Phenology Talkbacks: Students wear mittens up north while monarchs depart down south
Staff phenologist John Latimer is a happy camper this week: despite the MEA break slowing the flow of student reports, he still has eight classes that found time to get outside and tell him all about what they’re seeing!
It’s a fun week for phenology: the students in Northern Minnesota are putting on jackets and mittens, while students in Northfield are still chasing toads and basking in warm weather. There’s a big range of conditions in the state right now!
Lake of the Woods School in Baudette
“This is Melody with the phenology report from Baudette for Oct. 14-18.
“Students are noticing flocks of juncos and American Robins in their yards, especially around crabapple trees.
“On Friday, our class spooked a flock of around 50 blue bill ducks from one of our school forest ponds.
“On Monday night, Aurora witnessed red squirrels in her yard stashing acorns for the winter.
“Finally, there appears to be an abundance of high bush cranberries still holding on around our school forest.”
John will be interested to find out how long the Dark-eyed Juncos linger in the Baudette area. In Grand Rapids, they hang out until almost January before leaving for warmer areas. Similarly, there will be an errant American Robin or two that hangs out throughout the winter, while most of its buddies have long since headed south.
Apple Blossom Village in Bemidji
“Greetings, this is Iris reporting from Apple Blossom. It is Oct. 18, 2023.
“We’ve been starting our day with hats and mittens because it’s getting chilly outside. There has been so much fog on Lake Irving that we can’t see to the other side.
“We are still seeing mallards, drakes, swans, and loons swimming on the water. Geese are still migrating.
“Tamarack trees have turned golden. Blue Jays have been spotted along with the regulars: Crows, eagles, magpies and chickadees.
“This is Iris, signing off.”
John’s happy to hear that the Apple Blossom students are keeping an eye on the birds, and he’s also noticed the tamaracks in the Grand Rapids area are turning golden. They’ve changed color quite quickly this year, and are likely already at their peak.
Cohasset Elementary School
David and Jacelee reported from Mr. Lindner’s fifth-grade science class:
“We have made a lot of observations over the past week. The leaves are dropping fast. Our maple trees across the street only have 25% on it from 50% last week. The cottonwood is about 40% colored from 10% last week.
“The dandelion is in bloom. We also learned they are close to the ground because the ground is warmer than the air.
“The white campion is in bloom and it gets pollinated by moths at night. The ester was also in bloom along with sow thistle and goldenrod.
“We also learned wasps laid their eggs in the black ash male flowers, and we can see them now.
“Aspen said all the birch and aspen are yellow at her place.
“We have spotted a lot of squirrels collecting acorns.
“We are still seeing flocks of birds flying south in the sky. We are hoping to observe more animal behaviors as they get ready for winter.
“We are looking forward to another week of observations. Thank you, and like Mr. Latimer always says: ‘Onward and awkward!’”
John jokes, “That’s onward for you, and awkward for me!” He’s happy that the Cohasset school has a great mix of trees nearby: they have a maple and a cottonwood tree visible right across the street.
The galls left behind on male ash trees are a visible sign throughout the winter: they look like dark fist-sized clusters in the branches, and once you know what to look for, they’re quite distinctive.
West Rapids Elementary School in Grand Rapids
“Hello, my name is Jack and this is our phenology report from Mr. Cody’s fourth-grade classroom at West Elementary School.
“It was insanely nice out for October. We even had another Asian beetle infestation.
“Our basswood, sugar maple, and butternut were all at about 95% leaf loss.
“We also saw a squirrel eating a butternut.
“The red maple and speckled alder were around 75% leaf loss. The paper birch was about 30% with bracts present.
“We saw a Compton tortoiseshell butterfly and a meadowhawk dragonfly.
“The red elderberry was green and had purple fruit present. The invasive buckthorn was also green.
John agrees that it was a wonderful day outside with the students, saying “I hope you remember it. It’ll be one to hold on to through the winter.”
He was pleased to see the Compton tortoiseshell butterfly and the meadowhawk dragonfly: both are relatively late sightings, though he sometimes sees meadowhawks on warm days as late as November.
St. Joseph’s School in Grand Rapids
James, Claire, and Kern report from Lori Lagergren’s class at Saint Joseph’s School:
“This week we saw two grasshoppers. We noticed when we picked one up it spit juices looked like tobacco. It must have been threatened by us. However, Claire felt most threatened when it jumped on her.
“We also saw a magnificent Bald Eagle soaring through the sky. Mr. John tried to call it over for us, but it saw us and flew further away.
“Our class is going to study maple trees on our property. On Sept. 26, we noticed the maple trees in our back forest flecking. As of Oct. 17, all the leaves have colored and only 20% were clinging to the branch.
“However, a couple of maple trees in the front of the church have just turned full color. These trees were brought in and planted. The trees’ DNA is hardwired to believe it is planted in southern Minnesota.
“We observed that the red pine, white pine, Jack pine, and scotch pine have all dropped their needles. The tamarack is completely yellow. The scotch pine is growing new pinecones which will be fully grown and will drop in the spring.
“The leaves of the blackberry are turning red.
“Until next time, be kind, be happy, be outside!”
Great advice! John was sad that the eagle wasn’t tricked by his imitation eagle call: unfortunately, they were in such plain sight and in such an open area, the eagle was quickly able to discern that no real Bald Eagles were nearby.
John has noticed a few ornamental red maple trees in the Grand Rapids area that are still bright red, despite the late season. These are maples grown in southern nurseries and transplanted to Grand Rapids: wild red maples in the area have long since reached peak color and dropped most of their leaves.
Pike Lake Elementary School near Duluth
Madison and Aria report from their class trip to Osprey Wild Environmental Learning Center in Sandstone:
“We especially enjoyed the team-building on low ropes course, the archery range, and the evening programs about Minnesota’s wildlife, hiking on the trails, a campfire, searching for the life in our great creatures class, and enjoying the delicious food that was grown or raised on local farms.
“On Monday, Layton and Katie observed three female white-tailed deer. It made them wonder if there are any black-tailed deer that live near the Sandstone area.
“Aria was looking at the leaves and was wondering if they are a different color down here because the temperature is still warmer than at Pike Lake.
“When we woke up on Tuesday morning, Hayley, Akira, and Maria observed that there was frost on the ground and knew the temperature dropped below 32 degrees overnight. They also discovered numerous Asian beetles by the shore of Grindstone Lake and other parts of the learning center.
“A group of students ventured down to the shore of Grindstone Lake that morning and noticed thick layers of fog covered the lake. When they returned in the afternoon, when the sun had come out and temperatures increased, the fog disappeared.
“On Tuesday afternoon, Dylan observed the box elder bugs on milkweed seeds. He thinks they are all there because they want to eat the seeds.
“Katie noticed a hawk and Madison observed a Bald Eagle flying over the learning center. Lily noticed that the mornings in Sandstone were cold and frosty and the afternoons were warm and sunny, and wondered if the weather was different at Pike Lake each day.
“Thank you to Osprey Wild for allowing us to make many unforgettable memories. This concludes our report from the outer reaches of the Proctor School District. Be aware! Things are happening out there.”
John has also been to the Osprey Wild ELC in Sandstone, and agrees that it’s a lovely place. He concurs that the temperatures are quite different from what the students are used to near Duluth: he’s proud that the students were aware and present enough to notice the difference!
He hopes that we will all be inspired by the students and be just as aware of the changes in phenology as we travel around the state.
Long Lake Conservation Center near Palisade
Leah, Mason, and Hunter from McGregor, Hill City, and Rippleside Elementary Schools' trips to Long Lake Conservation Center near Palisade:
“During our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center Oct. 16-18, we had a high of 62 degrees and low of 30 degrees with lots of sunshine for most of our trip.
“Once the sunshine hit the garter snake hibernacula area, we saw several snakes gathering. By the lake, we noticed a small snapping turtle and two leopard frogs.
“On our hike to the bog, we noticed bright gold birch leaves and in the bog the tamaracks were beginning to turn gold. When we shook the tamaracks just a few needles fell off. We also scared up two grouse in the bog.
“Pileated Woodpeckers, juncos and Blue Jays were seen, also one Canada Goose honking loudly and flying north. Otters were swimming in the lake in the morning, chipmunks were very busy gathering acorns and the beavers were too busy working to mind us observing them. All their work has made a wide worn-down path from the woods to the lake.
“We are happy to report that Dill Prickles the porcupine made an appearance. Dill didn’t seem to mind that naturalist Marla almost tripped over him on the path, he just went about his way and climbed up an oak tree while we all watched.
“We had so much fun exploring nature and we want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside, and LIVE CONNECTED!”
While the garter snakes are still active at Long Lake (at least on warm days), John hasn’t spotted one in Grand Rapids in quite a while. Similarly, the snapping turtles, leopard frogs, and chipmunks have also disappeared from his area.
John was interested to hear about the well-worn beaver trail. He concurs that beavers do make quite a big trail, but it tends to be quite short: they don’t want to wander too far from the water’s edge, lest a hungry predator catch them too far from water.
Prairie Creek Community School near Northfield
Arlo: "Hi this is Arlo...”
Viggo: "...and this is Viggo...”
Arlo: "...and we’re from Prairie Creek Community School way down south in Northfield, Minnesota.”
Viggo: "Winter sure is taking a while to get here...”
Arlo: "...not that we’re complaining. The weather here has been beautiful.”
Viggo: "Our trees are close to full color - that’s a lot later than in most years.”
Arlo: "The trees may be changing but we still have a lot of our summer animals around including frogs, toads, vultures, chipmunks and cranes.”
Viggo: "We haven’t seen any live dragonflies, hummingbirds, monarchs or herons this week, though.”
Arlo: "We have seen A LOT of foxes.”
Viggo: "People also reported muskrat, beaver, albino squirrel and deer sightings.”
Arlo: "The geese are still around a lot along with swans, woodpeckers, chickadees, juncos, cardinals, Blue Jays and turkeys.”
Viggo: "People are still finding worms...”
Arlo: "...and we continue to have A LOT of box elder bugs.”
Viggo: "The wooly bears are also out.”
Arlo: "This has been Prairie Creek Community School...”
Viggo: "...one more step along the Phenology journey.”
Generally, our Northfield students are the last to see hummingbirds, so if they’ve departed Northfield, that’ll likely the last we’ll hear of the hummingbirds until spring! Before long, the much larger Turkey Vultures will follow them.
Swans, on the other hand, will hang out wherever there’s open water and enough food throughout the winter.
Fort River Elementary School in Amherst, Massachusetts
Alex: “Red, orange, yellow and green! We have all of these colors in our garden here at Fort River Elementary School. We are starting to put on our jackets, and we think that by the end of this last week, our trees may have reached peak color. Over the weekend, the heavy rain made a lot of the leaves come off the trees.”
Hank: “On Oct. 17, the sunrise was at 7:08 a.m. and the sunset was 6:00 p.m. giving us a day length of 11 hours and 11 seconds. The high that day was 61 degrees and the low was 41 degrees. We have had no frost yet.”
Logan: “The red maple in the playground turned a lot more red. It was 35% percent on Oct. 17 and closer to 50% on Oct. 20. Overall, there's a lot more color around the school. The other red maples are very red and there are a lot of red leaves scattered around the school yard. The hybrid maples are 90% red, 5% green, and 5% yellow. 40% of the leaves on the black maple are still on the tree and 60% are not.”
Eden: “We have been observing two black walnut trees. One had 5% of the leaves on the ground and the other had more than 50% of its leaves on the ground. Many walnuts are also on the ground. One of the main oak trees is still almost all green. Overall, the percentages of the trees in the yard on Oct. 17 were probably 35% green leaves, 40% red, 20% yellow and 5% orange.”
Bobby: “There was a katydid on a sunflower. A katydid is an insect that is related to a grasshopper. We saw some wooly bears in the garden as well as a ladybug and a golden amber snail. Quinn saw what we think is a Virginia ctenucha moth on a flower.”
Casey: “We also saw a bumble bee pollinating the flowers. Normally there would be more bees flying around the garden, but because it is getting colder, we are seeing less of them. We saw a small black and red spider and what we think is a cabbage looper moth.”
Jonah: “We found a burning bush in the back of the school yard near the back path. We learned that it is invasive and that you can’t buy or sell it in Massachusetts anymore. We also noticed that the branches on the silky dogwood are starting to sag and 25% of the leaves have changed to brown and some twigs are starting to fall.”
Walker: “We observed some fall phlox near our garden. The flowers have white around the middle and the color bleeds into the pink. We saw low smartweed near the walkway. The flowers were a beautiful pink. There is a lot of dead ironwood giving off seeds in the garden.”
Rocco: “We found maple spindle on a maple tree and found out that it was from a species of mite. We don’t see a lot of birds on the birdfeeder that we put up, but we can tell that the birds eat from the birdfeeder because it is always close to empty when we come. We can also see their droppings around the birdfeeder.”
Natalia: “Lastly, we found some wild cucumbers along our garden. They are prickly and round. 10% are still green and 90% are brown with seeds that look a lot like sunflower seeds. We found them in a damp and shady place. They can be toxic and cause a burning reaction in some people so don’t let the name fool you and make sure not to eat them!”
Aya: “And that’s a wrap from the Western Mass Phenology Class!”
John thanks the students and notes that Amherst, Massachusetts is a bit south of the Iowa border in terms of latitude. With that in mind, it makes sense that the red maples are at peak color there, while they’re already getting bare in Grand Rapids! He was also impressed by how quickly the leaves are turning there, and the students’ acuity in finding and recognizing the Virginia ctenucha moth.
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).