Afton State Park phenology, October 6 to 12

Migrants are on the move while everything else gets ready for winter.




3 minute read

Maple tree at Afton State Park. (Lorie Shaull/Flickr)


Get up early on Monday the 8th or Tuesday the 9th and look in the east for the bright planet Venus. It will be very close to the blue star Regulus, which is in the constellation Leo. And on Tuesday the October 9th the late evening hours bring the Draconid meteor shower in the northwest, appearing to originate near the constellation Draco the Dragon.


Migration continues. Wood Ducks, Mallards, and Canada Geese follow waterways like the St. Croix River on their way south. Great Blue Herons and American Egrets keep near water as they move south, too. Look for large flocks of red-winged blackbirds and grackles, and smaller flocks of bluebirds. You may also see or hear some white-throated sparrows. They sing their “O Canada” song in the fall, though not as often as in the spring.


Mammals are looking ahead to winter and how to survive the cold months. Some hibernate, some become less active, and others will remain active through the year. Bats will hibernate in caves and other sheltered places. You may still see some flying in the evening hours in October. Raccoons are not true hibernators but they will become less active as the weather gets cold. Red and gray squirrels, in contrast, will remain active all winter long, and are still hard at work gathering nuts and seeds.


Be careful not to step on woolly bear caterpillars when you’re hiking at Afton. They are looking for a sheltered spot to curl up for the winter. Many insects overwinter as adults, including leaf-footed bugs, which gather in large numbers under leaves or tree bark. Many other insects migrate, including the northern populations of milkweed bugs.


Milkweed, thistle, and butterflyweed seeds all drift away from their parent plants on autumn breezes.


There are at least six species of oaks at Afton, and fall is a good time to look for them. This week, see if you can find a Black Oak. It is in the red oak group, and like all red oaks has points at the ends of the lobes of its leaves. The caps of its acorns cover about the top half of the nut. Black oaks like to grow on dry sandy slopes in the sunshine.

Another tree to look for is the ash. Although many ash trees have died after being infested with the emerald ash borer, you may still find some in wet soils along streams like Trout Brook. The most common is the Green Ash. It has brown furrowed bark, and compound leaves made up of several leaflets that turn yellow in fall. Ash trees have winged seeds called “samara” that often hang in clusters on the tree well into the winter.

Weather observations

Here are some weather observations for this week from past years.

Friday, October 62020: sunny and near 80°; Record high of 87°in 2007
Saturday, October 72022: in the 40s in the morning; record high of 85° in 2011 and 2003; trace of snow in 2002
Sunday, October 8Record high of 87° in 2010
Monday, October 92015: mostly cloudy with high in the 50s; 2021: high near 80°
Tuesday, October 102022: sunny and mid-70s; 2009: light snow overnight, sticking to lawns through mid-day
Wednesday, October 112015: Record high of 85°
Thursday, October 122020: 2” of rain overnight with thunder and lightning ;
2009: record snowfall of 2.5”

Photo/Image credits:

All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except:

  • Keith Henjum: Raccoon
  • Dean Lokken: American Egret
  • Deborah Rose; Minnesota Conservation Volunteer: Bat
  • Gary Sater: Eastern Bluebird, Mallard Duck


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Afton State Park phenology, October 6 to 12