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Phenology Talkbacks: Evening Grosbeaks return to Minnesota

An Evening Grosbeak shows off its beautiful colors in Meadowlands.
Contributed
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Lorie Shaull
An Evening Grosbeak shows off its beautiful colors in Meadowlands.

Winter bird residents are returning: Dark-eyed Juncos have been here for a few weeks, but Evening Grosbeaks made their first foray into our northern border this week. Meanwhile, in Amherst, Massachusetts, Turkey Vultures are still lazily soaring overhead. Quite a season of changes! Luckily, we have a crew of sharp-eyed student phenologists watching out for us – they've brought us five reports this week.

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

Lake of the Woods School in Baudette

Lake of the Woods School phenology report - Nov. 7, 2023

“This is Evanna with the phenology report from Baudette for Oct. 27- Nov. 1.

“On Monday, Jeff Birchem reported seeing the first Evening Grosbeaks of the season. He also spotted a Rough-Legged Hawk.

“Elijah noticed many flocks of small gray and white sparrows around. We suspect they are Snow Buntings.

“Finally, many students are seeing larger murders of crows in the area along roadsides and in fields.”

The news of Evening Grosbeaks and Rough-legged Hawks delighted staff phenologist John Latimer, who looks forward to their arrival every year. There was a long stretch of years when the Evening Grosbeaks were quite rare, but he’s happy to see that their population seems to have recovered.

Rough-legged Hawks are another winter resident of Minnesota: look for them on perches near open country, as they come from unforested areas. They’re often seen on power poles.

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. 28, 2023. My name is Henry, and I am your phenologist for this week!

“On Saturday, Oct. 28, there was 10 hours and 21 minutes of daylight. The sun rose at 7:46 a.m. and set at 6:07 p.m. There was also a full moon that night, known as the Falling Leaves Moon, according to the Ojibwe. A thin layer of frost layered the school grounds the morning of Oct. 30. Also on this day, the first light snow dusting of the season happened in Two Harbors. Ms. Jackson’s class noticed about 0.25-inch thickness of ice in places along the bank of Schmidt Creek at school as well. On the night of Oct. 30 by 9:00 p.m., there was at least an inch of snow on the ground.

North Shore Community School phenology report - Nov. 7, 2023

A white-tailed deer is lit by the rising sun in Minneapolis.
Contributed
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iNaturalist user ariellopezpics
A white-tailed deer is lit by the rising sun in Minneapolis.

“Due to the high winds over the weekend of Oct. 28, Ms. Jackson’s class noticed that all of the leaves on the trees in our school forest had fallen as of Monday, Oct. 30. The school forest had a dusting of snow on the ground in spots, too. It was crunchy and icy. On Thursday, Nov. 2, Ms. Urban noticed green plants on the ground in the school forest and saw they were bunchberry plants.

“On Oct. 27, Ms. Pierson-Evans watched a huge 8-point buck cross the road and jump a 6-foot-high fence. I saw a deer eating a smashed pumpkin in the late morning on Oct. 29. It ate most of the inside and left the shell. On the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 31, Ms. Urban saw many animal tracks in the fresh snow, including deer, red squirrel, snowshoe hare, and various small mammals. On the same day, Ms. Gallagher’s class of first graders saw a small hole on the side of the nature trail with small tracks coming in and out. Ms. Urban thinks the animal inside might be a mouse, shrew or vole.

“On Tuesday, Oct. 31, Ms. Rademacher’s class of third graders noticed a Ruffed Grouse by the entrance of the school forest. Ms. Johnson’s preschoolers noticed some grouse tracks later that morning. On Nov. 1, Ms. Pierson-Evans noticed a large flock of birds, possibly Snow Buntings, in the field across from the main entrance of the school.

“Ms. Pierson- Evans had a mosquito in her office, even with all of the snow on the ground on Oct. 31. On Thursday morning, Nov. 2, Ms. Lounsberry’s class saw two moths fluttering in the leaves.

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

Like the students, the first thing John did with a fresh snowfall was get out to look for tracks! He found many of the same species as the students.

John suspects that the small creature that skittered out of and back under the blanket of snow was a vole. Voles live in subnivean (under the snow) tunnels during the winter; it’s safer from predators down there!

Long Lake Conservation Center near Palisade

Lake of the Woods School phenology report - Nov. 7, 2023

A leatherleaf plant turns red as the autumn advances to winter.  It has many upward-pointing leaves with slightly serrated edges. The images is a close-up with a background of blurry shrubs.
Contributed
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Flickr user Joshua Mayer
A leatherleaf plant turns red as the autumn advances to winter.

“During our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center on Nov. 1-2, the high temperature was 38 degrees Fahrenheit, and the low was a chilly 19, but the sun was out and made exploring comfortable.

“Ice has started to form on parts of the lake. Almost all of the leaves have now fallen. In Long Lake, we spotted four beavers swimming in the lake at night, otters, and a few Common Mergansers. The mergansers are either adult females or juveniles. We suspect that they are juveniles waiting until the last minute to begin their migration south.

“In the woods there was an unconfirmed sighting of a skunk, and the chipmunks are still out and very active. Our group found some milkweed with closed pods. We thought this was weird because most of the milkweed went to seed a few weeks ago.

“In the bog, the leatherleaf has turned red, and the tamaracks have dropped most of their needles. One of the highlights was watching a spider crawl from under the snow into a pitcher plant. The water in the plant was frozen, so it might have escaped with its life.

“At the feeders, we observed the normal mix of winter birds, including chickadees, nuthatches, Blue Jays and woodpeckers. There are still a few juncos hanging around.

“There was enough snow on the ground that we were able to see some tracks. We spotted lots of deer and what naturalist Julia thinks were coyote tracks.

“It’s a great time to explore nature, and we wanted to remind everyone to unplug, get outside, and LIVE CONNECTED!”

John enjoyed watching the ice melt and reform during these (relatively) warm autumn days followed by sub-freezing nights.

While the chipmunks at Long Lake are still active, John hasn't seen one near Grand Rapids in at least 3 weeks!

Roots and Wings Forest School in New York Mills

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

Roots and Wings Forest School phenology report - Nov. 7, 2023

A stand of tamarack trees turns fully gold at the end of autumn in Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge.
Contributed
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USFWS Midwest Region via Flickr
Tamarack trees turns fully gold at the end of autumn in Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge.

“Last week, I found a nest and I think it was a hummingbird nest. It had Snoopy’s hair. (Snoopy is a horse.)

“Then, today on our nature walk, when we just came back from the bog, I saw a rabbit like 2 feet away from us.

“This is gonna be my snow report for this week. The snow is 3-4 inches, and the snow is great for snowballs. We got the snow on Monday night.

“I saw a doe and a buck was chasing it around in circles.

“I saw a nest made out of sticks and pinecones. It was 2 feet across and 1 foot down.

“The leaf report is 100% finally, and the tamaracks are changing their needles to golden colors and dropping them. Most of the snow is packed down and some of it you can’t see.

“Thanks for listening! Stay wild!”

John responds, “When they tell you to stay wild, follow their example.” He also noted that a hummingbird’s nest is so small you could cover the top with a quarter!

John and the students have seen many similar patterns in Grand Rapids and New York Mills, such as courting does and bucks, rabbits, bare branches, and turning tamaracks. The snowfall in Grand Rapids, however, was much less than the 3-4 inches reported in New York Mills!

Fort River Elementary School in Amherst, Massachusetts

Casey: “Hi and hello! We're back with another phenology report! But I gotta say, here in Amherst it has been a crazy two weeks. There have been many changes such as our first few frosts which have pretty much killed many of our flowers and smaller plants. The first frost greeted us on Halloween morning! We’ve even had ice freezing over puddles in our yards and on the street!”

Fort River Elementary School phenology report - Nov, 7, 2023

Walker: “Over the last two weeks, our trees have changed a lot and we have lots of leaves on the ground. Most of the trees have lost 90-100% of their leaves. However, the silky dogwood still has about 15% of its leaves.”

Casey: “One of the walnut trees has 3 walnuts, one has no walnuts, and another has no leaves but surprisingly has over 100 walnuts.”

Alex: “The hybrid maples have lost 99% of their leaves. Now that the leaves are gone, we are noticing the light bark of some of the trees. The oak tree is one of the last trees standing with lots of leaves that are still turning red.”

Rocco: “And now a little bit about animal wildlife... We saw one bee, but overall, most of the insects were nowhere to be found. Now that the leaves are gone, we can see many squirrel’s nests. We are curious if the squirrels have these nests all year?”

Ame: “We didn’t see many songbirds but we did see a Red-tailed Hawk and a Turkey Vulture.”

Casey: “And that’s a wrap from the Western Mass phenology class!”

"You know, they’re not altogether too far behind us now,” replied John Latimer.


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 KAXE in February of 2022. Charlie creates the Season Watch Newsletter, produces the Phenology Talkbacks show, coordinates the Phenology in the Classroom program, and writes nature-related stories for KAXE's website. Essentailly, Charlie is John Latimer's faithful sidekick and makes sure all of KAXE's nature/phenology programs find a second life online and in podcast form.<br/><br/><br/>With a background in ecology and evolutionary biology, Charlie enjoys learning a little bit about everything, whether it's plants, mushrooms, or the star-nosed mole. (Fun fact: Moles store fat in their tails, so they don't outgrow their tunnels every time conditions are good.)