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Phenology Talkbacks: A moose on the move and many busy beavers

Acorns lay in a bed of moss at the Northland Arboretum in Baxter, Minnesota.
Lorie Shaull
Acorns lay in a bed of moss at the Northland Arboretum in Baxter, Minnesota.

We're celebrating reports in the double-digits and it's not even October?

The 2023-24 school year looks like it'll be one for the record books.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out with your observations, nature tales and insights! Get in touch with me (, John Latimer (, or text "phenology" to 218-326-1234.

Lake of the Woods school in Baudette

Lake of the Woods phenology report - Sept. 26, 2023

A beaver enters the water with a freshly harvested branch.
USFWS Midwest Region
A beaver enters the water with a freshly harvested branch.

Athena reported from Andrew Pierson’s class at Lake of the Woods School in Baudette:

“This is Athena with the phenology report from Baudette for Sept. 16-23.

“Students are noticing holes in their yards this week. We suspect the culprits to be skunks in search of Junebug larva.

“On Monday, Aurora observed a beaver constructing a dam near her house.

“Third graders reported a wolf spider hanging from the monkey bars on the playground on Thursday.

“Finally, Aurora has noticed that her chickens started molting this week.”

KAXE Staff Phenologist John Latimer points out that spiders likely have a natural affinity for structures like jungle gyms! The monkey bars are a perfect spot to build an efficient web for catching insects.

Cohasset Elementary School

Cohasset Elementary phenology report - Sept. 26, 2023

A round-leaved dogwood at Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve shows off its burgundy leaves in autumn. The leaves are broad, strongly veined, and burgundy red with many darker purple spots.
iNaturalist user mywildwisconsin
A round-leaved dogwood at Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve shows off its burgundy leaves in autumn.

Brielle and Jen reported from Nathan Lindner’s class at Cohasset Elementary School:

"This is Brielle and Jen reporting for Mr. Lindner’s fifth grade science classroom at Cohasset Elementary School.

“We have made lots of observations over the past week. Our class noticed many of the leaves are starting to change, especially the maples. We also noticed many trees drop their leaves this past weekend due to all the weather. We still have not seen any changes in the cottonwood.

“Another fun fact we learned this year is that trees do not die during the winter, they go into senescence. We also have noticed many migrating birds are starting to fly, so we do not have as many birds as before. Eli said he had a murder of crows in his yard exceeding 20 to 30 of them.

“A lot of students said they have seen deer on the side of the road. Aspen did notice some length of daylight is getting shorter because we just had the fall equinox. Have a great week, and like Mr. Latimer always says, ‘Onward and awkward!’”

John agrees the leaves are changing color and there was a significant leaf drop event last weekend because of the rain and strong winds. The cotttonwoods across the street from Cohasset Elementary are resolutely green, however.

Over the years, John has noticed the crows become more casual about when they move south for the winter. There was a time when they would depart the Grand Rapids area, but they seem to hang around later into the year now, and some remain throughout the entire winter. John suspects the abundance of road-killed deer provide a steady source of sustenance for them through the winter.

Hill City Elementary School

Benny and Piper reported from Matt Alleva’s class at Hill City Elementary School:

"Hello, this is Benny and Piper with the phenology report from the Hill City School Phenology Trail, located in Hill City School Forest. During the week of Sept. 18-22, 2023, on the phenology trail, the ash tree near the science room had 5% color change. We also found remnants of a few cocoons in the leaves. The leaves also had very small brown spots on them.

Hill City School phenology report - Sept. 26, 2023

An adult red-bellied snake shows off its distinctive red belly while being held. It is a small snake being held in a human hand. The background is blurry but shows yellow-green plants.
Photo by iNaturalist user Shaunpogacnik95
An adult red-bellied snake shows off its distinctive red belly while being held.

“The highbush cranberry trees are at 100% color change and 50% leaf loss, with no berries remaining, while the white bur oak has 40% color change and 10% leaf loss. There are very few acorns left around the tree.

“In the Hill City School Forest and Hill City area, we saw the red squirrel that lives by the bench in the forest and named them Timmy. We are seeing Asian lady beetles in various locations around Hill City. Frogs and toads of various sizes were observed in and near Morrison Brook, where minnows are still active.

“Grouse are active in the woods. Darius saw a red-bellied snake in his yard. Pearl is seeing wood ducks migrate and geese continue to migrate.

“It’s a bird! It’s a bee! It’s phenology!”

John is glad the students are keeping a close eye on the black ash tree outside their window: it is a special one! It seems to hold its leaves much longer than the other black ash trees. The one by John’s house was in full color a week ago, and by Saturday, the leaves had all fallen.

The deer, bears and squirrels must be feasting in the Hill City area, since the highbush cranberries are all gone and there are so many acorns.

John has seen “clouds” of Asian lady beetles trying to squeeze their way into his house. He is hoping they don’t find a way in.

North Shore Community School near Duluth

Cora reported from Leigh Jackson and Darice Rolfe’s class at North Shore Community School north of Duluth:

“Hello from North Shore Community School on the North Shore of Lake Superior. This is the Phenology Report for the week of Sept. 17, 2023. My name is Cora, and I am your phenologist for this week!

“The northern lights were visible the early morning of Tuesday, Sept. 19. This phenomenon is actually caused by the solar storms on the sun’s surface! Solar storms give out clouds of particles and some may slam into our atmosphere. When these particles hit the atoms of the atmosphere, they essentially heat them up, making those atoms glow. On Wednesday, Sept. 20, the temperature had a high of 75 degrees. After several chilly days the 75-degree day felt really hot!

“Approximately 10% of the maple trees in the school forest have started to have their leaves change color. Sawyer has noticed that in Knife River more than half of the red maples have had their leaves start to change color. Henry noticed that the apples on his tree are falling off and rotting as of Sept. 20. Today, Friday, Sept. 22, marks the autumn equinox.

North Shore Community School phenology report - Sept. 26, 2023

The northern lights shine in the sky above Aurora, MN. Green, yellow, and purple smears of light shine below the stars and are reflected in a still lake lined with pine trees.
Michael Harthan via the KAXE-KBXE Season Watch Facebook group
The northern lights shine in the sky above Aurora, Minnesota.

“Fall migration is well underway! Ms. Urban has noticed many species of migrating birds, including Blue Jays, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks and American Kestrels. She even spotted a Northern Harrier while at Hawk Ridge on Sept. 16. Also on Sept. 16, Chelsea observed a flock of approximately 30 geese shift into a V formation. She believes they were also migrating. Sally and Chelsea saw seven to 10 wild turkeys on their way home from school on Sept. 19.

“Zander B. has seen a few deer with gray-colored coats, that means that they are starting to shed their summer coat and get ready for winter. On Sept. 21, Henry noticed a small mouse run in the woods on the school nature trail while his class was working on phenology journaling. He believes it was scared or was just on its way to find food.

“Birds aren’t the only thing migrating this time of year! Butterflies and dragonflies are also on their way south. Many students have also noticed black flies hiding in their window screens this week.

“Henry found a small garter snake slithering on the school nature trail on Wednesday, Sept. 20. When he put his hand down, the snake bit/nipped at him to show it was startled. It slithered away with no sound and not a trace. Ms. Jackson’s class also spotted one that afternoon during EE class. Mrs. Urban picked it up and it emitted a strong odor as a defense mechanism. Ms. Jackson spotted a tree frog clinging to the side of her house enjoying a tasty snack of swarming gnats near her outside light on the night of Sept. 21.

“Henry noticed a hollow acorn with a spider's web. He believes that the spider lived there for warmth and shelter and perhaps a great place to catch its prey. Ms. Jackson noticed that due to the wet conditions in her yard, the grass is populated with many slugs.

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

John is thrilled by their comprehensive report: he couldn’t add anything more! He was impressed by not only their observations, but their explanations of what they were seeing.

He does note, however, the garter snakes are not eating at this time of year. Since they rely on heat to be able to digest their food, cold temperatures will leave them unable to properly break down food and it will just rot in their stomach. This leads to a very sick snake! So, in the fall, the snakes stop eating and head toward their winter hibernacula to await warmer seasons.

As they move toward their winter refuges, they often have to cross roads or paths where they run into humans. Like the vast majority of Minnesota snakes, they are non-venomous and perfectly safe to pick up. They may attempt to bite (and large ones might manage to draw blood), but their most potent defense mechanism is a nasty smell they emit when frightened!

Pike Lake Elementary School near Duluth

Dylan and Katie reported from Rob Marohn’s class at Pike Lake Elementary School near Duluth for the week of Sept. 19:

"Hi, this is Dylan and Katie and this will be our report for the week of Sept. 10, 2023, from Pike Lake Elementary School. On Wednesday, I heard from my grandma that she saw a hummingbird moth. At first, she thought it was a hummingbird, but then she realized that it was a moth. Me and my grandma were both very excited.

“I saw four deer in my backyard. I noticed that two of them were fawns that were almost adults. The other two were a male and a female. I was wondering if the male would mate with the female when the fawns were on their own because he has been following them for the past week. I did some research and found out that the fawns stay with their mom for about a year, and they looked about that age.

“On Sunday, Dylan observed a moose near his house. The moose was very tall in the shape of a horse. The thing he thought was most interesting was that the moose had powerful shoulder muscles that gave it a humpback appearance. The moose had a large nose, broad antlers and dark fur.

“He looked for some tracks and they were 6 inches long. He did some research and learned they eat willows, poplar, balsams and aquatic plants.

Pike Lake Elementary School phenology report - Sept. 19-26, 2023

Dylan, a student from Pike Lake Elementary, viewed this moose in mid-September. It is a large bull moose with antlers stepping through tall vegetation.
Rob Marohn
Dylan, a student from Pike Lake Elementary, viewed this moose in mid-September.

“Also on Wednesday, Lily observed a garter snake, which made her wonder how much longer they will stay out and where it is living.

“Although Pike Lake is waiting for its first frost, Taylor observed it at her house on Wednesday. It made her feel cold and that the snow is not far behind.”

“On Sunday, Ivy witnessed nine to 10 grouse crossing the road on her way to choir rehearsal. She was surprised to see them heading to her neighbor’s yard.

“On Thursday, Miles saw a 6-point buck eating grass. He was surprised to notice that he wasn’t afraid. He is hoping to see him again come hunting season.

“On Tuesday, Colton heard a yipping sound coming from the woods about 50 yards from his house. He believes it was a coyote. Also on Tuesday, Breckon saw a bunch of turkey eating corn in their yard. He was excited to see all the goldenrods out there.

“On Wednesday, Stanley was commenting on the leaves turning colors. He thinks the lack of rain has something to do with it. Garret, on the other hand, was impressed by the fluorescent colors of the red maple. It sent shivers down his spine because it means that Minnesota is getting cold fast.

“This concludes our report from the outer reaches of the Proctor School District. Be aware: things are happening out there!”

John and I are thrilled to welcome Mr. Marohn and his class back to the airwaves! They have a beautiful school forest and an incredible set of records, thanks to years of “being aware of the things happening out there,” to paraphrase their tagline.

John’s particularly excited about the moose sighting. What a wonderful thing to be able to see in your backyard!

Dylan and Maria reported from Rob Marohn’s class at Pike Lake Elementary School near Duluth for the week of Sept. 26:

"Good morning. This is Dylan and Maria, and this is our report for the week of Sept. 17, 2023, from Pike Lake Elementary School. On Tuesday, I saw a flock of geese flying south in a V-shaped pattern. It looks like they are heading south to find warmer weather. I am surprised they are leaving, since it has been quite warm for the given season.

“I was reading outside my house when I heard a loud whacking. I looked up at the tree, and I saw a Downy Woodpecker making a hole in the tree and noticed that it had a large white oval on its back. Later on, I saw my cat zoom up the tree looking at the woodpecker. I ran over to the tree, climbed up and grabbed the cat. When the woodpecker saw us, it flew away. I went back to reading and petting my cat.

“On Tuesday, Katie saw a moth on a curled up leaf. Doing some research, she determined that it was an Isabella tiger moth and they eat greens and wildflowers. Also on Tuesday, Layton saw seven deer in her front yard and 20 minutes later she saw a buck following behind them. She was impressed how the buck picked up the scent.

“On Thursday, Colton woke up through a yard full of tiny holes. His research told them that in the fall, skunks go on a food frenzy. They may dig up your yard and search for food because it is hard to find food in the winter.

“Madison actually observed skunks digging up her yard. She is concerned they are going to stink up the entire yard. She also doesn't want to be surprised by one and get sprayed.

“On Sunday, Arya saw a garter snake at her grandma's house down by the water. When she approached the snake, it went into the lake. Her research confirmed that they can be in the water for 15-20 minutes.

“One morning, Garrett was looking at his old basswood tree. It looked unhealthy because the leaves were deep brown and shriveled. It appears the tree is unhealthy except for the one green super healthy leaf.

“Gavin has been seeing more owls lately. He wonders if it is a sign of the changing seasons. Jack’s phenology report for the week was that it was dark outside by 7:30. He knows this is a sign that summer is over and we are in for a long winter.

“Mason observed the wind shaking the leaves of the quaking aspen. To him, they looked like the stars in the nighttime sky.

“This concludes the phenology report from the outer reaches of the Proctor School District. Be aware, things are happening out there!”

Like the Pike Lake students, John has also observed geese flying south in large V-shaped formations. He also notes:

  • The Isabella tiger moth is better known in its larval form — the “wooly bear” caterpillar!  
  • The skunks, raccoons and a variety of other critters are certainly busy digging up lawns and roadsides to find those tasty larvae. It’s a good idea to stay out of their way, unless you want a stinky surprise!  
  • Garter snakes will happily go into water. They are quite skilled swimmers. 
  • John has heard a lot of owls, but not seen many. The Barred Owls are most likely to be seen, since they are crepuscular (active during the dusk and dawn). The truly nocturnal owls are less likely to be spotted. 

Long Lake Conservation Center near Palisade

Long Lake Conservation Center phenology report - Sept. 26, 2023

A red maple shows off its vibrant orange and red leaves in mid-September.
Lorie Shaull
A red maple shows off its vibrant orange and red leaves in mid-September.

Drew, Mason and Aubrey reported from the Da Vinci Academy of Ham Lake’s trip to Long Lake Conservation Center:

“During our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center, Sept. 20-22, we had perfect late summer weather, but signs of autumn are everywhere. The leaves are changing color. The red maples are especially pretty. Lots and lots of acorns are falling from the oaks and a few even hit us.

“One of the highlights was close encounters with beavers. The Long Lake staff told us the beavers have become particularly active in the last week or so. Our group saw four beavers, including one that was dragging a large branch right through campus. He looked at us, and one teacher said it looked like he had a “guilty look” on his face. Mrs. Palzer said that on her morning canoe adventure, a beaver swam near and slapped its tail at her, trying to scare her away.

“Our group also saw baby snapping turtles — newly hatched and working their way to the lake. We also saw a baby red-bellied snake, lots of leopard frogs, including two swimming in the lake, garter snakes, two chipmunks, a big red mushroom, a long-legged spider and a few bees, wasps and hornets.

“One of our group got a mosquito bite that he said swelled up to the size of a mountain on his arm. We are happy to report that there were very few mosquitos and no ticks. Yaaaaah!

“Our group also got to taste the first bog cranberries of the season. They are just starting to grow and are still very tart. It was a great week exploring nature and we want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside and LIVE CONNECTED!!”

John agrees: get outside and live connected! He adds that eating some bog cranberries is a great activity if you have the chance. He much prefers their taste to the bitterness of the highbush cranberry.

Roots and Wings Forest School in New York Mills

Roots and Wings Forest School phenology report - Sept. 26, 2023

 Many acorns develop on the branches of a bur oak near Canon Falls. Bur oak acorns have distinctively hairy-looking caps. There are about seven acorns forming amidst dark green leaves with silver backs.
Paul Broenen via iNaturalist
Many acorns develop on the branches of a bur oak near Cannon Falls. Bur oak acorns have distinctively hairy-looking caps.

Finley, Timmy, Rose, Hazel, Kip and Leo reported from Leona Cichy’s class in New York Mills:

“This is Finley, Timmy, Rose, Hazel, Kip and Leo reporting from Roots and Wings Forest School in New York Mills. If you live on a farm, it’s about time to pick your pumpkins.

“I found some holes around my tree and I’m pretty sure the squirrels are digging to make a hole for them to put their acorns or they’re digging their acorns out of the ground.

“Harvesting of gardens has begun, and last night I helped my mom dig carrots and get potatoes and sweet potatoes, and then we got our onions. It’s sunny and warm today, and the Asian beetles are out.

“Me and my dad went flying in an airplane and we looked at the trees from the air, and we think 27% of the leaves have changed.

“Bow hunting has started and Leona’s husband saw three bucks and a coyote in the field by our school.

“Thanks for listening! Stay wild!”

John’s happy that the parents in New York Mills have such great helpers in bringing in the harvest. A flight in an airplane sounds like a great experience, particularly in the middle of the autumn colors! John and I really enjoy the accuracy of “27% leaf change.”

Prairie Creek Community School in Northfield

Prairie Creek Community School phenology report - Sept. 26, 2023
Northfield/Amherst phenology comparison - Sept. 26, 2023

 A Hudsonian whiteface dragonfly sits on an orange rock. It has a red thorax, large brown eyes, and a white face. The image is captioned "Hudsonian whiteface dragonfly".
A Hudsonian whiteface dragonfly sits on an orange rock.

Jimmi and Anita report from Michelle Martin’s class at Prairie Creek Community School in Northfield:

"This is Jimmy and Anita from Prairie Creek Community School way down south in Northfield, Minnesota. It sure is starting to look like fall around here, Jimmy! The leaves in some places are about 50% color. It doesn’t feel too much like fall yet, though. We’re still pretty warm during the day.

“We’re still seeing monarchs, dragonflies, vultures, hummingbirds, toads, herons and cranes. We saw some more unusual things this week, too, including a black giant ichneumonid wasp and a pigeon horntail.

“When we were at Meisville Ravine, we saw a giant northern toothed mushroom. We also saw a lot of artist conks. The herons have also been dealing with a lot of box elder bugs. They’re everywhere.

“Andrew saw a murder of crows. Silas observes that the fish seemed to be going deeper in the river near his house. He doesn’t see as many as he did just a week ago.

“We have heard and seen a lot of woodpeckers, including a Pileated Woodpecker and a Northern Flicker. We heard a flock of Cedar Waxwings. Finally, we’ve seen many flocks of turkeys. We also read an article about turkeys in the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. I was surprised that they bathed in the mud. That would not be my thing. Turkeys also have beards! Who knew?

“This has been Prairie Creek Community School: One more step along the phenology journey!”

John thanks the students and celebrates their teacher, Michelle Martin, for the wonderful job she’s doing! John suspects the Cedar Waxwings won’t wait long before stripping the trees of the remaining crabapples. Their cousins, the Bohemian Waxwings, are also familiar residents during the winter.

Fort River Elementary School in Amherst, Massachusetts

Fort River School phenology report - Sept. 26, 2023
Northfield/Amherst phenology comparison - Sept. 26, 2023

Red-bellied Woodpeckers (left) are common in Minnesota, while Red-headed Woodpeckers (right) are more rare. Two images are shown side-by-side. The left image has a medium-sized woodpecker on the side of a tree trunk. It has a red cap and neck, white belly and chin, and a finely patterned black-and-white back. It is captioned "Red-bellied Woodpecker/ (Common)". On the right is another medium-sized woodpecker on the side of a tree. It has a vibrant red head, neck, and chin, and a white belly. It has a black back and tail with large white sections on the wings. It is captioned "Red-Headed Woodpecker/ (Rare)".
Charlie Mitchell
Red-bellied Woodpeckers (left) are common in Minnesota, while Red-headed Woodpeckers (right) are more rare.

Natalia, Walker, Casey, Aya, Amelia, Jiahao, Alex, Lyrrin and Logan report from Mrs. Fisher and Mrs. Paul's fifth grade science class at Fort River Elementary School in Amherst, Massachusetts:

“We’re back and reporting from Ms. Paul and Ms. Fisher’s fifth grade class and we have some more interesting phenology reports from our classmates. First up, we have Walker reporting about our weather.

“On Sept. 21, the sunrise was at 6:36 a.m. and sunset was 6:49 p.m. That gave us a day length of 12 hours and 13 minutes. The weather has been much cooler this week with highs between 65 and 75 degrees.

“Some of the tips of the red maple leaves are turning bright red. The walnuts on the eastern black walnut trees are getting darker. A handful of the leaves are turning yellow, and a couple are even turning brown. The leaves of the silky dogwood are browning and the berries are dying off. Our apple tree has four to five apples that are green and about the size of a baseball. Natalia’s Kousa dogwood has many red berries.

“We found some daddy long legs and some large wolf spiders in the garden beds. We found two wooly bear caterpillars that were brown and black.

“We saw a woodpecker that had red on its head. We think it could be a Red-bellied Woodpecker. Goldfinches were flying around and at least one was male. We also noticed four to five sparrows chasing each other. Casey had a red cardinal sitting on his windowsill in the morning.

“Our garden has a lot of black-eyed Susans and pink asters blooming. This week we harvested potatoes, black beans, cucumbers, peppers and rice. We were actually able to grow rice this year because it rained a lot this summer.

“Logan noticed a brown moth with small dots on its wings and brown body. It was resting on a blue flower. The cup plants are no longer yellow flowers, now they are dropping their flat, brown seeds. Some of the goldenrod that was really fluffy two weeks ago is now starting to turn a yellowish brown. We only had one orange flower on the jewelweed this week and only a couple mature seedpods.

“And that’s a wrap from the Western Mass. Phenology Class!”

John keyed in on their observations of cup plants. John also has cup plants growing near his house, and the flowers are long gone. He estimates they’ve been gone for almost three weeks. With the addition of Amherst to our classroom phenology network, he’s been interested to learn how the timing of their phenology compares to his own: that’s a good indicator that there’s about a three-week gap.

A few other observations agree with that estimate. While the goldenrods in Amherst are beginning to turn yellowish-brown, John’s goldenrods are almost completely done. Similarly, John’s jewelweeds lost their last flowers about three weeks ago.

As a bonus comparison, John then re-ran the phenology report from Northfield, Minnesota (our southernmost school in Minnesota). In comparing the two schools’ observations, he noticed the leaves of red maples in Amherst are just starting to get flecks of color: the ones in Northfield have entire branches that have turned color.

Next week, John is hoping to hear when the schools see their last hummingbirds! He saw his last one on Sept. 17, though he’s leaving his feeders out until Oct. 1 just in case.

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

Fundingfor 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 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?).