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Phenology Talkbacks: A week of weather whiplash

A blue-spotted salamander sits on a mossy log. In the background is a fern. The salamander is black with many small blue spots.
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A blue-spotted salamander sits on a mossy log.

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.

Welcome to another week of Phenology Talkbacks with eight student reports.

We've ping-ponged between winter, spring and back again, with temperatures in the Twin Cities reaching 86 degrees just to drop right back to sub-freezing. All that change makes for a busy week for phenology!

Remember you can add your voice to this list! Get in touch with me (smitchell@kaxe.org), John Latimer (jlatimer@kaxe.org) 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 in Northfield

Sorcha: “Hello, folks. This is Sorcha.”

Molly: “And this is Molly.”

Sorcha: “From Prairie Creek Community School, way down south in Northfield, Minnesota.”

Molly: “Woah Nelly. It has been a WEEK!”

Prairie Creek Community School phenology report - April 18, 2023

A small snapping turtle crosses a paved road. It is holding its body quite upright and has a determined air. The image is captioned "Snapping Turtle".
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A small snapping turtle crosses a paved road.

Sorcha: “Things are bursting out all over the place.”

Molly: “Our crab apple has leafed out.”

Sorcha: “The dandelions, crocuses and daffodils are blooming.”

Molly: “The bloodroot emerged AND bloomed on the same day.”

Sorcha: “The forsythia is blooming.”

Molly: “The pussy willow is blooming.”

Sorcha: “And our magnolia burst into bloom on Friday, April 14.”

Molly: “Next we’ll move on to animals.”

Sorcha: “Emi saw a silverfish in in house … yuck.”

Molly: “There is no yuck in nature, Sorcha.”

Sorcha: “I know … but, really? Silverfish?!”

Molly: “Fair point!”

Sorcha: “We saw a ton of dragonflies last week.”

Molly: “Including one that snatched a moth out of the air.”

Sorcha: “Ruby saw 18 deer.”

Molly: “The first toad was found at recess on Friday the 14th.”

Sorcha: “I LOVE toads! Just not silverfish.”

Molly: “There are gophers popping up all over our soccer field.”

Sorcha: “And there was a snapping turtle on the side of the road and a lot of parents at school lined up and blinked their lights so that people would know to slow down for the turtle.”

Molly: “Did the turtle make it?!”

Sorcha: “IT DID! It FINALLY got across the road and the parents went on with their day.”

Molly: “And the turtle did, too!”

Sorcha: “This has been Prairie Creek Community School,”

Molly: “One more step along the phenology journey.”

John nominates Sorcha and Molly to take over for him once he retires — they did a great job with their report! After reiterating a few of their observations, John points out that there’s about a two-week delay between phenology events happening in Northfield and events occurring in Grand Rapids. John’s bloodroot emerged last week but got snowed under again.

The dragonflies returning to the state are Green Darners, migratory dragonflies that return quite early in the season.

John and I were pleased to hear that so many parents united to stop traffic and protect the snapping turtle crossing the road — that's wonderful! Turtles are very vulnerable in spring and early summer, as they move across roads to find mates and nesting sites.

Shakopee West Middle School

“Hey guys! This is McCoy, Tessa and Noah, from Mrs. Orstad’s seventh grade life science class. We are reporting from the Shakopee West Middle School Life Lab Garden for the week of April 10. All the snow in the Life Lab Garden melted by April 11. Last year all the snow was gone by March 21, but the Cities set a record this year for the third snowiest winter on record.

“We have seen A LOT of new phenology this week as a class!

  • Our first 60-degree day was April 11 and then we hopped to the 80s for a couple days this week, setting a record of 87 & 88 degrees on April 12 and 13. 
  • The silver maple tree flower buds have burst. You can see the white and red stamen easily. 
  • The quaking aspens’ flowers have distended fully. 
  • We identified conifers this week with our SEEK app near the school and learned the five needles in a bundle trick to identify white pines. 
Friends! Romans! Phenologists! Lend me your ears. The Season Watch Podcast has finally arrived!

  • When we came back from spring break, we sadly learned about the DNR eaglet that we had been streaming died when the nest crashed on April 2. Due to the heavy wet snow from the April Fool’s Blizzard, the dead compromised branch limb supporting the weight of the massive nest failed. Shakopee measured 10 inches of snow with quick thawing the following day with highs in the 50s. 
  • Many students report seeing mosquitos and Jeremiah had bites to prove it! 
  • We found a stink bug in our classroom and many students report the box elder bugs are back in full force at their houses. 
  • The Minnesota River that runs through downtown has had a drastic increase in its flow this week. 

 

Shakopee West Middle School phenology report - April 18, 2023

Two female catkins hang from a quaking aspen twig. The catkins are about an inch and a half long, covered in fuzzy white hairs, and have a greenish-yellow interior. The image is captioned "Quaking aspen/ Female catkins".
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Two female catkins hang from a quaking aspen twig.

“Our classmates have taken notice of some interesting things outside of school, too:

  • Mrs. Orstad has seen a couple pairs of white egrets this week on her walks and followed a swimming muskrat along a marshy shoreline. 
  • Isla reported a small bush fire in her neighborhood due to the high winds of spring bringing the warm temps and increasing our fire danger. It’s interesting that Shakopee both has a fire and flood watch! 
  • Isla also reported finding a tick on her on April 14. Tick season sadly has officially begun. 
  • Many students including Robbie, Kaden, Addisen, Braden and Lucy had heard or seen a few spring frogs over the past weekend. Earlier in the week due to the snowpack these were still isolated events, but by Wednesday, April 12, the Shakopee ponds iced out and ephemeral pools had come to life with very LOUD calling, trilling and chirping! 
  • Mrs. Murray has reported that her maple tree sap has stopped flowing for the season. She was able to boil it down to have fresh maple syrup. 
  • Lauren has reported that her neighborhood ducks have returned for nesting season. 

“This has been our phenology report. Work hard and keep exploring!”

John notes the extremely warm temps in Shakopee (87 and 88 degrees, while in Grand Rapids it reached the 70s) as well as the dramatic change in weather after the April Fool’s Day snowstorm.

John has also found a tick (or, more accurately, a tick found him). So, tick season has officially started throughout the state: take precautions.

While the frogs are singing in Shakopee (and near my apartment in West St. Paul), they aren’t calling yet in Grand Rapids. John and Heidi are waiting eagerly to hear them and to hear the ruffed grouse drumming more frequently.

While on-air with Heidi, Annie Humphrey mentioned her rule of thumb is, “When the frogs start singing, the sap run is done.” That’s a handy guide to go by. My parents take the buckets down when the first moths appear. (Do you have other methods? Let me know!)

Kenwood Community School in Minneapolis

Kenwood Community School phenology report - April 18, 2023

Kenwood Community School phenology students enjoy the warm weather. Students sit on top of a large downed log. Many are wearing shorts. There are bare trees in the background and a blue sky.
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Natalie Peterson
Kenwood Community School phenology students enjoy the warm weather.

This week, we welcome back Natalie Pierson’s class at Kenwood Community School in Minneapolis. The class went for a hike at Cedar Lake, where they found butterflies, woodpeckers, plants beginning to poke through the leaf litter and lots of broken branches. Thirteen students shared their observations!

John and I are happy to hear these students getting outside and getting started on making observations. Hopefully, the brown leaves on the ground will be replaced by green soon, and the bare trees will flush with green.


Eagle View Elementary in Breezy Point

Eagle View Elementary phenology report - April 18, 2023

An egret stands in spring snow. Its head is curled back into its neck, and it looks like it is hunkered down to stay warm. The bird is white with a yellow beak and black legs. The image is captioned "Great Egret".
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An egret stands in spring snow.

“Welcome to the April 17 phenology report from Eagle View Elementary School. Last week it felt like spring with 50- and 60-degree temperatures, snow melting and birds singing. This week, we are back to winter-like weather with snow covering the ground and 30 degrees this morning.

“We had an exciting week bird watching. There were a lot of swans, mallard ducks, and Canadian Geese in the open water of the lake throughout the week. Today, three flocks of pelicans flew over our school. It was SO cool!

“On Thursday, we could hear the croaking call of Sandhill Cranes. We spent a lot of time searching for them with our binoculars and we finally spotted three sandhill cranes on the ice of Rice Lake. Then, on Friday morning, we spotted three white birds wading in the shallows of the lake, which we identified as egrets. Mrs. Trottier does not remember ever seeing Sandhill Cranes or egrets near Rice Lake before!

“We have tapped eight maple trees in the woods and three of them have produced some sap. With the colder temperatures this week we are hoping for a good sap run.

This is Bethie and Anika reporting from Pequot Lakes. Don’t put away your winter boots yet!”

John agrees it’s a dangerous move to put away your winter gear this early: we still have a few spring storms to get through before we can put away our coats with confidence.

John was struck by the observations of pelicans, egrets and Sandhill Cranes. All three birds were formerly rare in the area but have become abundant. Sandhill Cranes were nearly extirpated from Minnesota in the 1940s, but we now have a thriving population. The American White Pelican and Great Egret have experienced similar challenges and recovery: now, all three species are reliably found in the state, although some regions (like the Pequot Lakes area) may see them only occasionally.

Long Lake Conservation Center near Palisade

Phenology 4 14 23 Modern Montessori
Long Lake Conservation Center phenology report - April 18, 2023

This week's Long Lake Conservation Center reporters are Hayden, Luna and the students from Modern Montessori Charter School in Champlin:

“Our spring trip to Long Lake Conservation Center April 12 through the 14 featured many first sightings of the year. Our group was lucky to experience the first temperatures in the 70s this year, melting most of the snow on campus.

“The sun and warm weather brought a wave of new life to the area. This new life included a mourning cloak butterfly, a spider on the ice, a firefly in a tree, and the season’s first Hooded Mergansers, who found some open water around the shore of Long Lake.

“The garter snakes are active and have begun to venture away from the hibernacula in search of food. This was not before a very big slithering ball of dozens of snakes was spotted yesterday morning. Our group also spotted the season’s first red-bellied snake. One of our group’s chaperones found a blue-spotted salamander. We all got a good close look at it.

“A few chorus frogs were heard singing in the marsh on campus, and lady bugs were everywhere. Two Mallard drakes flew over campus this morning. On the bus ride to Long Lake, we saw a field that had 30-50 Canada Geese, Trumpeter Swans and a few Sandhill Cranes.

“Maple trees are budding, officially signaling the end of the tapping season. The sugar maples we tapped did flow, but very slowly. The sap of the birch trees is also flowing slowly.

“This is the first time since the fall that Dill Prickles the porcupine was not seen on campus, although a Long Lake naturalist reported seeing two porcupines together near campus. Maybe Dill found a mate, and we’ll have Baby Dills. We had a great time in nature, and we want to remind everyone to … unplug, get outside and LIVE CONNECTED!”

I really hope Dill Prickles and his mate have porcupettes this year. I'd nominate “Quillbur” as one of the baby names!

John hasn’t seen a garter snake yet this year, but he’s thrilled the students were able to see them and observe their fascinating post-dormancy mating behavior. There aren’t many people who get to see this occurrence. It's remarkable Long Lake Conservation Center is perched right on top of an active hibernaculum.

John is interested to hear the maples are budding at Long Lake Conservation Center. His silver maples have budded, but the sugar maples and red maples have not. The red maples are particularly careful about when they bud: they will wait until they have experienced a certain amount of time below freezing before they produce buds. This helps ensure they don’t bud too early, when a mistimed frost could kill their flowers.

Garter snakes emerge from hibernaculum

North Shore Community School in Duluth

North Shore Community School phenology report - April 18, 2023

 Pink flowers bloom by a paved curb. The flowers have pink petals and bloom close to the ground. The image is captioned "Phlox subulata".
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Pink flowers bloom by a paved curb.

“Hello from North Shore Community School on the north shore of Lake Superior. This is the Phenology Report for the weeks of April 1 and April 8, 2023. My name is Silvee, and I’m your phenologist for this week!

“WEATHER/TEMP/SKY: The month of April is known as the Sugar Moon and the Pink Moon. The Pink Moon is named after the bright pink wildflower Phlox subulata that blooms in the spring.

“Students across the Northland had a spring ice and snowstorm that canceled school on Wednesday, April 5, but less than a week later on Tuesday, April 11, students were outside at recess enjoying 70-degree temperatures and sunshine! This last storm pushed Minnesota into the category of the second snowiest winter on record.

“Also on this day, Ms. Jackson noticed that the Knife River near her house was now almost free of ice and flowing wildly. On April 13, Dominik noticed there was no more snow down his whole block!

“MAMMALS: On Friday the 17th, Mrs. Rolfe saw a black bear at her bird feeder. The bear was enjoying the bird seed but then got a little greedy. The bear then took it off the tree and hauled it away!

“BIRDS: The Canadian Geese have returned! Many sightings have been reported along the Knife River. Ms. Jackson spotted a Red-winged Blackbird on Wednesday, April 12.

“TREES/PLANTS: On April 18, Mrs. Rolfe noticed that little sprouts of her tulips and iris had burst out of the ground.

“EE/OTHER: On Wednesday, April 12, Cadence went to Congdon Creek and saw that she couldn't go on the trails because the trails were flooded. Students at our school are continuing to collect sap from maple trees in our school forest.

“This concludes the phenology report. Have a great week and be observant.”

John and I are always impressed with the quality and reliability of North Shore Community School’s reports, and this week’s is a great example.

A bear eating backyard birdseed must have been quite the sight, although the loss of the birdfeeder was unfortunate. Generally, male bears (called boars) emerge first, with the females (sows) and their young (cubs) emerging shortly after. Interestingly, they don’t come out of hibernation ravenous and eating everything in sight – it takes them a little while to work up an appetite.

Waubun School Forest

Waubun School Forest phenology report - April 18, 2023

Comparison of native antlered animal scat. Three images are shown. The top left image shows small, oval-shaped droppings and is captioned "Whitetail deer scat/ 1/2 inch diameter". The top right image shows large, dry droppings that are blunt at the ends. It is captioned "Moose scat/ 1 inch or longer". The bottom image shows medium-sized droppings with blunted ends, and is captioned "Elk scat/ 1 inch diameter".
Sarah Mitchell
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KAXE
Comparison of native antlered animal scat.

"Boozhoo Gidinawemaaganinaanag - Hello all my relatives. This is Emily and Dallas with the Waubun School Forest phenology report.

“Waubun students are continuing to see signs of spring. One person saw a Barred Owl pick up a raccoon. Two classmates have seen skunks and others have spotted rodents.

“Common Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, and seagulls were seen for the first time this week.

“One really interesting find was elk scat that had been spotted due to the melting snow.

“The average temperature for the week of April 3 was 29.2 degrees Fahrenheit. The average temperature for the week of April 10th was 54 degrees Fahrenheit. This was an increase of 24.8 degrees in just one week.

“Due to the rapidly rising temperatures, snow has been melting very fast, too. Some roads have closed due to water running over the road.

“We finished tapping maple trees. We have 50 taps out. In the three days we collected sap, in total we collected 3,650 milliliters of sap. We hope to collect more next week.

“Thank you for listening to our phenology report, living the nature life.”

John remarks on their sightings of grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, seagulls and skunks. Grand Rapids experienced similar wide fluctuations in temperature, which dampened the sap run. John encourages us not to give up quite yet: there is some good weather in the forecast for harvesting sap, so hold out hope for a decent harvest.

I’ve been lucky enough to join the Waubun students and their teachers, Courtney Farwell and Nick Lenzen, in the Waubun School Forest. It’s an absolutely beautiful place, and well-equipped with ski trails, an outdoor classroom, and an indoor classroom with huge windows looking out at many birdfeeders. During my visit, I was impressed with the students’ knowledge of their surroundings and ability to identify, appreciate and share information about the species around them!

My jaw really hit the ground when I joined the fourth, fifth and sixth graders on their morning hike. I have never been on a walk with that many people — regardless of age — and heard only footsteps and birdsong. Of course, the advantage of being quiet in the woods is that you see and hear so much more, and I think that’s reflected in their observations.

Lake of the Woods School in Baudette

Lake of the Woods School phenology report - April 18, 2023

 A Killdeer ponders its reflection in a puddle. It is a small shorebird with strongly-contrasting white, black, and brown markings. It stands on a gravel surface and looks into a brown puddle. The image is captioned "Killdeer".
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A Killdeer ponders its reflection in a puddle.

“This is Abigail with the phenology report from Baudette for April 7-14. Last week ended with a blizzard that dropped 14 inches of snow on us. This week is ending with most of winter's snow melted and several phenological happenings.

“Over Easter weekend students in our class reported seeing the first American robins, herring gulls, killdeer, woodcocks, juncos and raccoons.

“Our maple sap collecting efforts this year have been hampered by weather extremes. It’s been mostly too cold and recently too warm. So far, we’ve only collected 2.5 gallons of sap.”

John’s happy to hear Abigail’s enthusiasm and commiserates about the abysmal sap run so far this year. He has a hunch, however, that better days are ahead. The weather has been too cold and too warm, but soon it should be just right.


As always, we hope to hear from you, dear reader. Let us know what you find out there.

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).

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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.<br/><br/><br/>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.)