spring, we've ordered our Talkback contributions to run from south to north. That way, folks who see the signs of spring first will be the at the top of the page.

Plus, students at TrekNorth High School conduct a study to determine if there's a relationship between temperature and school attendance.

Remember that you can add your voice to this list! Get in touch with me (, John Latimer (, or text "phenology" to 218-326-1234.
For more phenology, subscribe to our Season Watch Newsletter or visit the Season Watch Facebook page.

Prairie Creek Community School

Prairie Creek Community School phenology report - March 14, 2023

Isaiah and Ravi report from Michelle Martin's class at Prairie Creek Community School in Northfield. They’ve spotted the first sandhill crane of the season, in addition to trumpeter swans, Northern cardinals, dark-eyed juncos, and chickadees.

The tree buds are beginning to swell, and they were able to gather 1.5 gallons of syrup from just two trees. The first chipmunks of the season have emerged, including one that popped up on a student’s back deck. “One more step along the Phenology Journey!”

John thanks them for the report and is excited to hear about the arrival of the sandhill cranes. The juncos the students are seeing in Northfield haven’t made it to Grand Rapids yet: John remembers seeing them around March 14 in 2017 or 2019. They’ll be there soon!

Three sandhill cranes fly across a blue sky. They have their legs extended behind them and their necks held straight out in front of them. They are grey birds with red and white markings on their head.
Sandhill cranes in flight.

Eagle View Elementary School

Eagle View Elementary phenology report - March 14, 2023

Addie and Emmie report from Deanne Trottier's class at Eagle View Elementary in Pequot Lakes. It was snowy there, with 10 inches of new snow over the week. The students could feel the sun’s warmth while on their phenology walk. In the snow, they found squirrel, rabbit and deer tracks.

Three bundled-up kids stare down at small animal tracks in the snow. One student is pointing to a footprint. All three kids are kneeling in the snow to get a good look.
Deanne Trottier
Eagle View Elementary phenology students examine tracks in the snow.

Two small open patches formed on Rice Lake, and the trumpeter swans didn’t waste much time in finding them. Mrs. Trottier saw two swans this week, for the first time since November! She also saw three turkeys.

As the class was snowshoeing, they found a fallen tree branch. It was surrounded by deer tracks and fur: with closer examination, the class found that the deer had snacked on the newly developed buds.

Inside the school, the twig experiment is going great: The crabapple blossoms are giving off a great fragrance, and the birch and maple buds are getting bigger every day. “Keep looking for signs of Spring!”

John thanks them for their report and agrees that the sun is definitely starting to regain its strength. When he woke up at 5 a.m., the temperature was 7 below zero, but it’s expected to reach 40 degrees by the end of the day. He is happy to hear that the ice is starting to disappear on some of the lakes: as the ice leaves, the waterfowl will return.

Long Lake Conservation Center

Azelea and Berkley report from Paynesville's visit to the Long Lake Conservation Center:

“After having our trip rescheduled because of a snow storm we FINALLY made it to Long Lake Conservation Center March 8th to March 10th. The red squirrels amazed us with how long they can chase each other on branches from tree to tree without needing to use the ground. Every once and while doing some gymnastics moves to make the chase all that more interesting.

Long Lake Conservation Center phenology report - March 14, 2023

A Red Squirrel bounds through the snow.
A Red Squirrel bounds through the snow.

"Dill Prickles was seen in its favorite red oak, another smaller red oak, a red pine and walking around behind the dining hall. The snow has melted around the base of the favorite red oak revealing a big pile of soggy sawdust.

"There were many bald eagle sightings this week, including 2 eagles flying together. A Long Lake naturalist saw 2 immature bald eagles flying together. A deer was seen defecating in a bush. An owl was heard in the evening. We tapped a sugar maple tree but no sap flowed. Bare grass is showing at the base of some trees, but until temperatures regularly reach the 40s in the day and dip below freezing at night, the sap won’t start to flow.

"There are reports of sap flowing about 75 miles south of here, so we suspect that sap will be flowing at Long Lake in a week or two. It was a great winter camp and we want to remind everyone to…Unplug, Get outside, and LIVE CONNECTED!!”

John thanks them for the report. The squirrels chasing each other about is a sign of mating season. John adds Dill Prickles has a pretty enviable life as the resident mascot of a conservation center. Finally, he notes the sap run in Northfield began, but it hasn’t quite reached Long Lake yet. We’ll look forward to updates next week. It’s always interesting to learn how long it takes to move northward!

North Shore Community School

North Shore Community School phenology report - March 14, 2023

A large, brown insect sits on a concrete wall. It has six legs, large wings folded over its back, and wide-set eyes. Its antenna are long enough to go out of frame. The image is captioned, "Stonefly".
Adult stonefly.

Liam reports from Darcie Rolfe and Leigh Jackson's class at the North Shore Community School in Duluth. There was a beautiful full moon, and Liam notes March is called the “Snow Crust Moon” or the “Sugar Moon” by Ojibwe people. Both names refer to the natural phenomena this time of year: the hard snow crust caused by cycles of freeze and thaw, and the beginning of the maple syruping season.

The class also notes there is a high risk of flooding this spring, due to the high snowfall throughout most northern Minnesota watersheds. The snowbank they’ve been monitoring shrunk down to 5 feet, 7 inches: a decrease of 8 inches in just a week. Even the biking trails are beginning to melt, with gravel and rocks beginning to cause damage to the skis or snowboards of unwary adventurers.

The class recommends tapping sugar maple trees this week. The upcoming weather, with its cycles of freezing nights and warm days, will be perfect for the sap to start running. They point out that you can also tap black maples, box elders, red maples or silver maples, but you should only tap a tree over 10 inches in diameter.

The class heard coyotes yipping and an American robin calling for the first time this season. As always, their sharp eyes missed little: they saw deer, a red fox trotting across a park with its prey, a barred owl perching in a tree, and pussywillow buds beginning to pop open. They also found snow fleas and a stonefly. “Stoneflies are important indicators of water quality because they spend most of their life in the water and require very clean, well-oxygenated water to survive.”

John thanks Liam for the report and confirms Duluth is on its way to the snowiest winter on record. He reiterates a few of their reports and adds the robin call is the first he’s heard from the area!

Waubun School Forest

Waubun School Forest phenology report - March 14, 2023

A chicken-shaped bird walks through a snowy field. It has a tan and brown body with beige wing markings, a blue rump, and a vibrant white ring around its neck. The upper portion of the neck and the area around the beak is blue, and there are large red spots around the eyes.
A male ring-necked pheasant walks through snow.

Reed and Noah report from Courtney Farwell and Nick Lenzen's class at the Waubun School Forest. “Boozhoo Gidinawemaaganinaanag! Hello, all my relatives!” they begin. In their school forest, the animals are picking up their activity levels.

One student even spotted a bear in a tree on their way to school. They’ve seen a lot of pheasants — mostly males — as well as a lot of squirrels. The squirrels are busy chittering and waving their tails around: they believe this is part of their mating behavior.

A fresh 5 inches of snow helped the class spot signs of animal life, including raccoon, rabbit, deer, squirrel, bird and skunk tracks! In swampy areas, the cattail seeds are dispersing to new areas. “We have enjoyed watching all of the amazing transformations that are occurring to prepare for the spring. Thank you for listening to our Waubun School Forest phenology report: Living the nature life!”

"Living the nature life indeed! Glad you’re along for it,” says John. [Hi Waubun, says I! Good to have you back!]. He reiterates their sightings of pheasants, active squirrels, 5 inches of new snow and cattail seeds coming out, and congratulates them on the great observations!

West Rapids Elementary School

Abel reports from Collin Cody's class at West Rapids Elementary in Grand Rapids. It was a beautiful day for their phenology walk. While learning about albedo (the propensity of a surface to absorb or reflect light and heat), they saw dragon’s teeth (the icicles that form on the sides of snowbanks, which form rows that look like teeth). Areas of the snowbank where plows deposited dirt absorb heat more quickly and melt faster than areas of pure-white snow.

West Rapids Elementary phenology report - March 14, 2023

Three images are shown. On the right is a closeup of a spruce twig, captioned "Spruce". The needles are attached singly, so that only one needle emerges from each node in the branch. On the left are two images stacked. The top image is captioned "Red Pine", and shows a person's hand holding a twig from a Red Pine. The needles are much longer than the spruce's, and a bundle of two needles emerges from each node in the branch. The bottom image is captioned "White Pine", and it shows a person holding a twig from a White Pine. It has a bushy appearance, the needles are slightly thinner than that of the Red Pine's, and five needles are bundled together and emerge from each node.
Charlie Mitchell using photos from iNaturalist and Canva
Spruce and fir needles are not bundled: each needle emerges by itself from the twig. Pine needles emerge in bunches of two or more. Red Pines (or Norway Pines) have two needles per bunch, while White Pines have five per bunch.

They also saw a gall on a piece of pine, a large patch of greenshield lichen, and noted there is less mud than last year at this time. John also added in a quick comparison of spruce needles, red pine needles and white pine needles — can you tell the difference? “Onward and Awkward!”

John thanks them for their report, adding, “Onward and awkward? That only applies to me. The kids aren’t awkward, I am!” He suggests looking for signs of albedo outside of your house on a warm day. Dark objects will absorb heat more quickly than the white snow, causing them to melt deeper into the snowpack (or, in the case of a tree trunk or fence post, melting the snow around them to form a hole).

John clarifies, “For those of you that weren’t tuned in last week, albedo is the relationship between the amount of light coming into an object and how much of that light gets reflected back from that object. So, the numbers (range) from zero to one. Zero would be no light reflected back, and one would be all light reflected back. Snow has an albedo of about 0.9, so 9/10ths of the light that strikes snow gets bounced back and 1/10th gets absorbed.

"If something is dark, like a pine tree, its albedo is about 15%, so 15% of the light that strikes a pine tree gets reflected back, and 85% of that incoming light and energy gets converted into heat and warmth. That’s why the snow melts out away from the trees. If you’ve got an oak leaf, which might have an albedo of 50%, it’s going to get warmer than the snow around it, and it’s going to cut into the snow."

Phenology in the Classroom workshop, Bemidji

Bemidji Phenology in the Classroom workshop phenology report - March 14, 2023

Pictured is a closeup of a twig with a large, pointed bud. The twig is brown, while the bud is bronze with shades of green. It is captioned "Balsam Poplar Bud".
iNaturalist user alexpeichel
Closeup of Balsam Poplar bud (also known as Balm of Gilead).

Chris, Kelly, and Lydia report from our Phenology in the Classroom Workshop in Bemidji. During our outdoor adventures, we observed that the Quaking Aspens have formed buds while the Bigtooth Aspens have not. John showed us how to squish the buds from the Balm of Gilead to release the distinctive earthy fragrance (as well as a decent amount of sticky yellow-green goo).

The snow showed a lot of animal tracks, including signs of a plump grey squirrel and a fox track meandering through the woods and across a bare south-facing slope. There were catkins on the Beaked Hazel and mature seeds on the Paper Birches. On our way home, we noticed albedo at work: the dark pavement had melted the snow! “Get out there and squish and sniff some buds!”

John is happy they mentioned the Balm of Gliead, also known as the Balsam Poplar. It grows near water, has rougher bark than an aspen, and has buds that are quite large (½-¾ inch). The buds are dark bronze/green, tapered to a point, and emit an earthy smell when crushed.

TrekNorth High School

TrekNorth High School phenology report - March 14, 2023

Caiden and Dante report from Tami Worner's class at TrekNorth High School:

“Hello from Treknorth High School in Brrrrrmidji, Minnesota! We are going to share what we did in nature with our stats class last week. We have been collecting data each day on the time of sunrise, the length of day, the outside temperature, the window weather and the number of students in class. Recently, we started to collect data on how many eagles we see each day.

"This past week we decided to analyze our data. We made a lot of charts and graphs to see what we could learn from our data. This was a great way to use the skills we are learning in class.

"One question we had was if the number of students in class on a given day depended on the outside temperature. We made a scatterplot and noticed the dots were all over the place. When we did our calculations, we found that the R-squared value was 0.023. That is math talk for “There is no relationship between the temperature and the number of students in class.”

“Another question we had was, “How has the length of the day been changing since the beginning of the semester?” The range of our data was 134 minutes. That means we have added two hours and 14 minutes of daylight since the 23rd of January. That is amazing! Again, we made a scatterplot of minutes of daylight and number of days since the beginning of the semester and this time the dots lined up and the R-squared value was 0.997 - math talk for “There is definitely a relationship!”

"Finally, we have been watching the Minnesota DNR Eagle Cam for a few weeks and recording how many eagles we have seen. Incredibly, we have seen an eagle every day! Are we just really lucky? No. It turns out that we started checking the eagle cam right after the eagle laid an egg, so of course there is always an eagle on the nest right now. From Treknorth High school in Bemidji, I’m Caiden- and I’m Dante- and we’re doin’ math (and stats!) in nature.”

John is surprised to hear that the temperature didn’t affect student attendance: he predicted that colder weather would mean less students! He wasn’t surprised, however, that day length made for a nice predictable pattern.

As for the eagles: when they’ve got eggs in the nest, one of them will always be there to keep them warm!

A scatter plot, titled "Minutes Change vs. Day of Semester," is shown with "day of semester" on the X axis and "minutes change" on the Y axis. The X axis ranges from 0 to approximately 45, and the Y axis ranges from 0 to about 145. The data points are arranged in a nearly straight line. A trendline shows an R-squared value of 0.997.
Tami Worner
A scatter plot, titled "Minutes Change vs. Day of Semester," is shown with "day of semester" on the X axis and "minutes change" on the Y axis. The X axis ranges from 0 to approximately 45, and the Y axis ranges from 0 to about 145. The data points are arranged in a nearly straight line. A trendline shows an R-squared value of 0.997.

Lake of the Woods School

Lake of the Woods School phenology report - March 14, 2023

A Bald Eagle nest is silhouetted against the sky. Both adult eagles are present: one is sitting on a large branch next to the nest, while the other is sitting in it. The nest is large and comprised of large branches and sticks forming a huge platform.
Nesting Bald Eagles.

Emma reports from Andrew Pierson's class at Lake of the Woods school in Baudette, where one student is lucky to have a Bald Eagle nest across the road from their house! Another student, who was home sick, saw a wolf run through their backyard. The class noticed an increase in deer activity along roadsides and in yards and fields. Willows produced furry buds.

John is thrilled that one of the students gets to watch an eagle’s nest up close. He confirms that the deer have emerged from their winter cedar hideouts and are snacking on the emerging buds. Willows, which emerge early, have fuzzy coverings on their buds and flowers to prevent freezing damage. Finally, John’s impressed by the luck of the sick kid who got to see a wolf- that's a great silver lining to getting sick!

Naturalist Judd Brinks

Judd Brink phenology report, March 14th 2023

Judd Brink, a naturalist and guide at the Sax-Zim Bog, sent this note:

"Here are the birds and mammals reported from this past week's tours. Great Gray Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Barred Owl, Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, Ruffed Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Northern Shrike, Trumpeter Swan, Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, Snow Bunting, Black-billed Magpie, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadee, Blue Jay, Canada Jay, Red-breasted and White breasted Nuthatch, Bald Eagle, Common Raven, Rough-legged Hawk, American Crow, Wild Turkey, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Bohemian Waxwing. A few mammals seen include Coyote, Snowshoe Hare, Porcupine, and Pine Marten. Happy Birding!

"Fun Facts: The word 'Gros'-beak means big/heavy big or heavy bill. The Sharp-tailed Grouse are now displaying on the Lek! Pine Grosbeaks slowly moving back north!"

A white, tan, and brown owl sits on a branch of a coniferous tree. Its feet are entirely covered by feathers- it seems to have puffed up against the cold.
Judd Brink
Barred Owl.

Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).

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.
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?).