Afton State Park phenology, April 8-14

Spring is progressing, despite recent doubts.




4 minute read

Round-lobed Hepatica, Afton State Park (Marty Dahlke/iNaturalist)

Phenology: The scientific study of periodic biological phenomena, such as flowering, breeding, and migration, in relation to climatic conditions.

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011).


All week long continue to enjoy the sight of Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter in the east  before sunrise.  


Juncos continue moving through our area on their way to points farther north. Around  mid-April Northern flickers also pass through Afton, like the juncos going north. Flickers are a  kind of woodpecker, but unlike most woodpeckers they are ground feeders. They really like  to eat ants, and use their beaks to peck holes in the earth, and their long tongues to slurp up  ants. Chipping sparrows are returning to our area and will be with us for the summer. Identify  them by their red caps. 

Mallard ducks, wood ducks and mergansers are nesting by now. During this time you are  much more likely to see the more colorful male ducks, also called “drakes”, than you are to  see the females, called “hens”. Once the eggs are laid the females spend most of the day  sitting on the nest, and their drab coloring provides excellent camouflage. They leave the nest  for only a short time each day to wet and preen their feathers. 

Amphibians and Reptiles

On warm overcast or drizzly days you might see Tiger Salamanders  leaving their hibernaculae and fanning out across the countryside. There’s a hibernaculum  where the salamanders spent the winter somewhere south of 70th St., which leads into Afton,  so you could see salamanders in the park! And on warm sunny days look for snakes and  turtles basking in the spring sunshine. Turtles may look like they’re just sitting around in the sun, but they’re busy digesting! The warmth of the sun helps them to digest the aquatic  plants they ate earlier. If you’re mountain-biking at Afton watch out for basking snakes on the  trail so you don’t run one over. 


Gray and red squirrels are active all year at Afton. Skunks and raccoons are not  true hibernators, but go into torpor to save energy on cold winter days. Now that spring has  arrived both skunks and raccoons become more active. If you’re camping at Afton be sure to  secure your food for the overnight, or you might wake up to find that a raccoon ate your  breakfast! 


From now through early fall, each week will see new species of flowers coming into  bloom, providing bees and other pollinators with plenty of blossoms to visit. Early bloomers include Hepatica, Bloodroot, Dutchman’s Breeches, Yellow Trout Lily, Large-flowered  Bellwort, Wild Ginger, and Wild Violet. Bellworts have yellow flowers that hang downward in  a cluster, and Wild Ginger has small reddish flowers near the ground that resemble jester’s  caps. Look for all of these woodland wildflowers throughout Afton.

Weather observations 

Here are some weather observations from past years:

Friday, April 82021: rain off and on through day, temperature in 60s
Saturday, April 92016: Frost on roofs in the morning, high in the upper 30s
Sunday, April 102015: almost an inch of rain over the past week
Monday, April 112019: rain and snow through night
Tuesday, April 122020: record snowfall of 6.6 inches
Wednesday, April 132006: record high of 84°; 2021: rain and flurries through day
Thursday, April 142003: record high of 89°; 2021: dusting of snow overnight, drizzle in afternoon

Photo/Image credits

All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except: 

  • Keith Henjum: Hooded Mergansers, Raccoon 
  • Bill Marchel, MN Conservation Volunteer: Gray Squirrel 
  • Alan G. Nelson, Dembinksy Photo Associates, MN Conservation Volunteer: Striped Skunk Dean Lokken: Dark-eyed Junco 
  • Gary Sater: Male Mallard Duck, Wood Ducks