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Phenology Talkbacks: Student phenologists mind the wildlife pees, have Qs

Roots and Wings Forest School students gather proudly around a spot of yellow snow. They are bundled up and holding plastic shovels. From left to right: Hazel, George, Rose, Kip, Timmy
Leona Cichy
Roots and Wings Forest School students gather proudly around a spot of yellow snow. From left to right: Hazel, George, Rose, Kip, Timmy

Urine luck! This week, we have six wonderful reports from our student phenologists, highlighting sub-zero temperatures, many birds, and some mystery pee. (I’m pretty sure ‘mystery pee’ is only a highlight in phenology reports.)

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.

Roots and Wings Forest School in New York Mills

Roots and Wings Forest School phenology report: Jan. 23, 2024

Roots and Wings Forest School student Kip smiles while holding three fluffy cattail seed-heads. He is wearing a blue winter coat and a furry hat.
Leona Cichy
Roots and Wings Forest School student Kip smiles while holding three fluffy cattail seed-heads.

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

“I saw some deer tracks carved into the ice. I think it was slushy ice and then it froze in the night.

“There’s also lots of little snow speckles - looks like frost - on the ice and snow.

“We saw some pee when we were walking in the woods. <giggles> I think it was a deer because the tracks were there.

“We heard a Hairy Woodpecker. We identified it with the Merlin app.

“I was coming back to get a sled and I heard the Hairy Woodpecker. It was still hanging out.

“We found cattails by a creek and we opened them and then we could swirl them around and throw them and it would leave a trail of seeds. It’s kind of like a sparkler. If you want to, try it!

“It’s been really cold this week.

“The snow report today is probably 2.5 inches.

“Thanks for listening, stay wild!”

Eagle View Elementary in Pequot Lakes

Eagle View Elementary School phenology report: Jan. 23, 2024

Eagle View Elementary students explore the nature center on a cold day on Jan. 16, 2024.
Eagle View Elementary Nature Center Facebook page
Eagle View Elementary students explore the nature center on a cold day on Jan. 16, 2024.

“We are here to give the phenology report from Eagle View Elementary School for the week of Jan. 15-22.

“It was cold for most of the week, with low temperatures of 15 degrees below zero in the morning, and not getting much above 0 during the day.

“Our classes spent some time talking about how we should dress to stay warmer in cold weather. We also learned that it is much warmer when we were sheltered from the wind, so we spent our time close to trees!

“During the colder weather we have been filling the bird feeders every other day. There have been lots of chickadees, nuthatches, Blue Jays, Downy and Pileated woodpeckers at the feeders. We spotted two Bald Eagles circling around.

“When we step outside it looks like there aren’t many living things, until we start to look a little closer. We found a lot of deer tracks, vole tunnels through the snow, rabbit tracks and even little chickadee tracks in the snow. We are trying to figure out what they are finding to eat in the middle of winter!

“This is Carson and Nina reporting from Pequot Lakes. Think snow!!”

Long Lake Conservation Center near Palisade

Long Lake Conservation Center phenology report: Jan. 23, 2024

This report is brought to you by Mandi and the students from Trek North in Bemidji during their trip to Long Lake Conservation Center.

“During our trip to Long Lake Conservation Center on Jan. 17-19, the temperature was a season low of minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit and reached a high of 7 above zero. Brrrrrrrrr.

“One of the highlights was finding a deer shed on a snowshoe adventure.

“We also got up close and personal with a porcupine that may or may not have been Dill Prickles. We spotted him near the compost pile. He scurried away to safety in a culvert. The reason we suspect it might not have been Dill is that it appeared to be a bit smaller and was more skittish around people than normal. Whether it was Dill or not, it was still fun to see a porcupine. Later, we saw Dill in a tree by the dining hall.

“Our group found coyote and mouse or vole tracks in the snow. A group of Black-capped Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches were singing loudly together. It seemed like they were chatting. In the winter chickadees and nuthatches often travel together in search of food. The singing was definitely different from their normal songs.

“We also saw Pileated Woodpeckers flying and a Red-headed Woodpecker. A flock of Snow Buntings and a frost-covered deer were spotted in the area by Long Lake staff.

“A little cold air didn’t stop us from exploring nature, and we want to remind everyone to unplug, get outside and LIVE CONNECTED!”

Dave McMillan, the manager at Long Lake, added “The Dill Prickles saga continues. We are now pretty certain that Dill is living under the sugar shack. An interloping porcupine lives in the woods on the other side of campus, and may or may not be living in a culvert. TWO campus porcupines, perhaps. It's too early to tell, but if it's true, we'll name it Chewbarka. Trademark pending.”

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 Jan. 13, 2024. My name is Eloise, and I am your phenologist for this week!

“Teak and Jon were recording the temperature for the NSCS Morning Announcements this week and the temperatures each day at 8:00 a.m. was:

  • -11.4 on Tuesday 
  • -10.7 on Wednesday 
  • -14 on Thursday 
  • -9.8 on Friday.  
North Shore Community School phenology report: Jan. 23, 2024

“Due to the cold temperatures and wind, we had indoor recess on Tuesday. Last week we had 8 inches of snow on our school field and this week we measured only 6 inches of snow in the same area. We believe, even though we have had a few days of a dusting of snowfall, that this reduction of snow is caused by the weight of the snow compacting as it sits on the ground.

“In 1969, we had a record snowfall in the month of January, with a total of 46.8 inches! On Monday, Jan. 15, Eloise saw multiple funnels made of sea smoke which are also known as winter waterspouts. This natural phenomenon occurs when there is 50-degree contrast between the air and the water temperature. This difference in temperature causes steam to emit off the lake. Spinning air will cause the sea smoke to rotate forming a winter waterspout.

“On Thursday, Jan. 18, Sawyer and Nolan went out to the school creek to measure the temperature. There was a solid cover of ice, and Sawyer had to break through the ice to get to the water. The thermometer didn't read any temperature over 20 degrees Fahrenheit, although it should have been higher than 32 degrees. One possible reason for the lower-than-expected temperature reading could be because the water was mostly ice slush where the reading took place.

"Zander saw a few chickadees, a woodpecker and a raven on Thursday, January 18th. On Wednesday Jan. 17, Ms.Urban saw a Black-billed Magpie which are rare in these parts.

"Also on Thursday, Mrs. Rolfe’s class went out for a phenology walk and Addie C. found bobcat paw prints that went from around Shelter 2 and then back into the woods. Zander saw 2 sets of deer tracks, in different locations in the school forest, where we had not seen tracks before.

"On Jan. 17, we had the First Quarter Moon. The First Quarter Moon rises around midday and sets around midnight. It is also called a Half Moon because the Sun's rays illuminate about 50% of the Moon's surface.

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

Apple Blossom in Bemidji

Apple Blossom phenology report: Jan. 23, 2024

A Dark-eyed Junco shows off its white tail edges in flight. Its body is mostly grey, with a dark head cap and dark center of the tail.
iNaturalist user jenniferf4
A Dark-eyed Junco swoops through the air in Sherburne County.

“This is Apple Blossom reporting for Jan. 17.

“We measured the snow on Lake Irving and there is about 5.5 inches. There was one layer of about half an inch of crusty, crunchy snow. Under that was fluffy, grainy snow. The bottom of the layer next to the ice was slush.

“We identified the tracks of deer, rabbit, and a rodent of some sort.

“The temperature has been quite cold this week, reaching below zero. We’ve been seeing Blue Jays, chickadees, nuthatches, Dark-eyed Juncos, and the male goldfinch.

“Deer have been spotted near the road, along with gray squirrels.

“Thank you for listening, goodbye!”

Lake of the Woods School in Baudette

Lake of the Woods School phenology report: Jan. 23, 2024

A white-tailed deer in McGregor, Minnesota.
Lorie Shaull via Flickr
A white-tailed deer in McGregor, Minnesota.

“This is Evanna with the phenology report from Baudette for Jan. 13-18.

“On Saturday, Melody took advantage of the cool, crisp night sky to spy Orion’s Belt in the southwestern sky.

“On Sunday night, a deer in distress was reported crossing a local highway. Some students speculated that maybe it had been chased by a wolf.

“Finally, we had multiple reports of gray squirrels overrunning the bird feeders in town.”

That does it for this week! For more phenology, subscribe to our Season Watch Newsletter or visit the Season Watch Facebook page.

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).

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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?).