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Phenology Talkbacks: Animal poos and paws transfix student phenologists

Goldenrods bloom near Kettle River, Minnesota. They have golden sets of blooms at the top of a green stem, leafy stem. The background is a blurry, golden-tan field bordered by a green forest.
Kellie Nelson
This "mystery track" elicited great enthusiasm from the Saint Croix Preparatory Academy students when they found it near their school in Stillwater during a phenology walk in February , 2024.

This week, we have seven reports from schools across the state. They include a mystery track in Stillwater, a bird nest made partially of plastic in Bloomington, and - in Duluth - the intact front paws of a star-nosed mole, concealed within a fox’s poo!

Some quotes have been modified for clarity.

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 in Bloomington

Oak Grove Elementary phenology report: Feb. 13, 2024

Nathan, Hannah, and Vinny pose in front of a window after recording their phenology report from Oak Grove Elementary School on Feb. 6, 2024.
Brian Cline
Nathan, Hannah, and Vinny pose after recording their phenology report from Oak Grove Elementary School on Feb. 6, 2024.

“Hi, this is Nathan, Hannah, and Vinny reporting from Oak Grove Elementary in Bloomington, Minnesota.

“This week’s weather has been sunny and a little chilly, with a high of 53 degrees today. We’ve also had no precipitation this week.

“With our animal observations, we noticed some dry scat, a bird nest partially made of plastic, and we heard a lot of birds.

“With our plant observations, we noticed the oak still has some leaves and the same green plants as last week.

“We are wondering what kind of bird would use plastic in its nest.

“That’s all for today! Stay tuned for the next OGE Phenology Club Nature Episode. Keep soaring!”

Saint Croix Preparatory Academy in Stillwater

Saint Croix Preparatory Academy phenology report: Feb. 13, 2024

“This is Nolan and Ben with the Phenology report for the week of Feb. 5-9 from the fourth-grade Bright Spots at St. Croix Preparatory Academy in Stillwater.

“This week we saw many deer prints, deer scat and deer trails along with a few mystery prints. Some of us think the mystery print is from a skunk or fox, and some of us think it might be a lynx. [The mystery track is shown in the lead image of this article. The KAXE - KBXE Season Watch Facebook group weighed in on the mystery.]

“We noticed the bright red & purple colors of the dogwoods and saw a Hairy Woodpecker. We also found a decaying log where it looks like he has drilled many holes that could be a home.

“On our way back to our classroom today, we saw four geese flying overhead. Then, a few minutes later, we saw one more slowpoke goose trying to catch up!

“Look at a track, or a squirrel in a tree. Notice nature: phenology!”

Eagle View Elementary in Pequot Lakes

Eagle View Elementary School phenology report: Feb. 13, 2024

“This is the phenology report from Eagle View Elementary School for the week of Feb. 6-12, 2024.

“The temperature went back to more normal this week with highs in the 20’s and low 30’s. We have a sprinkling of snow on the ground with lots of grass still peeking through.

Greens and pinks shine as part of aurora borealis in a dark night sky
Chelsey Perkins
Aurora borealis are brightly visible Thursday, March 23, 2023, just southeast of Brainerd. The northern lights display was visible to much of the state of Minnesota as a strong geomagnetic storm occurred.

“Our birdfeeders are still busy with lots of chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers and Blue Jays every day. We have spotted a flock of Cedar Waxwings in our crabapple trees. There have been some noisy crows and Bald Eagles flying about our school.

“We keep a list of animals we have spotted each month and we don’t have a lot for February yet. A few gray squirrels have been checking out the birdfeeders and we have a lot of deer tracks in the snow.

“Eagle View students are learning about dark skies this week and how important the darkness for animals that live nearby, especially nocturnal animals such as bats and owls. We are lucky to live in a place where we can see stars at night, and sometimes even northern lights!

“This is Mackenzie and Nina reporting from Pequot Lakes. Take a night walk this week and check out the dark sky!”

Long Lake Conservation Center near Palisade

“The high temperature during our visit was 48 degrees Fahrenheit and the low temperature was 24 degrees. We had clouds, sun, rain, wind and snow!

“While out hiking, we noticed clumps of deer hair in the snow, a Bald Eagle high in a tree, and mushrooms of different colors and shapes were growing on trees. There were green wild strawberry plants and green hepatica leaves on the forest floor. A winter crane fly was seen. Ironwood leaves are still hanging onto the branches.

Long Lake Conservation Center phenology report: Feb. 13, 2024

“We observed new beaver chews and bright new logs on the top of the beaver lodge. Naturalist Katie taught us that beavers don’t poop in their lodge. They hang their bottoms out of the door and go.

“We found pitcher plants along the edges of Long Lake and in the bog. Some were starting to look green, and a few looked like an animal had eaten them.

“The lake ice is 6 inches deep and we noticed lots of frozen bubbles in the ice. We found a caterpillar crawling across the snow on the lake.

“Closer to campus, we noticed gray squirrels, red squirrels, Blue Jays, chickadees, nuthatches, and a Pileated Woodpecker.

“The fresh snow that greeted us on Friday morning made some of us very happy; others, not so much.

“Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep us from enjoying nature… 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 Feb. 3, 2024. My name is Iris Mae, and I am your phenologist for this week!

North Shore Community School phenology report: Feb. 13, 2024

“On Thursday, Feb. 8, we woke up to it raining in Duluth Township. The rain continued into the afternoon causing NSCS to have indoor recess. We have had indoor recess in February before, but because of very cold wind chills, never because of rain!

“According to the U.S. National Weather Service, Duluth averages 90.2 inches of snow a year per the 1991-2020 climate normals. Last year, Duluth recorded 140.1 inches of snow - the snowiest on record. Current snowfall as of Friday, Feb. 2, is only 17.1 inches! On Monday, Feb. 5, Duluth’s high recorded temp of 50 degrees broke the previous high temp record this day of 45 degrees set back in 1877! This day was the first time Duluth has hit 50 degrees since November 18th.

 Two species of flying squirrel live in Minnesota: the Northern flying squirrel (upper) and the Southern flying squirrel (lower). This image is a composite and not to scale.
Original photo by Caroline Urban: Annotations by Charlie Mitchell
the front feet and nose of a slightly-digested star-nosed mole lie in a deconstructed pile of fox scat. The discovery was made by the North Shore Community School student phenologists on Feb. 8, 2024.

“As Ms. Jackson was out for an afternoon walk on Monday, Feb. 5, it felt like an April spring day. The dirt road was muddy and the chickadees were singing their “cheeeeeese-burger” call. In the past few days, Eloise’s family noticed that there are many more birds than we usually have at this time of year. They also noticed that birds have been much more active and vocal. The Audubon society noted that the warm weather this winter has disrupted many birds' normal migratory flights.

“The abnormally warm temperatures have caused some people to tap their maple trees. Although we have not tapped at NSCS yet, capillary action caused by the freezing night temperatures and thawing daytime temperatures means that sap has been running the past week. We don’t know yet if the earlier start of the sap season means that trees will bud out sooner than past years. Once the buds burst and the leaves start unfurling, the maple sap gets a bitter taste and is no longer desirable for making syrup.

“On Wednesday, Feb. 7, several skunks were spotted in multiple places in the Two Harbors and Duluth area. On this same day, Mrs. Rolfe’s dog was sprayed by a skunk right around 7:00 a.m. in the woods edge of their yard, creating a cloud of odor all around her home.

“Last week the preschoolers built a snow person and decorated it with bird seeds, cracked corn and nuts. Trail camera photos showed many different animals visiting, including red squirrels, chickadees, white-tailed deer, cottontails, and a flying squirrel! Flying squirrels don’t actually fly, they glide on skin flaps that are between their front and hind legs. They are shy and nocturnal, which is why Ms. Urban was so excited to see one on the trail camera.

“On Thursday, Feb. 8, Tamara found some canine scat in the school forest, and investigated it with the help of Ms. Urban and some classmates. They found orange peels, apples and a star-nosed mole in the scat. They knew it was a star-nosed mole because the distinct front paws, with a big palm and long nails suitable for digging, were found in the scat. They think it is most likely a fox.

“Ms. Jackson’s class measured 3.5 inches of ice on Schmidt Creek at school on Tuesday, Feb. 6. The trail was muddy and only a sparse amount of snow is on the ground on our school nature trail.

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

West Rapids Elementary School in Grand Rapids

West Rapids Elementary phenology report: Feb. 13, 2024

A common mullein (also known as great mullein) first-year rosette grows many thick, felt-like leaves.
iNaturalist user Hannahleitheiser
A common mullein (also known as great mullein) first-year rosette grows many thick, felt-like leaves.

“This is Mr. Cody’s class from West Rapids Elementary in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

“It was an unseasonably warm day, 38 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit. It was overcast with little to no wind.

“We spent most of the day in class talking about our twig experiment with Mr. Latimer.

“When we got outside, we noticed a huge difference on the pond. Snow had melted and pooled in little puddles across the ice.

“Then we observed several plants around the pond: Mullien, primrose, black-eyed Susan, and more. The grass is way more visible these days.

“As always, go onward and awkward! -Mr. C’s class.”

Science Nature Adventure Program at Bemidji Middle School

Science Nature Adventure Program phenology report: Feb. 13, 2024

A mostly-melted pile of snow with a small hollowed-out section in it lies melting in a bare, snow-less field.
Angie Nistler
Angie Nistler, the director of the Science Nature Adventure Program at Bemidji Middle School, said that this was "what our 'sad quinzee' looked like after the warm weather" on Feb. 2, 2024.

“Hi, I’m Mason and I’m Kieran and we are giving the phenology report from the SNAP program at Bemidji Middle School.

“This past week the observations the students have had are: geese returning, other flocks of birds returning, more beaver walking around and the sap of maple trees is even running in some areas!

“Other things that were observed in our area because of the unseasonable weather are the snow melting, higher than normal temperatures, much less ice on the banks of the Mississippi River and a thin layer of crunchy snow. Be careful out there! The lakes are not as safe, even in Burrrrrmidji, Minnesota!

“Red squirrels were witnessed as well as foxes and a bobcat. Many deer are gathering together too.

“We were not able to snowshoe as planned, so we checked our bushcraft shelters.

“We saw animal tracks in the snow, mostly deer, but some other small animals too. We checked on the beaver lodge in the wetland that has had some activity around it again. It was more like late April and not early February.

“Until next time, SNAP to it! Get into the wild and be observant, and... THINK SNOW!”

Cohasset Elementary School

Cohasset Elementary phenology report: Feb. 13, 2024

A pussywillow twig breaks bud, showing the fuzzy beginnings of its flowers, on Feb. 12, 2024. The plant was found approximately 20 miles south of Bemidji.
Michelle DeVries via the KAXE - KBXE Season Watch Facebook page
A pussywillow twig breaks bud, showing the fuzzy beginnings of its flowers, on Feb. 12, 2024. The plant was found approximately 20 miles south of Bemidji.

“Our class started our twig experiment two weeks ago and we are starting to see some changes in the branches. The tamarack is starting to leaf out, the silver maple is flowering, the buckthorn buds are expanding, the dogwood has not changed, one of our willows has fuzzy buds while the other has not made any changes. The rest of our branches have not changed.

“Our class also observed some ducks flying overhead on Saturday. People also saw swans flying in the sky. Austin said Little Jay Gould decreased an inch of ice last week.

“Many class members saw deer being active on the side of the roads. Austin said they saw a buck with antlers on their trail camera.

“We are looking forward to another week of observations, thank you for listening. Like Mr. Latimer always says… onward and awkward!”

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?).