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. Beginning with COVID closures, St. Croix 360 has been publishing her updates when possible. Thank you, Nina!
Early risers continue to see a nice lineup of planets in the eastern sky. From left to right you can see Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn. From the 27th to the 30th Jupiter and Mars will look to be very close together from our vantage point here on earth.
Baby birds are hatching and parents are busy feeding nestlings and teaching fledglings how to fend for themselves. Both mother and father parents participate in child care and feeding, and also keeping the nest clean of their babies’ poop. Young robins poop almost immediately after feeding, with their poop encased in what’s called a fecal sac. In their first few days of life, robins aren’t able to fully digest what the parents feed them, so the parents obtain nourishment from eating the nestlings’ fecal sacs. During the rest of their more or less two weeks in the nest, the parents carry the fecal sacs away from the nest and then drop them. Bluebirds and grackles keep their nests clean in the same way.
And don’t forget the birds that stay at Afton year round. They include Northern Cardinals, Black capped Chickadees, Wild Turkeys, and Bluejays.
Some small butterflies you might see in late May and early June include the Clouded Sulphur, one of the more common butterflies at Afton, the Common Ringlet, the Spring Azure, and the Peck’s Skipper.
Damselflies are flying now, too. They are related to the dragonflies, but hold their wings together at rest, while dragonflies hold theirs spread flat out. There are several species of bluets at Afton, and you may also see Ebony Jewelwings. Female Ebony Jewelwings have a white spot, called a “pseudostigma” near the end of their wings, while the head, thorax and abdomen of the male is a bright metallic green.
The evening frog and toad chorus is loud and strong in late May. Listen for the Boreal Chorus Frog, Tree Frogs, and American Toads. The call of the Chorus Frogs sounds like someone running their finger along a comb. There are two species of Tree Frogs at Afton. Both make a very loud trilling call that lasts one to three seconds. People often think they are hearing a bird. The American Toad makes a high-pitched trilling call that goes on for ten to 30 seconds, often with several toads calling at once.
And what’s the difference between frogs and toads, anyway? Here are several ways to tell them apart. Frogs have smooth, moist skin, and are generally not very far from water. Toads have skin that is more rough and warty, and it is better at retaining moisture so they can venture farther from the water. Frogs have long hind legs, longer than their head and body combined, while toads have short and stubby legs. Frogs use their long legs to jump long distances. Toads are more likely to move around by making short hops and very often walking or crawling.
The Tree Frogs have what are called “sticky toes” which allow them to grip smooth surfaces. They can climb up windows and trees thanks to their sticky toes. You can see the tree frog’s sticky toes in the photo.
Have you found any wild strawberries yet? They should be ripe by now, and are very tasty!! Also look for black cherry blossoms on small trees.
As the hardwood trees leaf out many of the woodland ephemerals near the end of their blooming season, including Large-flowered Bellwort, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, False Rue Anemone, and Yellow Trout Lily.
And on the prairie look for Yarrow, Butterflyweed, White Wild Indigo, and Harebells.
Here are some weather observations from past years.
|Friday, May 27||2019: Rain throughout the day, just over an inch Saturday, May 28 2018: Record high of 100°|
|Sunday, May 29||2006 and 2018: tie for record high of 94°; 2015: rain through the day|
|Monday, May 30||2012: high in the 60s|
|Tuesday, May 31||2010: sunny and in the 80s; 2015: high in the 60s|
|Wednesday, June 1||2014: record rainfall of 2.37 inches; 2015: sunny and near 70°|
|Thursday, June 2||2020: hot and sticky with a thunderstorm in the late afternoon|
All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except:
- Michael Furtman, MN Conservation Volunteer: Black-capped Chickadee
- Keith Henjum: Robin feeding nestlings
- Dean Lokken: Bluejay, Robin Fledgling, White Wild Indigo
- Gary Sater: Cedar Waxwing, Northern Cardinal
- Stan Tekiela, MN Conservation Volunteer: Boreal Chorus Frog