Note: Nina Manzi is a long-time volunteer at Afton State Park who has long recorded and shared seasonal observations at the visitor’s center. Due to COVID closures, St. Croix 360 is publishing her updates when possible. Thank you, Nina!
Mars will be above the crescent moon in the evening on the 16th, and below the moon on the 17th. Get up before sunrise on Thursday the 22nd and watch the southern sky for the Lyrid meteor shower.
White-throated sparrows are passing through our area heading north. Some people say their whistling call sounds like “O Sweet Canada Canada”, others think it sounds like “Old Sam Peabody Peabody”. Song sparrows have returned and some will stay here the whole summer. American robins are starting to build nests. This time of year, before the trees leaf out, is a good time to look for last year’s nests.
And don’t forget to look UP for birds. Flocks of pelicans overhead are easy to identify – they are very large white birds with black on their wings. Turkey vultures have returned to our part of Minnesota. Look for them circling. Their wing feathers are light darker toward the leading edge of the wing and lighter at the back. They hold their wings in a “V” shape as they glide and they wobble a lot (in contrast to eagle and hawks, which hold their wings straight out and glide smoothly. Sandhill cranes pass by high overhead. They hold their necks out ahead of them as they fly, with their legs trailing out behind them. This distinguishes them from herons, which fly with their necks curled back toward their bodies.
Amphibians and Reptiles
By mid-April there are FOUR species of frogs calling in the evening hours: Spring Peepers, with their high-pitched peeping, Chorus Frogs, with their trilling call that sounds like running your finger along a comb, the chuckling call of the Wood Frogs, and now the low snoring call that ends in a croak or cluck of the Northern Leopard Frogs.
The Monarchs are on the way! All overwintering butterflies have departed the oyamel pine forests of Mexico. These individuals won’t be the ones to return to Minnesota – the butterflies that spent the winter in Mexico have mated and laid eggs in Texas or Oklahoma, and first reports are coming in that those eggs have hatched and Monarch larva are busy eating milkweed plants. This new generation of Monarchs will make another stop to mate and lay eggs, and those eggs will lead to the generation of butterflies that will return to Minnesota in May or June. Here in Minnesota in mid-April the seed pods of last year’s milkweed plants have opened, and the seeds are blowing in the wind, dispersing over the landscape. Some of them will land in hospitable places and grow into milkweed plants, just in time for the return of the Monarchs.
While we’re waiting for the Monarchs to return, keep a lookout for Spring Azures. Spring Azures overwinter as pupae. Last fall their larva finished eating and made their cocoons, where they rested until the spring sunshine and longer days signaled that it was time to complete metamorphosis and emerge as butterflies. As the name suggests, Spring Azures are a vibrant blue on the top side of their wings. But they are rather pale on the underside of their wings, and when they land they almost always hold their wings closed. Sometimes people are reluctant to believe that the pale colored butterflies they see perched are the blue butterflies they just saw on the wing.
Spring flower season continues! Hepatica, bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches, yellow trout lily, large-flowered bellwort, wild ginger, and wild violets are still in bloom, and joining them about mid-month are Jack-in-the-pulpits and spring beauties. They’re called “ephemerals” for a reason – they won’t be around long! So take the opportunity to hike through the woods and enjoy these early flowers soon.
Here are some weather observations for this week from past years:
|Friday, April 16||2003: record rainfall of 1.04 inches|
|Saturday, April 17||2019: rain through day with thunder|
|Sunday, April 18||2013: record snowfall of 6.4 inches|
|Monday, April 19||2020: partly sunny in the 50s with a cold wind|
|Tuesday, April 20||2013: record low of 21°; 2019 sunny and pleasant in the low 70s|
|Wednesday, April 21||2002: record snowfall of 6.6 inches|
|Thursday, April 22||2001: record rainfall of 2.21 inches; 2020: pleasant, temperature in the 60s|
All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except:
- Dean Lokken: American Robin, Northern Leopard Frog, Turkey Vulture
- Gary Sater: Song Sparrow, Sandhill Cranes
- Allen Blake Sheldon, MN Conservation Volunteer: Boreal Chorus Frog, Spring Peeper