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.
Here are some weather observations for this week from past years.
|Friday, May 14||2013: record high of 98°|
|Saturday, May 15||2001: record high of 94°|
|Sunday, May 16||2018: hot with a high of 89°|
|Monday, May 17||2020: record rainfall of 2.47 inches|
|Tuesday, May 18||2012: record high of 93°|
|Wednesday, May 19||2009: record high of 97°; 2014: record rainfall of 2.25 inches|
|Thursday, May 20||2009: record high of 94°; 2017: record rainfall of 1.47 inches|
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