Afton State Park Phenology, Week of May 1, 2020

The latest updates about the plants and animals, and other nature notes.




4 minute read

White-throated sparrow (Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360)

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 visitors haven’t been able to check the phenology calendar to see what signs of spring to look for, Nina is sending it online.

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.


Venus and the moon on April 26, 2020 (Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360)

Look for Venus in the western evening sky. It will drop below the horizon by the end of the month. On Friday, May 7, step out and see the Full Flower Moon (and maybe in the daytime you can find some flowers).


Tree swallow (Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360)

Many bird species that migrate south for the winter have returned to Minnesota and Afton State Park. On the prairie, look for western meadowlarks, bobolinks, tree swallows, and eastern bluebirds. Tree swallows occupy many of the bluebird houses at Afton.

The warbler migration continues! The yellow-rumped warbler is one of the more common ones that will pass through our area. Look for them along the edges of woodlands.

White-throated sparrows are passing through the area heading to points farther north.

Near the water look for red-winged blackbirds, great blue herons, great white egrets and sandpipers. Overhead look for turkey vultures dispersing to points north, and also eagles following open water north. Eagles, hawks, and other large raptors hold their wings relatively flat and glide smoothly through the air, while turkey vultures wobble quite a bit as they soar.

And it’s nesting season! Watch for robins flying back and forth to feed nestlings, and mother ducks and geese leading ducklings and goslings.


Whitetail deer fawn (Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360)

Fawns are born in early May. They remain in hiding during the early days of their lives, relying on stillness and camouflage to protect them from predators. Look for raccoons, opossums, skunks, and woodchucks on warm days.

Both red and gray squirrels are active at Afton all year-round.

Amphibians and reptiles:

Painted turtle (Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360)

In the early evening listen for the calling of western chorus frogs, and wood frogs; they began calling in early April.

Chorus frogs sound like you are running your finger over a comb, wood frogs make a low chuckling sound. Tree frogs will join the chorus any day now; they make a very loud trilling sound many people mistake for a bird.

Watch for turtles basking on sunny days.

Snakes are leaving their hibernaculae and moving out across the countryside. Watch for them resting on sunny trails.


Breeding common green darner dragonflies(Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360)

The first green darner dragonflies arrive in Minnesota about now. They migrate south and return as adults. Where they go and if the same individuals return or if it’s a new generation is uncertain.

On sunny days look for butterflies! Mourning cloaks and spring azures are among the species you may see. Solitary bees, including bumblebees, are active on sunny days, visiting early-blooming garden flowers, dandelions, and spring ephemerals.


Spring beauty (Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360)

Spring ephemeral wildflowers are blooming in the woodlands. They’re called “ephemerals” because they only bloom for a short time. Look for them anywhere under trees at Afton; they’re especially prevalent along the trail that borders Afton Alps ski area.

Hepatica and bloodroot are the first species to bloom.

Next are rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, spring beauties, and wild ginger.

Wild strawberries are blooming; note where you see them and return to hunt for berries in a few weeks. Hunt for morel mushrooms in the woods after spring thunderstorms.

The first deciduous trees will begin leafing out, including basswoods and cottonwoods.

Weather observations

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

Friday, May 1 2012:High in the 70s
Saturday, May 2 2013:1” of snow
Sunday, May 3 2013:record snowfall of 0.5”
Monday, May 4 2005 and 2011:66°
Tuesday, May 5 2000:record high of 89°
Wednesday, May 6 2016:record high of 92°
Thursday, May 7 2010:3⁄4” rain


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Afton State Park Phenology, Week of May 1, 2020