Afton State Park phenology, October 27 to November 9

The Full Hunter’s Moon, Jupiter visibile, bird migration, squirrel behavior, fungal changes, and diverse trees.

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Sunrise at Afton State Park (Michael Janke/Flickr)

Astronomy

Saturday the 28th brings the Full Hunter’s Moon, and the planet Jupiter will be very close to the moon. Hallowe’en is on Sunday the 31st. Hallowe’en is a cross-quarter day, roughly half-way between the Fall Solstice and the Winter Equinox. Happy Haunting!

The planet Jupiter is at opposition on the 3rd, which means that it’s directly opposite the Sun, relative to the Earth. Put another way, at opposition a planet is on one side of the earth while the Sun is on the other side. At opposition Jupiter rises at sunset and will be out all night long!

Late in the evening on the 9th is the Taurid Meteor Shower, so if you’re out after dark have a look in
the southern sky for shooting stars.

Birds

White-throated Sparrows are passing through our area heading farther south for winter. Many of the birds that spend the summer at Afton have already left for points farther south, like Meadowlarks, Bobolinks, and even Turkey Vultures. But for some birds who spend the summer farther north, Afton is where they come for the winter! Look for flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos in fields and meadows; the sides of their tails are banded in white, making them easy to identify. And keep a lookout for Red-breasted Nuthatches. Some years they come south to Afton for the winter, and some years they stay farther north.

Mammals

Three species of squirrels live at Afton, and all three remain active through the winter.

Gray Squirrels and the larger Fox Squirrels are both “scatter-hoarders”. They prepare for winter by gathering acorns and other hard-shelled nuts, and burying them at a variety of different locations throughout their territories.

Red Squirrels are much smaller than Gray or Fox Squirrels. They prefer to eat the seeds of conifers, and create a big pile of cones and seeds called a “midden” as a sort of squirrel pantry for winter feeding. If any of the three kinds of squirrels run out of food in their winter caches, they will eat the buds on trees.

Fungi

Fungi have their very own kingdom, just like plants and animals. Even though they look like plants, fungi are actually more closely related to animals! The bracket or shelf fungi are common at Afton. Look for them in the woods, often growing on dead trees.

And we are right at the end of the season for Giant Puffballs. As you might guess, the Giant Puffball is big, with reports of individuals up to five feet long and over 50 pounds! They are more commonly the size of a softball or maybe a soccer ball. When they are young they have a creamy white exterior and interior. The Giant Puffball doesn’t have a stem, but is attached to its underground mycelium by what’s called a mycelial cord. As they get older, the surface cracks into plates that drop away, exposing millions of yellow to olive-brown spores. Whenever anything touches the Puffball, the spores puff out in a tiny cloud to be carried by the wind. Giant Puffballs prefer rich soil, and you may see them in meadows or along the edges of streams.

Trees

This week’s featured oak is the White Oak. Like all members of the white oak group, it has rounded lobes, and its acorns take only one season to mature. The acorns are an important food for turkeys, grouse, squirrels, and deer. Note that the terminal lobe, the lobe at the very end of the leaf, appears to have two little fingers. This distinguishes the leaf of the White Oak from that of the Bur Oak, which we’ll meet next week. The bark is broken into reddish-gray scales.

And perhaps the most colorful tree in the autumn woods is the Maple. There are several species at Afton, some native and some introduced. Both the Sugar Maple and the Red Maple turn orange to a brilliant red in the fall. Maples have winged seeds called “samara” that are green when they “helicopter” down from the tree and later fade to a tan color. The Silver Maple has gray furrowed bark that becomes scaly as the tree gets older.

Weather observations

Here are some weather observations for these two weeks from past years.

Friday, October 27 2013: frost in morning, warming to low 60s
Saturday, October 28 2020: sunny, high near 50°; 2012: high in 40s
Sunday, October 29 2019: frosty morning, high in 40s
Monday, October 30 2012: high near 50°
Tuesday, October 31 1991: record rainfall of 0.85 inches, followed by record snowfall of 8.2 inches (the start of the Hallowe’en blizzard)
Wednesday, November 11991: record snowfall of 18.5 inches, record rainfall of 1.85 inches (the continuation of the Hallowe’en blizzard)
Thursday, November 22022: record high 76°; 2021: cloudy day in the 40s; 2014: sunny, with a high near 60°
Friday, November 32020: record high of 75°; 1991: record low of 8° (extreme cold following the Hallowe’en blizzard ensured that the layer of ice from rain that fell before the snow lasted until spring)
Saturday, November 42020: record high of 74°; 1991: record low of minus 3°
Sunday, November 52016: record high of 73°
Monday, November 62020: record high of 75°; 2000: record rainfall of 1.54 inches; 1991: record low of zero
Tuesday, November 72020: record high of 74°; 1991: record low of minus 6°
Wednesday, November 82020: windy and in the 70s; 1991: record low of 1°
Thursday, November 92021: beautiful day in the 50s with the last leaves falling from trees; 2020: rain off and on through day; 2017: record low of 12°; 2014: high in 40s with gusty winds of 40 miles per hour

Photo/Image credits

All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except:

  • Marvin Dembinsky Photo/Skip Moody: MN Conservation Volunteer: Fox Squirrel
  • Bill Marchel: MN Conservation Volunteer, first Red Squirrel
  • Dean Lokken: Dark-eyed Junco, third Red Squirrel

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One response to “Afton State Park phenology, October 27 to November 9”

  1. Mark Hove Avatar
    Mark Hove

    Fascinating, thanks!

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Afton State Park phenology, October 27 to November 9