Phenology Talkbacks: Snow settles in
The snow might be settling in for winter, but our student phenologists aren't slowing down! We have nine reports this week.
Bonus feature: Celebrating 40 years of phenology!
Heidi begins the show by thanking John for his many years of inspiring and educating students. John, being a diplomat, responds, “I thought you guys would have figured it out 30 years ago and said, ‘Thanks, see ya!’”
We’re not done with you yet, John! We’re celebrating his fruitful forty years of phenology throughout our Membership Drive Nov. 13-19, culminating with a celebration on Saturday, Nov. 19 at Klockow Brewing. The shindig starts at 6 p.m. and runs through 8 p.m. – please come join us and make the humble old dude desperately uncomfortable with all the attention!
(If you have any remarks, appreciative messages, or heckling comments that you’d like to share with John on this occasion, please send them my way: my email is email@example.com.)
Lake of the Woods School in Baudette
“This is Lynk with the phenology report from Baudette for Oct. 19-27.
“On Sunday, Aurora reported seeing a black bear feeding in a sunflower field.
“Wyatt has noticed that almost all of the agriculture fields in our area have been harvested and cultivated.
“The tamarack trees are a bright yellow to orange. Some tamaracks have lost their needles.
“Many students have noticed the lack of ducks and geese in the area. Have they all flown south, or are they still north of Baudette?”
John replies, “Good question, Lynk, and many duck hunters share that befuddlement with you. Are they still up north, or have they come through already? I couldn’t begin to guess.” He points out that the strong south winds may have made some ducks reschedule their migratory activity. I know I’d rather rest in a lake than fight the wind and snow!
Bemidji Middle School
“Hi, this is Dylan reporting from the Science Nature Adventure Program at Bemidji Middle School, better known as SNAP.
“Here are our observations for the week of Oct. 23. While working on our compass and orientation skills this week, some of the observations included various mushrooms, falling leaves, orange pine needles, and grass growing slower.
“It looks like it will be one of the last nice days before the cold sets in. The days are starting to get much shorter already.
“Other observations from our students this past week over the long MEA weekend included:
- More golden colored trees
- Smaller plants are dying
- Animals are preparing for hibernation
- And tons of ladybugs!
“Many of the students saw different sizes of deer, and one of the hunters in the group saw about 14 in a field at dusk.
“Another observation was students seeing deer ticks. It’s important to remember that they can still be found on our pets as late as October!
“Some of the other observations included: temperatures dropping, some trumpeters still sounding their horns, and beautiful Blue Jays.
“This concludes our report at this time.
“SNAP TO IT! GET INTO THE WILD AND BE OBSERVANT.”
Despite his industrious nature, John claims he heard “Snap to it!” quite a lot in his youth – mostly from his mom. The trees in John’s area are past their gold stage and the branches are getting more barren by the day, compared to the golden branches reported by the SNAP students.
The ladybugs are, indeed, prolific. John warns us that just when we think they’re gone for the winter, there will be a warm day and they’ll reappear! He’s also found an abundance of deer ticks crawling on him and his dog after their woodland wanderings, so he appreciates the students’ warning about the tiny little bloodsuckers.
St. Joseph’s School in Grand Rapids
“This is Mason, Declan, and Gabby reporting from St. Joseph’s school in Grand Rapids, Minnesota for the week of Oct. 29.
“Away from school, many of us made observations of wildlife.
“I was riding his dirt bike and saw a glimpse of what he thinks may be a lynx. Mr. John mentioned that spotting a lynx is VERY rare, however there was a black tip on its tail which indicates that it may be a lynx. Mason researched and found out that a small group of Canadian lynx have dropped down to Northern Minnesota. So who knows - maybe it was a rare sighting?
I will admit to having eaten the ant that I found on the ant hill, and it was sour.John Latimer, a septuagenarian man living his best life.
“Also, Enoch spotted a fisher while hunting during the youth opener. In our research, we found that fishers are predators of lynx. Maybe there is a connection between the two sightings.
“James found some buck scrapings in the Deer Lake area. Since the scrapings were on brush, the deer are still getting the velvet off of their antlers.
“Nik spotted wild turkeys near Road 67.
“At school, we saw three juncos. Juncos are ground feeders so they will probably fly away when it snows.
“We found another grasshopper this week. The grasshopper was on a sad, little pine that was inflicted with a mystery illness. We are certain that it is a plant-life disease and not the grasshopper causing the illness.
“We came across a giant ant hill. Mr. John Latimer picked up a poor, little ant that will never see the light of day again… Mr. John said it tasted sour.
“The beautiful red maple we observed last week has now dropped its leaves in only 7 seven days!
“The birch trees only have about 20% of their leaves and the big tooth aspens have about 10%.
“We found lots of puffball mushrooms. When we stepped on them it created a massive cloud of spores.
“We found a small mushroom that we thought was an inky cap. We brought it in and put it in a plastic bag. Two days later it started inking…. So we are convinced it is a baby inky cap.
“Until next time - Be kind, be happy, be outside!”
John responds, “If you’re outside, you should be happy – it's a great place to be!
Those big, mounded ant hill ants are very, very, very sour. So, if you’re in the neighborhood and you just want to taste one, why, you know, the tribe will certainly miss one of their members, but not too much and not for a long time.” (He’s a strange man, but we’re fond of him.)
John was also delighted to hear about James, the student who found – and recognized – the signs of deer scraping the velvet off their antlers near Deer Lake. The velvet becomes quite itchy, so the bucks use brush to scrape it off, leaving distinctive marks in the process. It can be hard to tell when the scrapings were made, however. This year’s scrapings can be distinguished from last year’s, but it’s harder to distinguish marks made this week from those made three weeks ago.
At this point in the season, the bucks have likely already polished up their antlers and are engaging in contests with other males.
Hill City School
“This is Cassidy and Benny with the phenology report from the Hill City School Phenology Trail located in Hill City School Forest. During the week of Oct. 23-27, 2023...
“On the phenology trail:
- The ash tree near the science room has 100% leaf loss.
- The high bush cranberry tree is at 95% leaf loss.
- The white bur oak has three leaves on it.
“In the Hill City School Forest and in the Hill City area we observed:
- Morrison Brook level is up a little from last week and we are still seeing some minnows.
- 7th graders are seeing deer, eagles, greenhead ducks, turkeys, grouse, and a fox squirrel.
- Cassidy saw a male kestrel falcon, there is a pair living near her home.
- Asian Lady Beetles still around
- Still some some geese around
“It’s a bird, it’s a bee, it’s phenology!”*
John replies, “Indeed: It’s a bird, it’s a bee, it’s... an Asian lady beetle, it’s lots of things! And you can see all of them if you get outside.”
John’s glad the students are keeping a watchful eye on the ash tree, as it’s an interesting outlier of its species. While most of the ash trees lost their leaves around Oct. 1, this odd individual held its leaves well into October.
John suspects the minnows living in Morrison Brook will stay there as long as there is enough moving water to keep it from freezing. Despite the cold, most of the little fish will find enough food to make it through the long winter.
The American Kestrel is always a delightful bird to see – they are beautiful, small birds of prey that eat a lot of insects. Since insects are scarce this time of year, they head south for winter. The individual spotted by the students is likely migrating through.
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 Oct. 21, 2023. My name is Eloise, and I am your phenologist for this week!
“Saturday, Oct 14, was the first quarter moon and Saturday Oct. 28 is a full moon.
“Zander B. noticed that about 95% of the trees near the entrance to the school forest do not have their leaves anymore. The forest along the side field still has a lot of leaves. On the side of shelter 1, Kemella found witches butter. It is a type of fungus. She found it on Monday, Oct. 23: it looks like an orangey-yellow brain.
“On Saturday, Oct. 21, Mrs. Rolfe saw over a hundred crows gathered together alongside the freeway in the tall grass, between the Berquist road and Ryan Road. It was rather shocking to see so many crows gathered together in one area! On the same day, Penny saw over five, very large murders of crows fly over her house! On Monday, Oct. 23, Ms. Urban saw a mixed flock of Snow Buntings and Horned Larks by Brighton Beach. On Thursday, Oct. 26, Mrs. Cassidy’s class of Kindergarteners saw a Pileated Woodpecker flying through the school forest. Also on Thursday, Oct. 26, Jon saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk along the Berquist road as he was coming to school. A Blue Jay was spotted on the school nature trail on the same day.
“Penny has noticed more squirrels in her yard preparing for the winter.
“Zander B’s dad got bit by a mosquito on Oct. 22, which is surprising for this time of year! The large amount of Asian beetles in our area are starting to die down due to colder temperatures.
“This concludes the phenology report. Have a great week and be observant!”
John thanks Eloise for the great report – he also loves finding witch’s butter in the wild! This small yellow fungus is found on rotten logs.
The crows are indeed gathering in large flocks, John concurs. He adds that these flocks are generally headed south, although with less speed and determination than they did a few decades ago. John remembers a time when there were a few weeks in December and January where the crows all but disappeared; now, however, he can hear at least a few throughout the year.
Pike Lake Elementary School near Duluth
“Good morning, my name is Ivy (and my name is Logan) and this is our report for the week of Oct. 22, 2023 from Pike Lake Elementary School.”
“This past Friday my classmates and I observed that it was precipitating something other than rain. It sort of looked and felt like snow! Although it didn’t stick to the ground that time, we are sure the stuff is soon here to stay.
“A follow up – today, Monday Oct. 30, there is snow on the ground.
“To my surprise, there had been a Northern Cardinal eating birdseed on my back deck for two days in a row. I was excited to see the bright color this late in the year! I wonder how long he will stay with us?
“Leighton has been watching a nest outside her classroom window. It doesn’t appear to have anything visiting it and she is wondering if the critters who were using it have left the area for the season.
“Katie has been seeing a small white-tailed buck at her house that has a noticeable limp. She is wondering if it got in a fight with another buck and possibly broke its leg.
“Although we have a yard of fresh white snow, Emmit was commenting earlier in the week how he was surprised how green the grass looked for October.
“And Addison was observing that the grass was dewy in the morning. It was either dew or a light rain shower overnight.
“Finally, on Wednesday, Colton observed a Ruffed Grouse in his crabapple tree. He believes that they are there because they want to fatten up before winter settles in.
“This concludes our report from the outer reaches of the Proctor School District. Be aware. Things are happening out there.”
John’s not quite sure what happened to the injured buck. While injuries can occur in fights, the bucks typically call off the hostilities before it gets to that point: it’s hard enough to survive without adding injury to insult!
The Ruffed Grouse are eating up crabapples, rose hips, and other fruits as fast as they can find them. They’re fun to watch if you get the chance!
Long Lake Conservation Center near Palisade
The homeschool students that made a trip to Long Lake Conservation Center from Oct. 23-25 listed their favorite things from their visit:
- A Pileated Woodpecker*.
- The Trumpeter Swan.
- Spending time with my friends here and the friends I met.
- A chickadee.
- A squirrel on a bird cage.
- The snakes.
- The stars.
- All the wildlife.
- The snakes in the herpetology class.
- The trees that were beaten up by the beavers.
- Seeing a Pileated Woodpecker or making a wilderness meal.
- The red squirrel.
- The beaver dam or the sky.
- Seeing people get connected.
- The frogs.
- Watching the earthworm poop.
John responds, “You’re going to have a hard time watching the earthworms defecate today: they’re going to be doing it underground, I suspect.”
He was surprised to hear that the students spotted snakes. He was unsure if the snakes in question were captive educational animals or wild snakes that had emerged from their hibernacula for a brief sojourn in the open air. If they were wild snakes, they’ve likely disappeared underground for the season now.
Similarly, John expects Long Lake’s resident chipmunks and frogs to make themselves scarce going forward. Like the leaves on the trees, they’ll be heading downward to rest for the winter. Unlike the leaves, they will pop back up again in the spring!
This report is brought to you by Isabella, George, Allan, Isaac and the students from Lincoln Elementary School in Hibbing who visited Long Lake on Oct. 25-27:
“During our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center on Oct. 25-27, the high temperature was 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the low was 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The weather was overcast, misty and blustery. We had our first snowflakes of the season.
“The “falling leaves” full moon is behind those clouds; we will have to look for it this weekend. When we jumped up and down in the bog, LOTS of golden needles fell from the tamarack trees. We also noticed many mushrooms growing in the bog. Lots of slugs were discovered in the wet leaves on the forest floor. Slugs are important for chewing up dead leaves and recycling the nutrients.
“A small group of mergansers were on the lake every day. Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers were seen at the feeders along with nuthatches and chickadees. A few Blue Jays are still around.
“The beavers were spotted while we were out canoeing. Most of the leaves have fallen but the oaks are hanging on. Chipmunks and squirrels are very active.
“Happy November everyone! Remember to unplug, get outside, and LIVE CONNECTED!”
While the students saw the first snowflakes of the season, there are now more than enough snowflakes to go around! As the show aired, there was about an inch and a half of snow accumulated outside the station where John and Heidi were broadcasting.
John noted that while the mergansers might head South, the Blue Jays, chickadees, and nuthatches will be our companions throughout the winter. Red squirrels, grey squirrels, and flying squirrels – all of which are tree squirrels - will also remain active throughout the winter. Meanwhile the ground squirrels will be tucked in underground dens throughout the winter. (Ground squirrels include chipmunks, 13-lined ground squirrels, Franklin’s squirrels, and more.)
While the beavers will still be there, they’ll be tucked out of sight soon as they ride out the long winter under the lake ice.
Prairie Creek Community School in Northfield
“Hi, this is Andrew and Silas, and we’re from Prairie Creek Community School way down south in Northfield, Minnesota.
“We have some boo-tiful phenology for you this week.”
“I see what you did there!”
“Michelle actually saw a bat this week. There were other mammal sightings including rabbits, some squirrels, a possible chipmunk, dead raccoons and live raccoons*, a beaver, and some deer.
“On a field trip to the lock and dam number one, we saw a Peregrine Falcon. It was not too happy to have two eagles in its territory. Kurt, the lockmaster, said that the falcons usually get along with the eagles, but maybe these eagles were migrating.
“We also saw some worms, which weren’t as exciting as the falcon.
“We saw a heron along the Minnesota River on the way up to the cities, and we saw a flock of pelicans and some very large carp.
“We’re still seeing vultures, but not as many. We’re also seeing fewer box elder bugs – thank goodness for that.
“The leaves have fallen off the trees so quickly. The gingko we watch lost all of its leaves in a single day. Our magnolia tree leaves turned yellow, but they are still on the tree.
“We had our first snowflake on Saturday, and the first hard freeze the same day.
“This has been Prairie Creek Community School. One more spooky step along the phenology journey: Oooooo!”
John is, as always, impressed by the students’ observational acumen: spotting pelicans, Turkey Vultures, falcons, worms, and eagles requires a lot of eyes that actually see what they’re looking at, or actually look at what they see. “Those kids are really good observers and having a lot of fun. Glad to have them along and bringing us sort of the last vestiges of fall,” he said.
*Our transcription software tends to struggle with phenology reports. This week’s crop of notable transcription errors includes:
- “A polluted good packet” (Pileated Woodpecker)
- “Murder dancers” (Mergansers)
- "Impossible chipmunk dead wreck (A possible chipmunk and a dead raccoon)
- “It’s a bird. It’s a bee. It’s an analogy.” (It’s a bird, it’s a bee, it’s phenology)
- “I've pointed out the ash tree in the past, and the students have been watching it very fearfully.” (very carefully).
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).