Signs of spring at Afton State Park

Notes on seasonal appearance of plants and animals from a state park volunteer.




3 minute read

Photos by Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360

Linda Radimecky of Afton State Park sent this along: “Afton State Park volunteer Nina Manzi has been updating the phenology calendar in the visitor center with events and pictures for years. Since the visitor center has been closed and you haven’t been able to check the phenology calendar to see what signs of spring to look for, Nina would like to send it out to you!”

(Phenology is the study of recurring events in the life cycle of plants and animals, many of which are closely tied to patterns of climate and seasonality. Learn more at the Minnesota Phenology Network.)

Afton State Park Phenology, Week of March 30, 2020

Birds: Many bird species that migrate south for the winter have returned to Minnesota and Afton State Park. These include eastern bluebirds, American robins, hooded mergansers, and male red-winged blackbirds. The female red-winged blackbirds will be here in another week or so; the males come north first to claim nesting territories. Other species that will arrive soon include: great blue herons, great egrets, meadowlarks, bobolinks, tree swallows, barn swallows, and turkey vultures. Keep a look out for these.

Other birds are migrating through our area on their way to points farther north. Flocks of dark-eyed juncos that wintered farther south are passing through, and common loons are following open water north.

Many of our year-round resident birds — cardinals, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches — are singing loudly at dawn, and the local woodpeckers (downy, hairy, red-bellied, and pileated) are busy drumming.

Mammals: As the days grow warmer the mid-sized mammals, which aren’t true hibernators, become more active. Look for raccoons, opossums, and woodchucks on warm days.

Amphibians and reptiles: In the early evening listen for the calling of western chorus frogs and possibly spring peepers. I haven’t heard any yet but expect to soon. You may also see fox snakes and garter snakes basking in the sun on warm days.

Insects: Sunny days there is always a good chance of seeing a mourning cloak butterfly. They overwinter as adults and are often the first butterfly we see in the springtime.

Plants: Hepatica leaves are poking up from under the leaf litter, and should produce blossoms in a few weeks.

Bloodroots are also among the first of the “spring ephemerals” to flower. Look for both of these along the trail that borders Afton Alps ski area.

Maples trees have bloomed, and their flowers have blown down in the wind and rain. Look for them on the ground.

Weather observations

Here are some weather observations for this week from past years.

Monday, March 30 – 2010: high near 70

Tuesday, March 31 – 2015: high in the 60s

Wednesday, April 1 – 2015: record high of 84

Thursday, April 2 – 2000: 60 degrees

Saturday, April 4 – 1995: record low of 5 degrees. 1997: all but 9 steps of the green stairway down to the St. Croix underwater.


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Signs of spring at Afton State Park