Afton State Park Phenology, Nov. 10 to Nov. 23

Turkey time, squirrel coloration, sleeping snakes, and bur oak notes.

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Gray dogwood, Afton State Park (m3monarch/iNaturalist)

Astronomy

If you have a pair of binoculars, Monday the 13th is a good night to try to see the planet Uranus. First find the bright planet Jupiter in the evening sky, then look for the Pleiades star cluster, not far away. Scan the sky between them with your binoculars and look for something green. There aren’t any green stars so when you see green you’ll be looking at Uranus! And early risers may spot some shooting stars in the southern sky on Saturday the 18th and Sunday the 19th; that’s the Leonid Meteor Shower.

Birds

Before the early 1970s, there were no wild turkeys in Minnesota. But there are lots now! From 1971 to 1973 the DNR participated in trapping 29 adult wild turkeys in Missouri, and relocated them to Houston County in southeastern Minnesota. The wild turkeys at Afton are descendants of those original 29 birds. Turkeys are active in the daytime (“diurnal”) so you may see them foraging on the prairies and meadows at Afton. Their tracks are easy to identify in the mud or snow. Males are called “Toms” and females are called “Hens”. They spend their time in flocks of around a dozen or so birds, and roost in trees at night. They may look a little ungainly, but don’t be deceived – turkeys can run for short distances at a speed of 30 miles per hour!

Mammals

Gray squirrels are gray, right? Well . . . . yes and no! While most gray squirrels are gray, some have a genetic mutation that results in what’s called “color polymorphism” and are closer to black in color. And like all animals some may have a mutation that results in what’s called “albinism”, in which they don’t have the melanin pigments that trigger eye and hair color. If you’ve seen a black squirrel at Afton, it’s probably a color polymorph of the gray squirrel. And if you’ve seen a white squirrel, it’s probably an albino.

Reptiles and amphibians

Ever wonder what snakes do in the winter? They gather in sheltered areas, taking over burrows below the frost-line that were dug by woodchucks, chipmunks, or other animals with the ability to dig. They also like rocky crevices on south-facing slopes that get lots of winter sunshine. Often many snakes will congregate in one den, called a hibernaculum, which may be a winter home to snakes of several different species. Once “in” for the winter their body temperature drops to between 35 and 45 degrees. And once they’ve found a good hibernaculum, snakes will return to it year after year, and generation after generation.

Plants

Many plants rely on the wind to blow their seeds to new places. Among them are cattails, milkweed, and thistles. Have you seen any of these seeds floating by in recent weeks? They all have bits of fluff that help them stay airborne and drift away from their mother plant. And you MIGHT see a milkweed bug on a mild day.

Trees

The final oak in this series is the Bur Oak. The leaves have rounded lobes and are 5 to 12 inches long. The bark is dark gray, and often deeply furrowed. And the cap of the acorn is very hairy and covers more than half of the nut!

Another deciduous tree to look for is the Paper Birch. Its outer bark is white and smooth with dark horizontal lines, often curling off in sheets to reveal the reddish inner bark. The oval leaves turn yellow in the fall and are two to four inches long, with toothed edges. Native Americans harvest the bark carefully in a way that does not harm the tree. It was (and is) used to make coverings for dwellings, baskets, and canoes, among other things.

Weather observations

Here are some weather observations from past years.

Friday, November 102020: record snowfall of 5.5 inches; 2012: record high of 69°
Saturday, November 112021: first flurries of the season in the evening; 2020: 2 inches of snow overnight; 2005: record high of 64°
Sunday, November 122001: record high of 65°
Monday, November 132010: record snowfall of 7.7”’ 1999: record high of 71°
Tuesday, November 142022: heavy wet snow in morning, mostly melting in afternoon; 2020: light rain and mist through day
Wednesday, November 152015: high of 62°; 2020: blustery winds, with temperatures in the 30s
Thursday, November 162015: 50s and rainy
Friday, November 172015: record rainfall of 1.21”
Saturday, November 182011: sunny with high in the 40s; 2020: sunny and in the low 50s
Sunday, November 192014: ½” of fluffy snow, morning temperature in the 20s
Monday, November 202012: cloudy, with high in the 40s
Tuesday, November 211994: record rainfall of 0.54”; 2016: sunshine and in the high 30s
Wednesday, November 222020: light snow overnight that melts by noon, with temperature in the 40s; 2016: record rainfall of 0.74”; 2012: record high of 60°
Thursday, November 23 2013: single digits above zero in the morning

Photo/Image credits

All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except:

  • Dean Lokken, Albino squirrel
  • Gary Sater, Milkweed seeds and Milkweed bug

Comments

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One response to “Afton State Park Phenology, Nov. 10 to Nov. 23”

  1. Gae Jarvis Avatar
    Gae Jarvis

    I did not know about Turkeys not being here prior to 1970. Thank you!

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Afton State Park Phenology, Nov. 10 to Nov. 23