Monday the 20th is the Vernal Equinox. “Vernal” means “of or relating to Spring” in Latin, and “Equinox” means “equal night”. On this day every place on earth will experience twelve hours of daylight, and 12 hours of darkness. Following the equinox the daylight hours will get longer and longer here in the Northern Hemisphere as we approach summer, and shorter and shorter in the Southern Hemisphere as our friends on the other side of the equator move toward winter. And on the night of Thursday, the 23rd, look for Venus above the crescent Moon.
Male Red-winged Blackbirds have returned and are singing their “Ko-Ka-Ree” song to claim nesting territories in marshy areas. The female Red-winged Blackbirds will be here in another few weeks. Red-winged Blackbirds spend the winter in the southern part of the U.S. Eastern Bluebirds return about now, too, after wintering in the southeast or Mexico. Great Blue Herons seem to magically appear as soon as there is open water. They have a longer migration than blackbirds and bluebirds, with some herons wintering in the Caribbean or northern South America. And waterfowl are beginning to be present in greater numbers as they follow open water north – look for Mallard Ducks, Wood Ducks, Buffleheads, Canada Geese, and Mergansers on the St. Croix River.
Juncos that went farther south for the winter are now passing through on the way farther north for the summer. Robins that went south are back and singing loudly at sunrise, along with cardinals and chickadees.
Great-horned owls are one of the first birds to nest each year in Minnesota. They laid eggs in February or even January, and the eggs are hatching about now. In a little over a month the young owls, called “owlets” will leave the nest, but they will remain with their parents until fall.
Amphibians and Reptiles
After a long winter’s rest the amphibians and reptiles are back! The first ones we are likely to encounter are two species of frogs, the spring peepers and the boreal chorus frogs, formerly called the western chorus frogs. And we’re more likely to hear them than to see them. Spring peepers make a “peeping” sound, and boreal chorus frogs sound like someone running their finger over a comb. Both species will begin calling as soon as there is a little open water and warm weather. Take a walk at around sunset and keep your ears open for frogs! If you happen to see one, the peepers have a dark “X” on their backs, while the chorus frogs have stripes, including a prominent stripe through their eyes. Both species are about one inch in length.
Some oaks hold their leaves through the winter, and only drop them as the new leaves begin to grow. Some people say it’s only the white oaks that hold their leaves, while others say it’s the red and black oaks. I’ve seen many kinds of oaks still holding onto their leaves in mid-March. When you hike at Afton see what oaks YOU can find that are still holding their leaves.
Here are some weather observations from the Afton State Park area from past years.
|Friday, March 17||2012: record high of 80°; 2013: near 10° in the morning|
|Saturday, March 18||2012: record high of 79°; 2020: 30s in the morning|
|Sunday, March 19||2012: record high of 79°; 2014: 1⁄2 inch of snow|
|Monday, March 20||2021: high in 50s|
|Tuesday, March 21||2008: record snowfall of 3.9 inches; 2020: sunny and 20s in the morning|
|Wednesday, March 22||2021: sunny and in the 60s; 2015: gray and 30s through day|
|Thursday, March 23||2021: rain overnight and again in afternoon|
All photos/images copyright Nina Manzi, except:
- Michael Furtman, MN Conservation Volunteer: Black-capped Chickadee
- Keith Henjum: Hooded Mergansers
- Dean Lokken: American Robin, Dark-eyed Junco
- Bill Marchel, MN Conservation Volunteer: Red-winged blackbird
- Gary Sater: Eastern Bluebird, Great Blue Heron, Juvenile Great-horned Owl, Northern Cardinal, Wood Ducks
- Allen Blake Sheldon, MN Conservation Volunteer: Spring Peeper, second Boreal Chorus Frog
- Stan Tekiela, MN Conservation Volunteer: first Boreal Chorus Frog
- Tammy Wolfe, MN Conservation Volunteer: Great-horned Owl and Owlet