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Phenology Talkbacks: Grouse and geese

Tamarack trees are silhouetted by the sunrise in Aitkin County. The trees are almost entirely bare-branched.
Lorie Shaull
Tamarack trees are silhouetted by the sunrise in Aitkin County.

After an unseasonably warm week last week, things are beginning to cool down! We heard from ten student groups this week.

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 School phenology report - Nov. 21, 2023

“This is Collin with the phenology report from Baudette for Nov. 11-17.

“On Saturday a deer hunter in our class reported seeing a weasel under their deer stand sporting an all-white fur coat.

“Students are still seeing flocks of geese overhead during recess.

“Finally, Evanna saw some type of winter moth fluttering around during the 35-degree temperatures on Sunday.

“What I really like about phenology is following the changes in weather, thank you John!”

This is the third report of white weasels staff phenologist John Latimer’s received this year! He’s also seen the geese heading south and a few moths: the two most common moths that are seen this time of year are the Bruce spanworm and the linden looper.

Apple Blossom in Bemidji

Apple Blossom phenology report - Nov. 21, 2023

A basswood twig shows its bright red buds in Tettegouche State Park.
iNaturalist user jonnytoste
A basswood twig shows its bright red buds in Tettegouche State Park.

“Good morning. My name is Clara and I am reporting from Apple Blossom.

“Mornings have been frosty, but the daytime temperatures have been warmer than average. All the snow melted.

“We’ve seen turkeys, pigeons, Blue Jays, juncos, chickadees, crows, and on the lake, we’ve seen swans, ducks, and geese.

“Box elder bugs and Asian beetles have been coming out of the woodwork. The basswood trees are getting red buds on it and we are wondering if this is normal for fall.

“See you next week!”

John confirms that basswood buds are indeed red: it’s one of the diagnostic signs that he looks for at this time of year to identify the trees!

West Rapids Elementary in Grand Rapids

West Rapids Elementary phenology report - Nov. 21, 2023

A wasp nest dangles high in a bare-branched maple tree.
Flickr user S Demmer
A wasp nest dangles high in a bare-branched maple tree.

“Hello, my name is Tristan and this is our phenology report for Mr. Cody’s fourth-grade class at West Elementary School.

“It was nice and sunny. We saw a bald eagle and the dandelion were in bloom.

“We saw a paper wasp nest that was like 90 feet in the air.

“We explored a cedar swamp with a lot of moss. Also, Mr. Latimer teached us about ironwood. Get outside!”

John agrees that the dandelions were blooming in Grand Rapids last week. The blooms themselves were tucked into the grass, with very short stems: the fluffy seedheads, however, were on 6-inch-tall spikes. “So, not only were they blooming, but they were able to get themselves up and seeded as well,” John said.

He was as surprised as the students to see the wasp’s nest so high in the tree. John had never seen a paper wasp nest that high off the ground before.

Newstok cabin near Grand Rapids

Newstok phenology report - Nov. 21, 2023

A fledgling Ruby-throated Hummingbird sits at a hummingbird feeder near Grand Rapids.
Sarah Newstok via the KAXE-KBXE Season Watch Facebook group
A fledgling Ruby-throated Hummingbird sits at the Newstok family's hummingbird feeder near Grand Rapids.

“Hi, John Latimer. This is Ruth, Axel, and Pearl Newstok.

“You make our summers so much fun year after year!

“Thank you for teaching us about the way our natural world works. Congratulations on 40 years of phenology.”

“We love you! Bye!”

John responded, “Those are a great bunch of kids. Man, on man – they're so excited to be up here from Memphis every summer. They spend their summer crashing around the countryside up here. They join me for a swim in the pit every once in a while. It’s just wonderful.”

Heidi added, “I got to kayak and sauna with them last summer and have a meal with them, it was very fun.”

North Shore Community School near Duluth

North Shore Community School phenology report - Nov. 21, 2023

An adorable deer mouse hides behind a spruce twig in Silver Bay.
iNaturalist user donato517
A deer mouse hides behind a spruce twig in Silver Bay.

“Hello from North Shore Community School on the North Shore of Lake Superior. This is the phenology report for the week of Nov. 11, 2023. My name is Jude, and I am your phenologist for this week!

“On Saturday Nov. 11, there was 9 hours and 44 minutes of daylight. This was 18 minutes less than the previous Saturday. On Sunday, Nov. 12, the northern lights were out at Ruby's house! On Tuesday, Nov. 14, while Mrs. Rolfe’s class was out in the school forest working at their “sit spots,” the wind was blowing so hard that several branches from the tops of trees were crashing down around them!

“On Tuesday, there was a high of 61 F in Duluth, and on Wednesday, Nov. 15, it hit a high of 51 F, which was unusually warm for this time of the year. Students did not need their winter gear outside at recess! On Thursday, it was 60 F at school with gusty winds when Ms. Jackson’s class was outside on the school nature trail in the afternoon. Due to the high winds that day, Ms. Jackson came home to find her gas grill toppled over on its side!

“Claire still has one sumac tree that still has red leaves at her house.

“On Saturday Nov. 11, Claire saw a mouse on her deck as her family was refilling their hot tub. On Sunday, Nov. 12, Ms. Jackson was about to turn on her grill and found a mouse nest inside of it! There were 3 mice all snuggled up in there hoping to have a nice place to stay warm throughout the winter! Henry’s chinchilla is noticing the change of the season as well. He is sleeping more now that winter is approaching. Claire has a resident red squirrel that lives on her porch and it is still gathering nuts for the winter.

The last live Asian beetle that was in Claire's house that she noticed was on Monday, Nov. 13. Also on that day, Marco saw a mosquito in his entryway. He has not seen a mosquito for at least 2 weeks.

“Janie has noticed that Island Lake, where she lives, the water level has been receding, and the Mallard Ducks there have not yet migrated. Hopefully, they will migrate before the temperature consistently stays below freezing.”

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

John was impressed with their list of sightings, and agrees about the unseasonably warm temperatures: it reached the upper 50s in Grand Rapids last week. The warm weather brought out Asian beetles and a few mosquitoes in Grand Rapids as well.

John reassured the students that the Mallards on Island Lake know what they’re doing and will head south when the time comes.

Long Lake Conservation Center near Palisade

Long Lake Conservation Center phenology report - Nov. 21, 2023

Alex, Zach, and Monica reported from St. Joseph’s School in Rosemount’s trip to Long Lake Conservation Center:

“During our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center on Nov. 15-17, the weather was typical of mid-September. The high temperature was an unseasonably warm 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the low was 20.

“Not only was it warm, but the skies were clear, allowing for some amazing stargazing. Our group saw Jupiter and its moons in the east, the first sighting of the winter constellation Orion on the horizon at 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 15 and we saw a loooooooong shooting star. We learned that they are small meteorites entering the earth’s atmosphere.

“It was really interesting to think that the light we are looking at in the night sky is like looking into the past, and in some cases the VERY distant past.

“Terrestrial sightings included lots of Blue Jays and gray squirrels at the feeder, but the juncos that have been hanging around have moved on. We also saw Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and a Bald Eagle.

“The beavers remain very active, chewing through many trees, and chipmunks are still out and busy, stuffing their little cheeks with food to take back to their dens.

“A small group of mergansers and Buffleheads are still hanging around Long Lake. Naturalist Katie saw Dill Prickles near the compost pile.

“We had great weather for nature exploring, and want to remind everyone to Unplug, Get outside, and LIVE CONNECTED!”

John also noticed the absence of Dark-eyed Juncos – they seemed to travel through Northern Minnesota quite quickly this year, instead of lingering for a few weeks. Similarly, the Snow Buntings that were so abundant a few weeks ago departed John’s neighborhood for other locations.

While the chipmunks at Long Lake are still active, John hasn’t seen one in Grand Rapids for over a month.

Eagle View Elementary School phenology report - Nov. 21, 2023

An American beaver stares at the camera while floating in water.
Photo by iNaturalist user krisskinou
An American beaver stares at the camera while floating in water.

Eagle View Elementary in Pequot Lakes

“Today is Monday, Nov. 20, and this is the phenology report from Eagle View Elementary School in Pequot Lakes.

“Our students have been enjoying the warm weather. The temperature has been in the 30s overnight and up to 50 during the day! We did have a couple of very windy days last week.

“Because of the warm weather, the two swans are still swimming around on Rice Lake. They must be finding enough to eat, and we think they will stay until the lake freezes. Mrs. Trottier saw two beavers in the lake last night.

“Our birdfeeders have been very busy. We have had a lot of chickadees and juncos, Blue Jays and Downy Woodpeckers. We spotted two Bald Eagles circling overhead. We’ve also been on the lookout for Wild Turkeys, but haven’t seen any lately.

“We have not seen many mammals lately, just one gray squirrel. We did find a lot of deer footprints in the nature center.

“This is Ivory and Ember. Happy Thanksgiving!”

John isn’t too surprised to hear that the Trumpeter Swans are still lingering on Rice Lake. They tend to stay wherever there’s enough food and open water. He was interested to hear that there are still Dark-eyed Juncos in Pequot Lakes: they’ve departed from Grand Rapids and Palisade.

Roots and Wings Forest School in New York Mills

Roots and Wings Forest School phenology report - Nov. 21, 2023

A Ruffed Grouse jumps for crabapples in winter. It is photographed in midair, coming down from its jump with a berry in its beak and one leg extended beneath it.
iNaturalist user ayatana_biophilium
A Ruffed Grouse jumps for crabapples in winter.

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

“There’s no snow and we have warmer temps.

“We saw a bunny crossing Leona’s field and it was going really fast.

“Leona’s horses, Moon and Snoopy, are getting thicker coats like wolves do in winter.

“We found a dead grouse.

“While I was deer hunting, I saw one grouse – actually, two grouse – and I heard a grouse mating call and I saw a squirrel. <Grouse mating call>

“I found some moss. It was bright green moss.

“Most of the tamaracks have lost most of their needles but not all of them.

“Thanks for listening! Stay wild!”

John has also spotted a few cottontail rabbits in Grand Rapids. Unlike snowshoe hares, cottontail rabbits don’t turn white in winter. Like most mammals (including Leona’s horses Snoopy and Moon), they’re getting a nice winter coat for winter.

Oak Grove Elementary School in Bloomington

Oak Grove Elementary School phenology report - Nov. 21, 2023

A tamarack tree at Oak Grove Elementary School sustained damage from a deer rubbing its antlers on the trunk.
Charlie Mitchell
A tamarack tree at Oak Grove Elementary School sustained damage from a deer rubbing its antlers on the trunk.

“Hi, this is Lindsey, Callan, Carly, and Edgar reporting from Oak Grove Elementary school in Bloomington, Minnesota.

“This week’s weather has been windy and warm, with a high of 62 today. We did not have any rain this week.

“We noticed a Bald Eagle circling around the school and a deer has been rubbing on our tamarack tree.

“We observed our oak tree’s leaves are turning yellow and we found a large growth of mushrooms in our school forest.

“We wondered why those mushrooms grew all of a sudden?

“That’s all for today, stay tuned for the next OGE Phenology Club nature episode. Bye!”

John expects that the warm weather spell is over for the year. He was interested that the oaks were still turning color, saying “I suspect that they are probably really, really, really burnished copper-colored right now and probably working their way toward being full color.”

Fort River Elementary School in Amherst, Massachusetts

Fort River School phenology report - Nov. 21, 2023

A woolly bear caterpillar climbs over a piece of grass in Ham Lake. These caterpillars become Isabella tiger moths. It is very furry, with many bristles on its segments. It is black at both ends and orange in the middle.
iNaturalist user safechrislaurie
A woolly bear caterpillar climbs over a piece of grass in Ham Lake. These caterpillars become Isabella tiger moths.

“Happy Thanksgiving to all and a very happy 40 years of phenology on the radio to John! Thank you for letting us be part of this experience!

“Here is our phenology report for the week of Nov. 13.

“Our lowest temperature dropped 10 degrees in the last week, and it’s been especially cold at night. The days were also cold at the beginning of the week.

“On Tuesday, Nov. 14, we even got a little bit of snow. But then, later on in the week, on Thursday and Friday we had a high of 63 degrees.

“Here is some information on the trees and shrubs we have been observing. 2% of the leaves are still left on the silky dogwood. 35% of the leaves on the apple tree are still there. The oak trees still have many dark red leaves.

“The walnut tree that Casey and Jiahao have been observing now has no walnuts or leaves. Most of the walnut trees have no leaves or walnuts, except for one tree that still has about 340.

“We are not sure why that tree still has so many walnuts left. Only the evergreens, apple tree, and oaks still have leaves.

“We don’t see any more wildflowers, but we have lots of crunchy leaves on the ground. We also noticed that some of the branches of the apple tree seem to be facing downward.

“As far as animals go, the birds seem to be eating more of the birdseed from the feeder.

“We saw a wooly bear and worm but neither one was moving around.

“We have also seen (and heard!) many Canada Geese flying in formation and think that they must be migrating south.

“...and that’s a wrap from the western Mass. phenology class!”

As always, John’s interested to compare what’s going on in Massachusetts to events here in Minnesota. Although Amherst is far east and south of Grand Rapids, the forest types are relatively similar. Just as they have here, temperatures are falling there: the trees are pretty bare in both places, and no wildflowers are blooming.

One difference is in the walnut trees. While the students at Amherst have a number of walnut trees to observe, they are more scarce in Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids is on the northern edge of the range for walnut trees: John guesses that there are only about two dozen in the whole town!

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?).