Phenology Talkbacks: Proliferating pollinators, diverse dragonflies and lots of leaves
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.
As spring turns to summer, our students are there to document the changes. Enjoy this week's six reports!
Prairie Creek Community School in Northfield
Silvia, Blake and Viggo report from Michelle Martin's class at Prairie Creek Community School in Northfield. Ruby found a mystery pile of fish bones in a riverside stump — they're not sure what put them there!
Birds are nesting: Molly found eggs in a Barn Swallow nest, and Michelle found a catbird nesting. Ravi describes the dawn birdsong chorus as a “blast of sound!” The students have seen a lot of robins as well as woodpeckers drumming on a telephone pole. Ruby saw the first hummingbird on Sunday, May 21.
Another first of the season was the first monarch butterfly, which the students saw on Thursday, May 18. The class observed bountiful bees as well, so the flowers must be happy to have all those pollinators!
The mammal census included deer, raccoons and a groundhog at recess. Like the groundhog, the students have been enjoying all the delicious springtime snacks provided by Momma Nature: wood sorrel, spruce tips, dandelions and plantains.
Many trees and shrubs are flowering, including honeysuckles, gooseberries, crabapples and lilacs.
“It’s beautiful,” they concluded. “This has been Prairie Creek Community School. One more step along the phenology journey!”
John appreciates the report and adds the first lilac flower opened in his yard Monday. While he was in the cities, he spotted a profusion of blooms, but that spring phenomenon has just reached Grand Rapids.
John hypothesizes a few reasons fish bones could be in a stump.
“That one’s a puzzler,” he agrees. “Lots of things eat fish. It could have been an otter, it could have been a raccoon. I just don’t understand why the bones would have been there because both those animals just sort of eat the fish head to tail and eat it all. I guess that will remain a mystery. Maybe we need to put a camera up there and see who frequents this stump.”
Here’s a cool article on kill site interpretation from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Baxter Elementary School
Penny, Belle and Anthony report from Nate Macejkovic’s class at Baxter Elementary:
“This is the Baxter phenology report for the week of May 15-22. Penny, Belle and Anthony are our reporters this week.
“It has been mostly cloudy and warm this week. Smoke from Alberta has made the sun very red in the morning. Oak pollen has been everywhere. Bleeding hearts have bloomed, plus flowering apple trees, lilacs and honeysuckles have bloomed, too.
“We saw our first fawn on the 21st and Kinley saw our first monarch on May 15. We saw an eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly and a Red-bellied Woodpecker on May 18. I saw a Cedar Waxwing on May 18 and I saw a Clay-colored Sparrow on May 20.”
John’s particularly excited both the Northfield and Baxter students saw monarch butterflies during the same week! The Baxter students’ sightings of monarchs and Canada tiger swallowtail butterflies on May 15 is much earlier than expected for that area. John usually sees them near the end of the month, so spring must be sprinting northward pretty fast.
The first fawn is another great observation. This is the season when the first fawns will be born. They're very secretive during the first week of life, so it’s a treat to see them!
Long Lake Conservation Center near Palisade
Lauren and Levi report from Cold Spring Elementary's visit to Long Lake Conservation Center near Palisade:
“During our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center on May 19, we experienced a great bursting of new life! Jameson found a newly hatched painted turtle on its way to the lake. We hope it makes it.
“On the lake, Long Lake’s pair of loons was busy fishing, and spotted by many canoers. One person even saw a loon catch and eat what looked like a small perch. Because both loons were spotted together, we think they are not on their nest yet. That should happen soon.
“At the lake, a few dragonflies have hatched and were seen chasing insects, including mosquitoes. We didn’t get a good look at the dragonflies, but we suspect they were Common Green Darners.
“It was a good trip for bird watching. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Baltimore Orioles and bluebirds were seen on the feeders, and Nashville Warblers and Pine Warblers were heard, but not seen. We also saw lots of Blue Jays, robins, nuthatches, woodpeckers, chickadees and Eastern Phoebes. Our group spotted a few robin’s-egg-blue eggshells on the ground, but we didn’t see any hatchlings.
“We saw frogs, toads, a centipede, lots of spiders and ticks and slugs under trees. Naturalist Jake said he spotted Dill Prickles the porcupine on campus last night, but we didn’t see him during our trip.
“In the woods, trillium is just starting to bloom as are common blue violets. It’s the season of new life, with the world in full bloom. We want to remind everyone to … unplug, get outside, and LIVE CONNECTED!”
“What good advice,” John responds. “This is absolutely the time. And they’re talking about the advent of so much new life out there: You wanna definitely get out and enjoy it.”
The hatchling painted turtles originate from last year’s eggs: they emerge from the egg in the fall but overwinter in the nest before digging their way out and heading to the water in the spring.
John agrees with the students’ conclusion: seeing both loons out on the lake means they haven’t begun incubating eggs yet. On John’s nearby lake, there is only one loon visible, so he suspects the female is on the nest brooding.
John has noticed a lot of American emerald dragonflies, as well as a little dragonfly called the Hudsonian whiteface. Keep an eye out: nearby waterways will be filled with a more diverse mix of species as the season progresses!
North Shore Community School
Dominik and Laila report from Darcie Rolfe and Leigh Jackson's class at the North Shore Community School near Duluth:
“Hello from North Shore Community School on the north shore of Lake Superior. This is the phenology report for the week of May 13, 2023. Our names are Laila and Dominik, and we are your phenologists for this week.
“On Monday, May 15, Logan had noticed that it was 80 degrees out and Laila saw that it was 82 degrees later in the day. It’s getting to be like summer outside.
“About 86% of the trees have small, green leaves now. Many of the marsh marigolds are blooming in the ditches, so keep an eye out! Ms. Jackson’s tulips in her garden have bloomed this week. She also spotted many plants and flowers on the Superior Hiking Trail in Knife River on Tuesday, May 16. This included bracken fern, false lily of the valley, fiddleheads, wild sarsaparilla, honeysuckle, horsetail and violets.
“On Saturday, May 13, Liam and Evan were walking outside and Liam spotted owl pellets. This was the first time Liam has ever seen owl pellets at his house. On Tuesday, May 16, Liam saw two big ravens eating watermelon rinds from his compost. Emmett saw a duck sitting in his front yard on May 14. It was one of the first ducks he spotted this year.
“There have been many sightings of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds around the Northland this week. If you haven’t already gotten your hummingbird feeders washed out, filled and outside, this weekend would be a great time to get them ready. They have traveled far from their wintering range of south Texas and Costa Rica!
“Recently, Zane has noticed more deer coming out along the highway and in his neighborhood to hunt for new buds that have grown.
“Mrs. Rolfe spied several water invertebrates walking on the water in her small pond this past weekend. On Tuesday, May 16, Zane noticed that in Schmidt Creek on our school nature trail, water striders were out and about skimming along the stream.
“Laila and Dominik went to check on the frog eggs they saw the week before and didn’t see any frog eggs but eventually saw a few tadpoles swimming around.
“The average surface water temperature of Lake Superior currently is in the 50-60 degree range. On Tuesday, Ms. Jackson’s class found that the water in our creek was not running very fast by the bridge, and it took up to two minutes for a ball to travel five meters during stream study class!
“This concludes the phenology report. Have a great week and be observant!”
John loves that the students did such a simple but insightful experiment: throw a ball in the water and determine how long it takes to go 5 meters downstream. (I wonder how much that changes by season!)
John suggests if the lake is a “balmy” 50-60 degrees, Pokegama must be 80 degrees.
“I think you should get out and swim,” he states. (I would take this advice with an entire boulder of salt.)
He agrees it’s past time to get your hummingbird feeders cleaned and provisioned. Our flitty, flighty little friends are famished! If they don’t drain it in a couple days, drain it and start fresh: it can go bad and end up hurting the birds.
West Rapids Elementary in Grand Rapids
Collin Cody's entire class reports from West Rapids Elementary in Grand Rapids:
“Hello, this is our phenology report from Mr. Cody’s fourth grade classroom at West Elementary School. Wow, what a day for phenology, finally!
“On our beautiful, sun-filled walk, we found several trees fully leafed out. Those trees were the red maple, paper birch, sugar maple, butternut, basswood and red elderberry. The speckled alder was about 90%.
“We saw this year’s first cowslips, yellow violets and sand violets. We caught a green frog and saw two buttterfies: the blue azure and a brown/black/yellow one.
“Lastly, we heard geese, ducks, songbirds and a loud Pileated Woodpecker!
“All for now (from) Mr. Cody’s class.”
“Those fourth graders are pretty excited,” John says. “They’ve been with me for a whole year and they have had a great opportunity to learn so that they can see a lot of new things happening.” Lucky fourth graders!
Many of the trees the class studied had leaf bud break: red maple, birch, butternut and more. The students have been observing these trees since the fall, so they’ve been able to see almost a full yearly cycle.
Science Nature Adventure Program (SNAP) in Bemidji
Dillon and Isobel report from Angie Nistler's Science Nature Adventure Program, or SNAP, at Bemidji Middle School. Their teacher wrote:
“The final trip was into the Chippewa National Forest, which we are fortunate to have in our backyard.
“The trip stops:
- We visited and climbed the Blackduck Fire Tower and stopped at the Rabideau CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp to peer inside at the gate and show them since they studied (it) in Minnesota History class. (The host heard us out there and decided to take us on a tour to warm up for the season. It was a special treat!)
- The Webster Lake Bog Walk
- The Ladyslipper Interpretive Spot
- Knudson Dam (known for the pelicans!)
“Highlights were: a porcupine at the CCC camp and the beautiful white trilliums in bloom. The bog plants were leatherleaf, tamarack, Labrador tea, sphagnum moss, black spruce and the start of a pitcher plant. We saw a lot of wood anemone, wild ginger and bellwort starting to bloom elsewhere.
“The biggest highlight was watching the pelicans at Knudson Dam. There were hundreds. When one caught a fish, there was a lot of excitement. We didn't realize how much that sack sags down when they have a fish in there. Students got to watch the suckers at the dam and there were many of them!”
“Snap to it, get into the wild, and be observant!”
“Snap to it,” John agrees. He thinks every child should get the chance to climb a fire tower. He adds, “You can’t go wrong in a bog. There is just no bad time in a bog.”
John spoke with a pelican researcher at Bemidji State University who mentioned pelicans can swallow fish up to 2 pounds! (Here’s a fun article about it — with photos.)
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).