In late evening on Friday the 25th through Sunday the 27th look in the southern sky for the Andromedid Meteor Shower. After dark on Monday the 28th look for the planet Saturn above the Moon. On Wednesday the 30th the Moon will be in between the planets Saturn and Jupiter. And on Thursday December 1st the Moon will be just below Jupiter.
Many birds that are at Afton for the summer have gone farther south for the winter. But other birds who go farther north for the summer have come south to Afton for the winter! When you hike at the park look for flocks of dark-eyed juncos, golden-crowned kinglets, red-breasted nuthatches, and tree sparrows. The red-breasted nuthatches don’t come south every year, only in years when their preferred winter food, the seeds of conifers, are in short supply farther north. Many conifers produce large numbers of cones one year and very few the next, which leads to a two-year cycle in which the red-breasted nuthatches come south to Afton (and other places) in one year but not so much in the next.
Most people don’t think twice about deer growing new antlers each fall then losing them in the winter. But re-growth of antlers by members of the deer family is the one and only instance of organ regeneration among mammals. This is a prime time to see bucks with full racks of antlers; after the first of the year you may come across dropped antlers or “sheds” out in the woods. Deer tracks are among the easiest tracks at Afton to identify – look for them in the mud or snow when you’re hiking.
Reptiles and amphibians
What do frogs and toads do in the winter? American toads are good diggers and burrow down below the frost line and sleep away the winter in a state of torpor, sometimes waking up enough to move up or down in order to stay just a bit below the frost line. If you were planting bulbs this fall you might have surprised a toad or two!
Frogs that spend most of their time on land are called “terrestrial frogs”. Terrestrial frogs, like the wood frog, are not good diggers and look for cracks and spaces in rocks and logs. Frogs that spend most of their time in the water are called “aquatic frogs”. Aquatic frogs, like the leopard frog, don’t dig into the mud at the bottom of a pond but lie on top of the mud or only partially buried so they can continue to breathe. Frogs, unlike toads, actually freeze but have high levels of glucose in their vital organs. The glucose acts as antifreeze and prevents ice from puncturing their cells. For a time their hearts actually stop! But they thaw out in the spring and come back to life. Pretty amazing!
Evergreen or conifer trees have specialized leaves called needles, and grow cones that hold their seeds. The Red Pine is a conifer, and it’s also Minnesota’s official state tree. Red pines grow to between 40 and 80 feet tall and often live for 150 to 200 years! They have reddish-brown bark in flat scales, and have small egg-shaped cones that are two to three inches long. The cones may hang on the tree for several years. The needles of the Red Pine are in what are called “bundles” of two needles, and are four to six inches long and dark green.
Here are some weather observations from past years.
|Friday, November 25||2012: clouds, high in low 30s|
|Saturday, November 26||2001: record snowfall of 5.9”|
|Sunday, November 27||2014: high of 10°|
|Monday, November 28||2015: 30s and sunny; 2020: 50s and sunny|
|Tuesday, November 29||2009: light snow overnight; 2020: blustery and 30s|
|Wednesday, November 30||2016: high 30s with light rain; sunny, 29°|
|Thursday, December 1||2012: fog and low clouds through day; 2020: beautiful day in the low 50s|
|Friday, December 2 2013||alternating rain and snow through day; 2021: mid-40s, partly sunny|
|Saturday, December 3||2012: high in the 50s|
|Sunday, December 4||2017: record high of 57°|
|Monday, December 5||2001: record high of 63°; 2021: light snow overnight|
|Tuesday, December 6||2013: cold and clear, high in single digits|
|Wednesday, December 7||2015: high of 46°; 2020: murky day in the low 30s.|
|Thursday, December 8||2010: single digit overnight with fog rising off open water|
All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except:
- Stephen B. Antus Jr., MN Conservation Volunteer: Buck deer
- Bill Marchel, MN Conservation Volunteer: Deer antler shed, Deer track
- Richard Hamilton Smith, MN Conservation Volunteer: Red Pine