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Phenology Talkbacks: A dip below freezing

Frost covers a leaf in Aitkin County. The leaf is still green, and the edges are rimmed in a thin layer of white frost. The rest of the image is not in focus.
Lorie Shaull
Frost covers a leaf in Aitkin County.

This week’s 10 reports show a wide discrepancy between northern and southern parts of the state. On the northern border, even the most stubborn leaves are beginning to turn, while our friends in Northfield are still enjoying visits from herons and monarch butterflies.

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 phenology report - Oct. 17, 2023

Lake of the Woods School in Baudette

“This is Elijah with the phenology report from Baudette for Oct. 6-13. We had our first hard frost on Monday, Oct. 9. Students are noticing a high number of Asian beetles looking for a hibernation nook in their homes.

The maple tree outside our classroom has finally started to move its chlorophyll. Leaves are turning yellow and orange. Mr. Pierson used this week to find the bright green leaves of the pesky buckthorn near his home.”

Cohasset Elementary School phenology report - Oct. 17, 2023

Cohasset Elementary School

A common sow thistle shows off its dandelion-like flowers near St. Paul, Minnesota.
iNaturalist user flypusher48
A common sow thistle shows off its dandelion-like flowers near St. Paul, Minnesota.

“Hello, this is Maggie and Aspen reading from Mr. Lindner’s fifth grade science classroom at Cohasset Elementary School. We have made a lot of observations over the past week.

“Last week, we saw some flowers still in bloom: the dandelion and white and red clover. The red clover is actually purple. Mr. Latimer said they probably didn’t have purple crayons back when they discovered them and noted the clover.

“We also saw the sow thistle that looks very similar to the dandelion, except it has multiple flowers on one stem. That was in bloom, too.

“We also identified a titanium maple, which is not native to the United States. The cottonwood by our school is still green. The cedar across the street from our school has dropped all of its three-year leaves, which were brown. Our class also noticed more leaves have dropped, making it easier to see through the woods.

“Our class noticed that migratory songbirds have left the area, and most ducks, geese, and swans are flying south. We also noticed that squirrels are gathering food for the winter and that their nests are called ‘drays.’

“Mr. Lindner says he saw lots of deer scrapes and rubs from the deer in the woods.

“We are looking forward to another week of observations. Thank you for listening. Like Mr. Latimer always says, ‘Onward and awkward!’”

West Rapids Elementary School in Grand Rapids

West Rapids Elementary phenology report - Oct. 17, 2023

Two images are shown. The top image is of an adult Bald Eagle, showing its white head and tail and a dark brown body. It is captioned "Adult Bald Eagle." The lower image shows an immature Bald Eagle with its mottled brown-and-white plumage covering its whole body. It is captioned "Immature Bald Eagle."
Charlie Mitchell. Original images contributed by Canva.
A comparison between adult and immature Bald Eagle plumage.

“Hello, my name is Graham and this is our phenology report from Mr. Cody’s fourth-grade classroom at West Elementary School.

“It was a cloudy fall day of 50 degrees. The red maple and basswood were at about 75% leaf loss. The birch was at 20%, while the butternut was at 95%.

“We had a birdy day. We saw a nuthatch and a juvenile Bald Eagle. Mr. Latimer also showed us a dead Dark-eyed Junco. We also saw two Red-eyed Vireo nests.

“There was a raccoon track in the creek and Bailey spotted a very photogenic red squirrel.

“Wowsers, what a walk!”

Hill City Elementary School

Hill City School phenology report - Oct. 17, 2023

Coyote scat lies on a bed of pine needles near Elk River. There is a ruler nearby showing the length of the longest turd to be about 4 inches long.
iNaturalist user and tracking expert Jonathan Poppele
Coyote scat lies on a bed of pine needles near Elk River.

“Hello, this is Debbie and Benny with the phenology report from Hill City School Phenology Trail located in the Hill City School Forest during the week of Oct. 9-13, 2023.

“On the phenology trail, the ash tree near the science room has 85% leaf loss. The highbush cranberry tree’s at 95% leaf loss and we noticed five berries still remaining on the tree, hidden by some leaves we didn’t see before. White/bur oak has 85% leaf loss.”

“In the Hill City School Forest and in the Hill City area we observed:

  • There are still minnows in the Morrison Brook.  
  • Seventh graders are observing robins, deer, swans and garter snakes. 
  • Tatertot observed coyote scat in the school forest, as well as rabbit and deer scat. 
  • There are still Asian lady beetles, but there does seem to be less than last week. 
  • Seventh graders are noticing turkeys and turkey sites in the area. 
  • Geese are still migrating. 

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

North Shore Community School near Duluth

North Shore Community School phenology report - Oct. 17, 2023

A comparison of a Golden Eagle and an immature Bald Eagle.. The upper image shows a Golden Eagle in flight, with dark brown wings, a bronzey-golden nape, and a yellow hooked beak. it is captioned "Golden Eagle". The lower image is of an immature Bald Eagle with mottled brown-and-white wings and body, light brown head, and greyish beak. It is captioned "Immature Bald Eagle."
Charlie Mitchell: Original images sourced from Canva.
A comparison of a Golden Eagle and an immature Bald Eagle.

“Hello from North Shore Community School on the North Shore of Lake Superior. This is the phenology report for the week of Oct. 7, 2023. My name is Jon, and I am your phenologist for this week!

“On Saturday morning, Oct. 7, Ms. Jackson’s lawn was covered in a light frost, but the temperature was not yet below freezing. On Monday morning, Eisley noticed a few houses had a light layer of frost on them.

"Students are noticing that the daylight length is shortening. The daylight length on Saturday was 11 hours and 24 minutes. We are losing 3 minutes, 17 seconds per day this week of daylight. We will lose 22 minutes and 19 seconds of daylight this week! Mrs. Rolfe walks her dog at 6:45 a.m. every morning and now needs a flashlight to go on her walk.

“Some leaves on the trees by the front edge of our school forest are still green! Most of the maple trees in the school forest have now turned color or have fallen to the ground.

"Ms. Urban has been collecting milkweed pods with Mrs. Gallagher and Mrs. Camper’s classes. The seeds inside the pods have turned from green to brown, meaning the pods are mature, but most of the pods haven’t dried and cracked open yet, releasing the seeds. Each pod can contain 200-300 seeds inside.

“On Saturday, Oct. 7, there were over 1,000 Sandhill Cranes counted at Hawk Ridge in Duluth. Also on this day, Ms. Jackson spotted a group of robins in her yard that have not yet migrated. Right now, the 10-year average for the amount of golden eagles seen at Hawk Ridge is 183! Also at Hawk Ridge, on Oct. 7, Penny saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk flying lower near the mountain.

“I, Jon, have not seen any water striders in the creek lately. They will be hibernating until spring.

“Mrs. Rolfe has had several Asian beetles in her house this week. Asian beetles have begun seeking shelter as the outside temperatures have dropped. They find their way into tight cracks and crevices, such as under siding, in wall voids or clustered tightly in the corners of attics and garages to be able to get inside to be warmer.

“The stream got much deeper because of all the rain over the past week.

“This concludes the phenology report. Our next report will be Oct. 27. Have a great week, and be observant!”

Pike Lake Elementary School near Duluth

Pike Lake Elementary School phenology report - Oct. 17, 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.

“Good morning, this is Miles and Audrey and this is our report for the week of (Oct.) 10, 2023, from Pike Lake Elementary School.

“On Wednesday, I saw an Osprey flying over Pike Lake and saw it land on a tree. I was wondering if it had a nest nearby.

“I observed a rabbit in my yard in the morning and in the afternoon. After I did some research, I realized that rabbits don’t stash food. Instead, in the winter, they rely on twigs, bark, roots, and even sometimes raid people’s gardens.

“On Tuesday, Katie watched a Harris’ Sparrow stopping by during migration in my driveway. She feels excited because they are uncommon, and you can usually only see them when they are migrating.

“Dylan saw a woodpecker at his house on Tuesday. At first, he was unsure, but research helped him determine it was a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

“It was on Monday that Latham noticed all the trees in his yard had turned color, except one that is still green. He’s still unsure why it is staying green.

“Emmet was noticing that the air was getting warmer before a storm came in. He believes it is called a gust front, which is when rain-cold air clashes with warm air.

“Stanley was noticing that his friend’s house had a lot more leaves than his house. He was wondering if there was cooler air at his friend’s house.

“Madison was studying a birch tree at her house. Instead of growing straight up, it goes at a tilt and then there’s a gap in it before it goes up. She learned that this gap may have been produced by a past tree falling on it.

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

Long Lake Conservation Center near Palisade

Nolan reported from Waconia Middle School’s trip to Long Lake Conservation Center:

Long Lake Conservation Center phenology report pt. 1 - Oct. 17, 2023

“During our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center on Oct. 9-11, we experienced the first hard frost of the season. Temperatures dipped to 29 degrees Fahrenheit at night.

“Despite the cold, we spotted some flowers, including a goldenrod and a few dandelions. Those are likely the last flowers until spring. Our group noticed the bright red berries of the winterberry shrub. The berries will remain all winter.

“We also saw a large party of Blue Jays, a flock of juncos, chipmunks, gray squirrels, and Pileated and Downy Woodpeckers. On Monday, we saw Turkey Vultures and four Bald Eagles eating roadkill. We suspect that the eagles were among those migrating south and looking for a quick meal.

“We are still seeing a few large leopard frogs out and about. They are moving slowly. The garter snakes are mostly in their hibernacula now, but a few venture outside to soak up the midday sun.

“In and around Long Lake, our group spotted a painted turtle, coots and a tadpole.

“One of the highlights of the trip was seeing the beavers. They are very active right now. We spotted them on the lake and even on a path in the woods. One of them appeared to be a baby or juvenile.

“Autumn is a beautiful time to explore nature, and we want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside, and LIVE CONNECTED!”

Anna reported from Waconia Middle School Gold Group’s trip to Long Lake Conservation Center:

Long Lake Conservation Center phenology report pt. 2 - Oct. 17, 2023

“During our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center on Oct. 11-13, we experienced a mix of typical and unusual autumn nature sightings.

“The weather is getting colder, so our group was surprised to see a pair of blue-spotted salamanders, a red-bellied snake, a slug, a handful of leopard frogs and a gray tree frog that was burnt orange. It was notable that our group didn’t see any garter snakes. Earlier in the week, they were still active around their hibernacula.

“Our group also saw beaver and many signs of beaver activity, a Pileated woodpecker that K’leigh said was 'slay,' a flicker, a few juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, and a Downy Woodpecker.

“We spotted lots of earthworm castings and watched a gray squirrel and a Blue Jay fight over a piece of food. The squirrel won the battle, but I’m happy to report that neither were harmed.

“Autumn is a beautiful time to explore nature and we want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside, and LIVE CONNECTED!”

Roots and Wings Forest School near New York Mills

Roots and Wings Forest School phenology report - Oct. 17, 2023

A Blue Jay picks food off of a platform feeder. The picture is taken from the side and shows the Blue Jay with a seed in its beak and its tail slightly fanned. It has a blue back, black markings on its face and tail, and a white belly, head, and chest.
USFWS Midwest Region
A Blue Jay picks food off of a platform feeder.

“This is Leo, Rose, Hazel, Kaden, Timmy, and Kip reporting from Roots and Wings Forest School in New York Mills.”

“I saw a Blue Jay and some deer tracks and some fawn tracks. I don’t know. They might have been regular deer tracks, but I don’t know. They were smaller than the regular deer tracks I know.”

“We got the first frost of the season on Tuesday morning, Oct. 10.”

“I saw three Bald Eagles and a Turkey Vulture on the road eating something that was dead.”

“This week’s leaf report is that 90% of the leaves have changed and most leaves have dropped.”

“I saw a rainbow that looked like it was fading away and it was only one.”

“We were seeing a lot of mushrooms.”

“Thanks for listening! Stay wild!”

Prairie Creek Community School phenology report - Oct. 17, 2023

Prairie Creek Community School in Northfield

 A Great Blue Heron takes a bath. The image shows a large grey-and-blue heron with a yellow beak in the middle of shaking out its feathers. It is standing hip-deep in water and is clearly in the middle of rinsing its feathers. Water droplets are spraying from its sides. Away from the heron, the water is still and calm.
Flickr user Susan Young
A Great Blue Heron takes a bath.

Betty: “Hi this is Betty...”
Maysoon: “...and this is Maysoon...”
Betty: “...and we’re from Prairie Creek Community School way down south in Northfield, Minnesota.”
Maysoon: "Well, Betty, we thought that a lot was going to change this week. But… it didn’t."
Betty: "That’s right, Maysoon. We are still seeing monarchs, dragonflies and a few herons.”
Maysoon: "We have been seeing a ton of seagulls and the geese are still flying south.”
Betty: "The Blue Jays have been REALLY noisy and we are still hearing the pump handle song.”
Maysoon: "We’re hearing a lot of nuthatches and even some cardinals.”
Betty: "We have seen Downy Woodpeckers and some Red-headed Woodpeckers.”
Maysoon: “The chickadees are out and there are starlings on the power lines.”
Betty: "And we are seeing more and more juncos!”
Maysoon: “There are a few bare trees, but many trees still have green leaves. It seems like things have slowed down a bit.”
Betty: "There are a lot of mushrooms and almost all of us have been seeing giant puff balls. We even had a chance to eat one last week.”
Maysoon: "There are a lot of busy squirrels and some rabbits that seem like they might be mating.”
Betty: "We have been seeing a lot of deer and a ton of box elder bugs have invaded our classroom.”
Maysoon: "This has been Prairie Creek Community School.”
Betty: "One more step along the phenology journey.”

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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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?).