Afton State Park Phenology, January 20 to February 2, 2023

Woodpeckers and owls are active, while deer shed antlers.




5 minute read

Luminaries seen during a candlelight event at Afton State Park. (Jenny Salita/Flickr)

Upcoming candlelight events:

  • Gateway State Trail, Friday January 27, 5-8 p.m. A one mile portion of the trail be lit starting from the parking area at Wildwood Elementary School in Mahtomedi (round trip will be a 2 mile walk). This trail will be plowed prior to the event so snowshoes are not necessary. Hot chocolate and hot cider will be provided near the school end of the lit portion. This event is free.
  • Afton State Park Saturday, Feb 4, 5-8 p.m. This walk will be a loop trail with a portion on the plowed winter walking trail and along a packed snowshoes trail, approximately a 2 mile loop. Snowshoes are not necessary, but some like to use them. Snowshoes can be rented first come first serve for $6/day. Hot chocolate, cider, tea and coffee will be available in the visitor center. This event is free, a vehicle permit required to enter a Minnesota State Park.


Venus is now visible in the evening, in the west after sunset. Saturn is the next brightest object above Venus, and the two planets have been drawing closer and closer to each other as we see them from our vantage point on earth. On Sunday the 22nd they’ll appear to meet, so hope for clear skies and have a look!

Thursday, February 2nd is Groundhog’s Day. This holiday is a “cross-quarter” day – it approximates the halfway point from the Winter Solstice in December to the Spring Equinox in March.


Even though we reach the cross-quarter day on February 2nd, with our snowy winter it may be hard to imagine that spring will ever come. But keep your ears open and you may hear some signs of spring from the world of birds. Several species of woodpeckers live at Afton year round, and at this time of year they drum on trees and fence posts to announce their territories to other woodpeckers.

Chickadees and cardinals are singing their spring songs. The chickadee sings a two-toned song that sounds like “Phoe-Be”. Some people think this sounds like the chickadee is saying “Spring Soon”. And cardinals sing a whistling song that sounds like “what cheer cheer cheer”.

And if you’re out walking in the evening or very early morning, you might hear Great Horned Owls! At this time of year they “duet hoot” to establish territories and pair bonds, and will soon be nesting. They nest earlier in the year than any other bird in Minnesota.


Have you ever been hiking in the woods and come across deer antlers on the ground? Each winter buck deer lose their antlers, and the fallen antlers are called “sheds”. Whitetail deer bucks grow new antlers every year. Deer and other members of the deer family, like moose and elk, are the only mammals that can regenerate a complex organ like antlers, which contain blood vessels and nerve cells. Just when deer will drop their antlers depends on lots of things, including weather. With all the snow this winter most deer have probably dropped their antlers by now. The reason antlers don’t pile up everywhere in the woods is that other animals eat them! Chipmunks, squirrels, mice, and even porcupines all eat shed antlers, which are an important source of calcium, phosphorous, and other minerals.


Eastern Red Cedar is a conifer that looks quite a bit different from pines and spruces. The Red Cedar has scaly needles, and its cones look like dusty blue berries! The bark is reddish-gray and often peels off the tree in long strips. There are plenty of Red Cedars at Afton. Birds eat the cones and distribute the seeds in their droppings, and the trees often sprout in open areas like the prairies at Afton.

Weather observations

Here are some weather observations from the Afton State Park area from past years.

Friday, January 20 2019: cold and calm, a few degrees below zero
Saturday, January 21 2017: rain in the morning, foggy through day. 40s
Sunday, January 22 2019: light dusting of snow, low in the teens; 2021: one degree above in the morning, rising into the 20s with sunshine
Monday, January 232015: sunny with high in low 40s; 2021: 2 1⁄2 inches of snow from mid-afternoon into the next morning.
Tuesday, January 242019: light snow and blustery wind, with falling temperature from the teens to the single digits
Wednesday, January 252019: below zero in the morning
Thursday, January 26 2004: record snowfall of 7.4”
Friday, January 27 2017: high near 30°
Saturday, January 28 2019: four inches of snow overnight, temperature in single digits
Sunday, January 292019: clear skies, temperature falling from single digits below zero in the morning to 14 below by 6:00 pm; 2021: cloudy and clammy through day, in the 20s.
Monday, January 30 2014: record snowfall of 6.4”; 2019: 20° below zero to start the day, rising to near zero.
Tuesday, January 312019: clear and 20° below zero in the morning
Wednesday, February 12004: record snowfall of 6.7”; 2019: end of a 78-hour stretch of below zero temperatures.
Thursday, February 22016: record snowfall of 8.82”

Photo/Image credits

All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except:

  • Stephen B. Antus Jr., MN Conservation Volunteer: Deer with one antler
  • Michael Furtman, MN Conservation Volunteer: Black-Capped Chickadee Keith Henjum: Hairy Woodpecker
  • Dean Lokken: Male and Female Northern Cardinals
  • Bill Marchel, MN Conservation Volunteer: Buck deer, deer shed
  • Gary Sater: Juvenile great-horned owl
  • Stan Tekiela, MN Conservation Volunteer: Downy Woodpecker
  • Tammy Wolfe, MN Conservation Volunteer: Great-horned owl and nestling.


You may republish this article online or in print under our Creative Commons license. You may not edit or shorten the text, you must attribute the article to St. Croix 360 and you must include the author’s name in your republication.

If you have any questions, please email

Afton State Park Phenology, January 20 to February 2, 2023