Afton State Park phenology March 3 to 9, 2023

Singing birds are some of the first signs of spring, while hungry mammals emerge.




4 minute read

Afton State Park (aossanna/Flickr)


Tuesday March 7th is the Full Moon. This moon is called the Worm Moon, the Snow Crust Moon, or the Snow Blindness Moon. The name “worm moon” comes from early spring rains driving worms to come to the surface of the earth, while the other two names have to do with the condition of the snow at this time of year, and the condition of people who have spent a long winter looking at the bright sunshine reflecting off the snow.


Flocks of Cedar Waxwings have been moving through the forests all winter, searching for berries and conifer seeds. You can recognize them by their black masks and the yellow band at the end of their tails.

Cardinals and Chickadees continue to sing their spring songs, but they are not the only birds with spring songs! Listen for the wha-wha-wha song of the White-breasted Nuthatch, and the “pump handle” song of the Bluejay . . .which gets is name because it sounds like a creaky pump handle.

Red-breasted Nuthatches make a low almost quacking sound, almost like a quiet duck with a stuffy nose. They sometimes come as far south as Afton in the winter, generally in what are called “low-mast” years, which are years when the trees of the northern forest where the Nuthatches spend their summers do not produce a lot of seeds. Dark-eyed Juncos spend the summers in those same northern forests, but they come south every year in the winter. For Juncos “south” includes Afton! Soon flocks of Juncos will begin flying farther north.

Horned Larks may still be moving through our area on their way north. Look for them along roadsides. Overhead look for the first Sandhill Cranes flying north. You may hear them before you see them; they make a distinctive rattling call. And if early spring rains really do drive worms to the surface, migrating Robins are sure to arrive at about the same time.


As the sun climbs higher in the sky and the days begin to warm up, mid-sized mammals become more active. On mild days in early March you may encounter Skunks, Raccoons, and Opossums. None of these animals are true hibernators. Since all three of these animals are mostly nocturnal, or active at night, you’re most likely to see them around dawn or dusk.

During the cold days of winter Raccoons and Skunks retreat into a burrow or den. Raccoons often den alone, although a mother Raccoon may share a den with that year’s kits. Skunks are more likely to share burrows and thus also get to share body warmth. During the cold days of winter Skunks and Raccoons go into a state called “torpor” in which their body temperature drops and their metabolism slows, allowing them to use less of the energy they stored as fat in the summer and fall. But on mild days Skunks and Raccoons wake up for a few hours in their dens or burrows, or venture out to look for food. Skunks and Raccoons pay a price for staying warm in their dens and burrows, however, often losing half of their body weight before spring arrives. Skunks leave their burrows to mate in late February and early March, often when there is still snow on the ground.

Opossums may spend most of the day in a den lined with leaves, but they must continue to eat throughout the winter, and you may see them foraging under bird feeders. The opossum in the photo below was under the bird feeder at the Visitor Center at Afton in February 2008.


Fungi are not animals, and are not plants, either. In the classification of life on earth, the Fungi have their very own kingdom! Late winter is a good time of year to look for shelf fungi in the woods. Look for them growing on dead and down trees, which the fungi break down and digest. The shelf fungi come in many colors and are easy to spot before trees leaf out and the understory plants sprout.

Weather observations

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

Friday, March 32019: tied record low of minus 13°; 2021: sunny and in the 40s
Saturday, March 42000: tied record high of 61°; 2021: sunny and in the 40s
Sunday, March 52000: record high of 72°; 2013: 4” of snow overnight; 2022: ice storm overnight changing to rain by afternoon with thunder
Monday, March 62000: record high of 69°; 2017: 50s with drizzle; 2022: 3” of snow overnight
Tuesday, March 72000: tied record high of 73°; 2015: high in 30s; 2021: breezy with clouds and temperature in the 50s
Wednesday, March 82016: record high of 70°; 1999: record snowfall of 12.5”; 2020: sunny and in the 60s
Thursday, March 92021: record high of 62°; 2003: record low of minus 10°; 2014: breezy and in the low 40s

Photo/Image credits:

All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except:

  • Travis Bonovsky, MN Conservation Volunteer: Bluejay
  • Michael Furtman, MN Conservation Volunteer: Dark-eyed junco
  • Keith Henjum: Raccoon
  • Dean Lokken: American Robin, White-breasted Nuthatch, Horned Lark
  • Bill Marchel, MN Conservation Volunteer: Striped skunk
  • Gary Sater: Cardinal, Cedar Waxwing, Sandhill Cranes


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 March 3 to 9, 2023