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.
Here are some weather observations from past years:
|Friday, April 8||2021: rain off and on through day, temperature in 60s|
|Saturday, April 9||2016: Frost on roofs in the morning, high in the upper 30s|
|Sunday, April 10||2015: almost an inch of rain over the past week|
|Monday, April 11||2019: rain and snow through night|
|Tuesday, April 12||2020: record snowfall of 6.6 inches|
|Wednesday, April 13||2006: record high of 84°; 2021: rain and flurries through day|
|Thursday, April 14||2003: record high of 89°; 2021: dusting of snow overnight, drizzle in afternoon|
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