Afton State Park phenology, Nov. 11 to 24

Learn about turkeys, squirrels, snakes, and trees.




5 minute read

Afton State Park (Tony Webster/Flickr)


Get up before sunrise on Thursday the 17th and Friday the 18th and look in the southern sky to see the Leonid meteor shower.


Before the early 1970s, there were no wild turkeys in Minnesota (editor’s note: for about 100 years). But there are lots now! From 1971 to 1973 the DNR participated in trapping 29 adult wild turkeys in Missouri, and relocated them to Houston County in southeastern Minnesota. The wild turkeys at Afton are descendants of those original 29 birds. Turkeys are active in the daytime (“diurnal”) so you may see them foraging on the prairies and meadows at Afton. Their tracks are easy to identify in the mud or snow. Males are called “Toms” and females are called “Hens”. They spend their time in flocks of around a dozen or so birds, and roost in trees at night. They may look a little ungainly, but don’t be deceived – turkeys can run for short distances at a speed of 30 miles per hour!


Gray squirrels are gray, right? Well . . . . yes and no! While most gray squirrels are gray, some have a genetic mutation that results in what’s called “color polymorphism” and are closer to black in color. And like all animals some may have a mutation that results in what’s called “albinism”, in which they don’t have the melanin pigments that trigger eye and hair color. If you’ve seen a black squirrel at Afton, it’s probably a color polymorph of the gray squirrel. And if you’ve seen a white squirrel, it’s probably an albino.

Reptiles and amphibians

What do snakes do in the winter? Snakes gather in sheltered areas, taking over burrows below the frost-line that were dug by woodchucks, chipmunks, or other animals with the ability to dig. They also like rocky crevices on south-facing slopes that get lots of winter sunshine. Often many snakes will congregate in one den, called a hibernaculum, which may be a winter home to snakes of several different species. Once “in” for the winter their body temperature drops to between 35 and 45 degrees. And once they’ve found a good hibernaculum, snakes will return to it year after year, and generation after generation.


Many plants rely on the wind to blow their seeds to new places. Among them are cattails, milkweed, and thistles. Have you seen any of these seeds floating by in recent weeks? They all have bits of fluff that help them stay airborne and drift away from their mother plant. And you MIGHT see a milkweed bug on a mild day.


The final oak in this series is the Bur Oak. The leaves have rounded lobes and are 5 to 12 inches long. The bark is dark gray, and often deeply furrowed. And the cap of the acorn is very hairy and covers more than half of the nut!

Another deciduous tree to look for is the Paper Birch. Its outer bark is white and smooth with dark horizontal lines, often curling off in sheets to reveal the reddish inner bark. The oval leaves turn yellow in the fall and are two to four inches long, with toothed edges. Native Americans harvested the bark carefully in a way that does not harm the tree. It was (and is) used to make coverings for dwellings, baskets, and canoes, among other things.

Weather observations

Here are some weather observations from past years.

Friday, November 112005: record high of 64°; 2020: 2 inches of snow overnight; 2021: first flurries of the season in the evening
Saturday, November 122001: record high of 65°
Sunday, November 131999: record high of 71°; 2010: record snowfall of 7.7”
Monday, November 141990: record high of 71°; 2020: light rain and mist through day
Tuesday, November 152015: high of 62°; 2020: blustery winds, with temperatures in the 30s
Wednesday, November 162015: 50s and rainy
Thursday, November 172015: record rainfall of 1.21”
Friday, November 182011: sunny with high in the 40s; 2020: sunny and in the low 50s
Saturday, November 192014: ½” of fluffy snow, morning temperature in the 20s
Sunday, November 202012: cloudy, with high in the 40s
Monday, November 211994: record rainfall of 0.54”; 2016: sunshine and in the high 30s
Tuesday, November 222012: record high of 60°; 2016: record rainfall of 0.74”; 2020: light snow overnight that melts by noon, with temperature in the 40s.
Wednesday, November 232013: single digits above zero in the morning
Thursday, November 242001: record rainfall of 1.06”; 2017: record high of 60°; 2020: murky and drizzly through day, temperature in the low 30s.

Photo/Image credits

All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except:

  • Dean Lokken, Albino squirrel
  • Gary Sater, Milkweed seeds and Milkweed bug


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Afton State Park phenology, Nov. 11 to 24