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Phenology Talkbacks: Sharp-tailed Grouse head to the dance floor early

Two Sharp-tailed Grouse lek
iNaturalist user fsadjadi
Two Sharp-tailed Grouse display at a lek in Clay County in April, 2023.

This week's five reports document the odd shifts brought about by a remarkably warm winter. According to our eyes and ears throughout the state, maple sap has already begun to flow and Sharp-tailed Grouse already dancing at their leks.

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.

Oak Grove Elementary School

Oak Grove Elementary phenology report: Feb. 6, 2024

 Layla, Marley and Norah, phenology reporters from Oak Grove Elementary, stand in front of their library window in February, 2024.
Brian Cline

“Hi, this is Layla, Marley, and Norah reporting from Oak Grove Elementary in Bloomington, Minnesota.

“This week’s weather has been cloudy and warm with a high of 42 degrees today. We’ve had little precipitation.

“With our animal observations, we noticed a nut half in the ground and think a squirrel was digging it up.

“With our plant observations, we noticed a lot of green ground plant things growing.

“We are wondering if the birds come out only when it’s sunny.

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

Long Lake Conservation Center near Palisade

This week’s report comes from Isabell, Bentley and the students from Cannon River STEM School’s trip to Long Lake Conversation Center.

Long Lake Conservation Center phenology report - Cannon River: Feb. 6, 2024

“The high temperature during our visit was 52 degrees Fahrenheit the low was 24 degrees. The last time it was 52 degrees here was on Nov. 19, 2023. The average high temperature at LLCC for this January was 22 degrees and the average low was 12 degrees. Historically the average is 19 degrees for a high and 4 degrees for a low.

“The bird sightings included; Blue Jays, White-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Pileated Woodpeckers, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers and ravens. We also saw a few mammals; gray squirrels and red squirrels are very active.

“We saw two different porcupines, Dill Prickles and Chewbarka. They were seen nearby each other and we are hoping they are a couple and will have some “Baby Dills”.

“We also got to watch four white-tailed deer cross the lake in the evening. One student in our group counted 13 deer in the woods.

“The ice and snow is melting, it was pretty slushy out on the lake. When we measured the ice it was 11” deep. There were patches of green grass and a white moth flying around in the bog.

“Because of the above freezing temperatures, the Long Lake staff tapped a few maple trees and discovered that the sap is flowing. The sugar content of the sap is 3 percent - normal for first flow. Typically, sap doesn’t flow until March or April.

“Bright colorful ribbons of clouds made for some beautiful sunsets, and once it was dark, we did some stargazing and could see the moons of Jupiter.

“It was a great time in nature, and we want to remind everyone to… Unplug, get outside, and LIVE CONNECTED!”

The next report is from Natalie, Grace and the students from Cohasset Elementary’s visit to Long Lake Conservation Center.

Long Lake Conservation Center phenology report - Cohasset Elementary: Feb. 6, 2024

“The high temperature during our trip was 44 degrees Fahrenheit and the low was 23 degrees.

“One of the highlights of our trip was finding wolf tracks near the North Star Lodge. There was some debate whether the tracks were actually made by a wolf or not, but the Long Lake staff did report finding confirmed wolf tracks in the bog earlier this week.

“Our group saw chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers at the feeders, as well as very active squirrels.

“In the woods, we heard a woodpecker drumming which we learned is a bird announcing to potential mates that they’re available. Both male and female woodpeckers are known to drum.

“We heard ravens cawing and saw Dill Prickles the porcupine on campus. Despite the holiday, we observed no groundhogs. Punxsutawney Phil did NOT see his shadow which predicts an early spring. Based on how warm it’s been lately, and that the snow has almost entirely melted, it seems like a pretty good guess.

“No matter the weather, it’s a great time to explore nature and we want to remind you to unplug, get outside, and LIVE CONNECTED!”

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. 27, 2024. My name is Teak, and I am your phenologist for this week!

“The temperatures are continuing to be unusually warm with a high of 42 degrees at North Shore Community School on Wednesday, Jan. 31 and a low this week of only 28 degrees on Thursday, Feb. 1. Due to the warm temperatures, students are dodging puddles and mud in their sweatshirts and tennis shoes instead of skating and building snow forts while wearing winter jackets and snow pants! The record high recorded in Duluth for Jan. 31 happened in 1993 with a temperature of 45 degrees and the record low was in 1982 with a temperature of negative 33 degrees!

North Shore Community School phenology report: Feb. 6, 2024

A Cedar Waxwing sits on a sumac branch in Milaca on Apr. 23, 2023.
iNaturalist user jdziuk1
A Cedar Waxwing sits on a sumac branch in Milaca on Apr. 23, 2023.

“On Feb. 1, as the sun rose, the sky was perfectly clear with the star Siruis shining brilliantly right above the horizon line. Sirius, also known as the Dog Star or Sirius A, is the brightest star in the Earth’s night sky. The name means “glowing” in Greek – a fitting description, as only a few planets, the full moon, and the International Space Station outshine this star. Because Sirius is so bright, it was well known to ancient people.

“On Friday, Jan. 26, Mrs. Lampela's second graders watched a flock of Cedar Waxwings eat on berry trees outside of their classroom. This is a fun sight to see as they usually come in November and eat the berries all gone before the snow comes. With the lack of snow, we believe that food is easier to come by this winter. Penny had four Wild Turkeys visit her yard on Tuesday, Jan. 30. On Feb. 1, Mrs. Rolfe’s class found a trail of grouse tracks down by the school creek.

“Sunday night Eloise’s neighbor saw a bobcat in their backyard! Many rumors have been going around about bobcats on the north shore but not many have been confirmed. The teachers at the nature preschool by Penny’s house, located on the Ryan Road near Lake Superior, also said that they found some bobcat tracks.

“On Tuesday, Jan. 30, Marcus measured the air temperature at 40 degrees, and the water temperature as 32 degrees. The snow depth at Chickadee Landing was 1.7 inches, and the stream had 3 inches of ice on it. On Jan. 11, the stream had 7 inches of ice creating a decrease in ice level on the creek by 4 inches in 19 days.

“Friday, Feb. 2 is Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day is a popular North American tradition observed in the United States and Canada. Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, so some believe this predicts an early spring. However, to those who are missing the cold and snow, our local, expert weather forecasters disagree.

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

Lake of the Woods School in Baudette

Lake of the Woods phenology report: Feb. 6, 2024

A pair of red foxes stand in a snowy field in Dakota County in January 2024.
iNaturalist user annabatt
A pair of red foxes stand in a snowy field in Dakota County in January 2024.

“This is Athena with the phenology report from Baudette for Jan. 27 – Feb. 2.

“Athena reports finding red squirrel tunnels around her yard.

“Layla continues to see a pair of red foxes near her house along with a third fox visiting this week.

“Finally, Mr. Birchem checked out the local Sharp-tailed Grouse leks on Thursday. He reports lots of dancing activity.”

Charlie from Stillwater

“With the drought conditions over the past year and the weird winter, should we be worried about tapping maple trees this early? Will it harm them?”

Charlie phenology question: Feb. 6, 2024

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?).