Hi Folks!

I have taken quite a break from posting on here…oops.  It is a perfect example of how, when you don’t make things a priority, they simply don’t happen.  Surprise!

This spring I have undertaken a phenology project, in conjunction with a grad class through Hamline University.  Phenology, as defined by the USA National Phenology Network, “refers to key seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year—such as flowering, emergence of insects and migration of birds—especially their timing and relationship with weather and climate.”  I have been making observations throughout the last few weeks, but up until now, I haven’t gotten around to sharing them with anyone.  It has been good practice in being observant, and noticing the small things in addition to the big changes.

So far, our spring has been progressing slowly up here in Duluth, with temperatures remaining near or below freezing, and lots of grey, blustery days.  The following report is from last Sunday, 4/8/18:

Location – This is from a section of the Superior Hiking Trail in Magney-Snively SNA.  Like the others, it travels through a variety of forest types, starting in a white pine stand and transitioning into a maple forest, interspersed with open bedrock knobs overlooking Lake Superior and the St. Louis River.

Weather notes – The high on Sunday was 30F and the low was 12F.  I was out in the middle of the day, so it was on the high end of the spectrum.  It started out sunny and became grey (though bright) as the afternoon waned. The wind wasn’t noticeable when walking with it, or when in the forest, but made things a little chilly on the exposed ridges. Most of the forest is still covered by snow, but there were occasional bare patches where it had melted to expose the leaf litter.

Birds – The chickadees were out calling today, with their alarm calls and spring sounds.  I saw a lot of grouse sign (tracks, wing marks, and scat), and this time found the bird itself!  It was sitting on one of the melted off patches in the forest.  When it flushed it brought a cloud of maple leaves with it.   The scat appeared to have little fibrous grains in it, and a light brown/yellow, which would be congruent with their winter diet of tree and shrub buds. Ruffed grouse have cool adaptations for winter: they grow extra little spurs on their feet to serve as ‘snowshoes’, they dive into deep snow to stay warm in the depths of winter, and they have a unique digestive system that allows them to digest their cellulose-rich winter food.


Mammals – Most of the mammal tracks that I found today were from dogs walking with their owners along the trail.  I didn’t find as many deer tracks in this location as I did in the past.  I did find lots of evidence of snowshoe hare.  Their tracks were all over, forming little highways.  Snowshoe hare have extra furry feet, to spread out their body weight so they can run on top of the snow rather than sinking in.  Considering that they aren’t a large animal, their tracks seem huge! In addition, I found a shrub that had been gnawed on by one of these furry critters, with tracks leading up to and away.  I didn’t see any of them in person, which is unfortunate (but not surprising).  I would be curious to see whether they have begun their transition back to brown.  This transition is driven by day-length.  I wonder if our long snow cover is messing with their camouflage system!  I have found one that had turned white in the fall, before it snowed, but never vice versa.

Insects – I did see a two little flies!  They looked similar to mosquitoes, but were a little bit more fuzzy in appearance.  Does anyone have an idea what they might be?

Reptiles/Amphibians – none of these yet.

Flowers – I found some strawberry plants nestled down in one of the open patches.  I also found some green moss, and some of them had setae (those little reddish stalks sticking up from the green).  Since moss live so close to the ground, close enough that there isn’t wind, these stalks stick up to where the air is moving, elevating the spores so that the wind can disperse them.  It was great to see new growth amongst all the snow.

Humans – On this hike, I was slipping around both on the icy sides of the north facing hills and the muddy/ice sides of the south facing hills.  There were fresh tracks, but I didn’t see anyone else out, which surprised me considering it was a pleasant Sunday afternoon.

Overall Observations and Questions:  Even though temperatures have hovered near freezing this week and spring changes have slowed down, there was still small changes from the last time I was out.  I was happy to see the strawberries and the moss actively growing!

More info: cool resource about the Natural History of the Superior Hiking Trail in Duluth