If you get up early on Wednesday, May 17th to watch the Moon rise in the east a little before 5:00 a.m., you’ll see the planet Jupiter rising very close to it. Over the next two hours the Moon and Jupiter will get closer and closer together. At 6:41 a.m. Jupiter will disappear behind the Moon! This is called and “occultation”. About an hour later Jupiter will reappear on the other side of the Moon. It will be daylight by then so unless you have a small telescope you won’t be able to see it, but it will be there!
White-throated sparrows continue to move through our area heading north. And the warbler migration continues! One of the most common to pass through our area is the Yellow-Rumped Warbler. You may also see Yellow Warblers, Blackburnian Warblers, and many others.
And baby bird season continues, also. Robins are feeding nestlings, and ducklings paddle about in calm waters. Mallards lay a dozen or so eggs, more or less, but it is unusual for that many to survive to adulthood. Many predators rely on ducklings for food – Snapping Turtles and large fish such as Bass and Northern Pike may pull a duckling underwater for a meal, Egrets and Herons sometimes catch ducklings, and Snakes, Coyotes, and Raccoons may steal eggs or hunt ducklings.
When baby robins hatch their eyes are closed, their skin has no feathers, and they must rely on their parents entirely for food and warmth. They are not precocial like ducklings and goslings. The term used to describe robins and other birds that hatch before they have feathers is “altricial”.
Many mammals are crepuscular. That means that they are most active at dawn and dusk, though they may sometimes be active at night (nocturnal) or in the daytime (diurnal). Some of the crepuscular mammals at Afton are rabbits, skunks, red foxes, and raccoons. If you want to catch a glimpse of them, you’d better be crepuscular, too! Try hiking quietly in the early morning or evening, and being alert for sounds and movement. You just might see one of these crepuscular mammals!
The Monarchs may be here! Mid-May is when we usually start seeing Monarchs in Minnesota, though it could be a little later this year due to the cool weather through April. The Monarchs that arrive at Afton are the grandchildren or even the great-grandchildren of those who left last fall to fly south to Mexico.
Monarchs are a member of a family of butterflies called the “brush-footed butterflies”. When you see one perched, it may look like it only has four legs! That’s because the front pair of legs are very short. Those short front legs are covered with little bristles, which is what gives them the name of “brushfoots”. Other Brushfoots you might spot at Afton in the springtime include the Mourning Cloak and Eastern Comma, both of which overwinter as adults, and the Painted Lady and Red Admiral, both of which migrated to the southern U.S. last fall, with spring broods successively working their way farther and farther north. In the photo of the perched Red Admiral, you can see that it appears to only have four legs. The small brushfooted front legs aren’t visible.
Fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants. The mushroom everyone wants to find is our official state mushroom, the morel! It is very tasty when fried in a little butter. See how many you can see in the photo. Look for morels after spring thunderstorms; if you haven’t hunted them before try to go with a friend who can help you identify them. Safety first when eating mushrooms!
And if you just want to admire fungi in the wild, there are plenty of shelf fungi at Afton, too. And if you see something bright and orange it might be an orange jelly. They are just a couple of inches wide, and grow on decaying conifer wood.
In the woods look for Wild Columbine, Rue Anemone, and False Rue Anemone. What’s the difference between Rue Anemone and False Rue Anemone? Rue Anemone has five to ten petal-like sepals, while False Rue Anemone ALWAYS has only five.
Wild geraniums may be blooming in the woods, too, and on the prairie look for prairie phlox.
And continue to keep watch for wild strawberry leaves and flowers and remember where you see them. There will be wild strawberries to snack on while you’re hiking before long!!
Here are some weather observations from the Afton State Park area from past years.
|Friday, May 12||2022: fog early, then a record high of 92°; 2020: sunny and pleasant, near 60°|
|Saturday, May 13||2016: red sky in the morning and a half inch of rain before noon. The old saying goes: “Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight”; 2007: record high of 92°|
|Sunday, May 14||2020: A little rain overnight, temperatures in the 60s; 2013: record high of 98°|
|Monday, May 15||2017: thunder in the afternoon; 2001: record high of 94°|
|Tuesday, May 16||2021: fog and clouds early, then sunny with a high in the 70s|
|Wednesday, May 17||2020: rain through the day, for a record of 2.47 inches|
|Thursday, May 18||2013: rain and thunder in the morning; 2012: record high of 93°|
All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except:
- Dudley Edmondson, MN Conservation Volunteer: Blackburnian Warbler
- Keith Henjum: Yellow-rumped Warbler
- Dean Lokken: American Robin, Rabbit
- Jamie Olson Kinne: Eastern Comma
- Alan G. Nelson, Dembinksy Photo Associates, MN Conservation Volunteer: Skunk
- Gary Sater: Prairie Smoke, Whitetail Deer, Yellow Warbler
- Andrew VonBank: Morel mushrooms