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Phenology Report: Breakneck bud break, but no woodchucks chucking

A woodchuck peers out from a burrow in a grassy area
Canva Pro

GRAND RAPIDS — Leaf and flower buds are breaking like crazy in the region, but this spring remains in the running for third latest spring in KAXE Staff Phenologist John Latimer’s records.

Along with noting what is changing, John’s also noted what he hasn’t seen yet this spring, like green darner dragonflies, the spring azure butterfly and woodchucks.

The spring azure is a little blue butterfly that comes out for seven to 10 days and then disappears for another year.

Do you have observations to share? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch with me (, John Latimer (, or text "phenology" to 218-326-1234.

Bud break galore

This week a listener sent in a photo of what John described as a short plant with a thick stem like broccoli. It has a cluster of white flowers at the top similar to dandelion, but white. John identified the plant as the sweet coltsfoot. He said it’s easy to find the flower when you check your identification book, but the leaves will look different later in the season.

White flowers similar to dandelions on a thick stalk
Peter M. Dziuk
Sweet coltsfoot flowers in the spring and later grows its leaves.

Some of the female flowers froze during the cold snap, but others hadn’t opened their buds yet. Those survived the cold snap but may not get pollinated due to the dearth of pollen-producing flowers.

John’s silver maple tree is uncommon. Most maple trees are dioecious, meaning males and females are separate individuals. However, John's tree has a mix of male and female branches, and even has one flower cluster with both male and female flowers appearing within centimeters of each other.

John’s red maples haven’t flowered yet, though the buds are swollen. On average, they flower around April 19. Historically, they flowered on May 8, 2013 (the latest on record), May 7, 2022 (last year), and March 24, 2012 (the earliest on record).

Trees are changing, too

Fuzzy long caterpillar like catkins on an aspen tree
Three Rivers Park District
Aspen catkins.

The male trembling aspens have dropped their flowers now, and the female flowers are turning green.

“Don't be fooled by the female aspens showing green and thinking that maybe they have bud or leaf break bud break. That is not the case,” John says.

The capsules holding the seeds are beginning to swell, and with binoculars this week, John could see just a hint of green so far.

Tamaracks are also beginning to show some green with pollen cones and seed cones developing.

Red maples are in flower and if you look closely, as all good phenologists do, you should be able to determine the sex of the red maple in your yard by looking at the flowers. If there is a bit of yellow showing, it’s a male. And if there’s some red little fingers sticking out, you’ve got a female with seeds on it.

Tricolored bumble bee  in a dandelion. It has a fuzzy body with lighter yellow and golden yellow colors.
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Tricolored bumble bee.

Spring peepers and more

Spring peepers, wood frogs and the western chorus frogs have woken up and are calling. For those playing along at home, these songs of our amphibian friends are about 14-15 days late.

First bumblebee spotted

John’s wife Denise saw the first bumblebee last weekend and John identified it as the tricolored or orange belted bumblebee.

The birds are back in town

Small brown bird with darker brown stripes on white on its belly
University of Minnesota

Listen for the “teacher teacher teacher” song of the Ovenbird. John claims you can hear this one at 60 miles an hour if you have your windows rolled down. Catherine from Grand Rapids reported Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Brown Thrashers. According to John, “They are incredible singers.”

Good news

So many things to look and listen for right now. John suggests you get out and chase down the birds, peepers, dragonflies and butterflies that are emerging.

“When you find it, report it. Get in touch with us.”

That does it for this week! For more phenology, subscribe to our Season Watch Newsletter or visit the Season Watch Facebook page.

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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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.