Afton State Park phenology: December 24, 2021 to January 6, 2022

Night sky sights, winter birds, and animal tracks.




3 minute read

Afton State Park (aossanna/Flickr)


In the evening from December 24 to the 31st, look for bright Venus in the  western sky. Then look below Venus for Mercury! There aren’t a lot of good chances to see  Mercury, but this is one. From the 29th to the 31st Mercury will be to the left of Venus. And in  early January Saturn and Jupiter join Venus and Mercury in the west in the evening, with the  crescent Moon putting in an appearance on the 4th and 5th. And overnight on the 4th look in  the northern sky for the Quadrantid Meteor Shower. 


Some birds, like bluebirds, meadowlarks, and turkey vultures, leave Afton in the winter  for points farther south. Other birds, like juncos, red-breasted nuthatches, and tree sparrows  arrive at Afton in the winter from points farther north. And still other birds live at Afton all  year round, including bluejays, hairy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, and red bellied woodpeckers. 


Winter snow cover provides a good opportunity to learn to identify tracks. Two  common animals at Afton who leave tracks that are relatively easy to identify are rabbits and  deer. Rabbits’ large hind feet leave large prints that are usually side by side. Their smaller  front paws may either step right next to each other, so that they sometimes blur together  into one track in the snow, or are one slightly in front of the other. The tracks from the hind  feet are about three and a half inches long, and those from the front feet are about one inch  long. Deer tracks are sort of heart-shaped, and two-and-a-half to three inches long.


If you take a walk in the woods you might notice some deciduous trees that are still holding their leaves. They are probably oaks! Here are photos of the bark, leaves, and acorns of three oaks that are present at Afton, the White Oak, the Bur Oak, and the Northern Pin Oak.

Weather observations 

Here are some weather observations from past years.

Friday, December 242009: record snowfall of 5.2 inches
Saturday, December 252018: bare ground, no snow cover
Sunday, December 262011: record high of 52°
Monday, December 271971: record snowfall of 6 inches
Tuesday, December 282013: record high of 47°
Wednesday, December 291999: record high of 53°
Thursday, December 302004: record high of 51°; 2019: record snowfall of 4.9 inches
Friday, December 312010: freezing rain and light snow
Saturday, January 12017: high of 32°
Sunday, January 21999: record snowfall of 6.1”
Monday, January 32013: high in 20s
Tuesday, January 42014: temperature falls through day from 20s to single digits; 2019: record high of 47°
Wednesday, January 52019: record high of 47°
Thursday, January 62014: record low high temperature, in the teens below zero. Low of minus 22°

Photo/Image credits:

  • All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except: 
  • Keith Henjum: Hairy Woodpecker 
  • Dean Lokken: Bluejay, White-breasted Nuthatch 
  • Bill Marchel, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer: Deer, Deer Track