Afton State Park Phenology, May 14-20, 2021

Spring is speeding up at the park along the lower river.




5 minute read

Afton State Park Visitor Center (Greg Seitz/St. Croix 360)

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!

“Phenology is nature’s calendar—when cherry trees bloom, when a robin builds its nest and when leaves turn color in the fall.

“Phenology is a key component of life on earth. Many birds time their nesting so that eggs hatch when insects are available to feed nestlings. Likewise, insect emergence is often synchronized with leaf out in host plants.”

Why Phenology? USA National Phenology Network


Look for Saturn and Jupiter in the east before sunrises, and Venus in the west at sunset.


White-throated sparrows continue to move through our area heading north. And the warbler migration continues! One of the most common to pass through our area is the Yellow Rumped Warbler. You may also see Yellow Warblers, Blackburnian Warblers, and many others.

And baby bird season continues, also. Robins are feeding nestlings, and young fuzzy ducklings follow hen Mallards about while learning the ins and outs of being a duck.


Many mammals are crepuscular. That means that they are most active at dawn and  dusk. Some of the crepuscular mammals at Afton are rabbits, deer, skunks, and opossums. And  that means that if you want to catch a glimpse of them, you’d better be crepuscular, too! Try  hiking quietly in the early morning or evening, and being alert for sounds and movement. You  might just see one of these crepuscular mammals!


The Monarchs may be here! Mid-May is when we usually start seeing Monarchs in  Minnesota. The ones that arrive at Afton are the grandchildren or even the great-grandchildren  of those who left last fall to fly south to Mexico.  

Monarchs are a member of a family of butterflies called the “brush-footed butterflies”. When  you see one perched, it may look like it only has four legs! That’s because the front pair of legs  are very short and covered with little bristles. That is what gives them the name of  “brushfoots”. Other Brushfoots you might spot at Afton this week include the Mourning Cloak  and Eastern Comma, both of which overwinter as adults, and the Painted Lady, and Red  Admiral, both of which migrated to the southern U.S. last fall, with spring broods successively  working their way farther and farther north. In the photo of the perched Red Admiral, you can  see that it appears to only have four legs. The small brushfooted front legs aren’t visible.


Fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants. The mushroom everyone wants  to find is our official state mushroom, the morel! It is very tasty when fried in a little butter. See  how many you can see in the photo. Look for morels after spring thunderstorms; if you haven’t  hunted them before try to go with a friend who can help you identify them. Safety first when eating mushrooms! 

And if you just want to admire fungi in the wild, there are plenty of shelf fungi at Afton, too.

(Note: Mushroom harvesting for personal use is allowed in Minnesota state parks, but many other species favored by foragers are not, please check regulations.)


In the woods look for Wild Columbine, Wild Geranium, Wild Blue Phlox and Kittentoes.  Kittentoes get their name because they look like . . . kittens’ toes! 

On the prairie you might see Prairie Phlox, Golden Alexanders, Puccoons, and Blue-eyed Grass.

Weather observations

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

Friday, May 142013: record high of 98°
Saturday, May 152001: record high of 94°
Sunday, May 162018: hot with a high of 89°
Monday, May 172020: record rainfall of 2.47 inches
Tuesday, May 182012: record high of 93°
Wednesday, May 192009: record high of 97°; 2014: record rainfall of 2.25 inches
Thursday, May 202009: record high of 94°; 2017: record rainfall of 1.47 inches

Photo credits

All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except:

  • Dudley Edmondson, MN Conservation Volunteer: Blackburnian Warbler
  • Keith Henjum: American Robin, Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Jamie Olson Kinne: Eastern Comma
  • Alan G. Nelson, Dembinksy Photo Associates, MN Conservation Volunteer: Skunk
  • Gary Sater: Praire Smoke, Whitetail Deer, Yellow Warbler
  • Andrew VonBank: Morel mushrooms


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Afton State Park Phenology, May 14-20, 2021