Afton State Park phenology Dec. 8 to 21

Winter waterfowl, coyotes vs. foxes, and the wonderful white pine.




3 minute read

Afton State Park (Tony Webster/Flickr)


The Geminid meteor shower is on December 13th and 14th, and promises to be one of the best shows of the year. Look in the northeastern sky all night long, and if you’re in a dark area you could see up to 75 shooting stars per hour! On Sunday the 17th look for Saturn just above the Moon, and on the 21st and 22nd the Moon will be near bright Jupiter.

Thursday, December 21st is the Winter Solstice. This is shortest day of the year, and the first day of astronomical winter. There will only be eight hours and 46 minutes of daylight. Up until the 21st, the sunrise and sunset from our vantage point will be a little bit farther south on the horizon each day, and after the 21st the sunrise and sunset will begin to creep back north along the horizon.


As long as there is open water on the St. Croix River, look for flocks of geese overhead in the morning and the late afternoon, and mallard ducks, mergansers, grebes, and other waterbirds on or near the water. In 2014 there were reports of over 500 mergansers on the St. Croix – that’s a lot of mergansers!!


People used to think that when coyotes moved into an area they would kill any resident foxes in order to reduce competition for food. But recent studies have shown that to be true in rural areas, but not in urban areas. That’s because urban areas generally have an overabundance of prey – large populations of rabbits, mice, and the like due in part to humans providing a landscape with lots of forage. Urban areas also have lots of scavenging opportunities provided by roadkill, human garbage, and compost piles, which add up to more than enough food for both coyotes and foxes. So with regard to coyotes and foxes, is Afton more rural or more urban? Which of the two species have YOU seen?


Another conifer that lives at Afton is the Eastern White Pine. Its needles are about three to five inches long and in bundles of five. The cones are four to eight inches long and slightly curved, with white at the tip of each scale. The bark of young trees is smooth, but that of older trees breaks into plates separated by furrows. Eastern White Pines grow to be 70 to 100 feet tall, and can live for 200 to 250 years! They are the largest conifers in Minnesota, and a favorite place for bald eagles to build their nests.

Weather observations

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

Friday, December 82010: single digit overnight with fog rising off open water
Saturday, December 92020: 52° and sunny; 2012: record snowfall of 10.5”
Sunday, December 102021: record snowfall of 11.0”, eclipsing old record of 1.8” set in 2013
Monday, December 112010: record snowfall of 16.3 inches
Tuesday, December 122012: mild and sunny, with the high in the 40s
Wednesday, December 132014: high of 51° and foggy
Thursday, December 142010: single digits below zero
Friday, December 152021: record high of 58°; much higher than the old record of 51° set in 2014; 2014: third consecutive day with highs above 50°
Saturday, December 162000: record snowfall of 7.0 inches
Sunday, December 172011: cloudy, high in 30s
Monday, December 182000: record snowfall of 6.5 inches
Tuesday, December 191983: record low of 29 below zero
Wednesday, December 202010: record snowfall of 4.6 inches
Thursday, December 212016: record low of 24 below zero

Photo/Image credits

All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except:

  • Keith Henjum: Hooded Mergansers
  • Dean Lokken: Rabbit
  • Bill Marchel, MN Conservation Volunteer: Coyotes
  • Gary Sater: Mallard Duck, Pie-billed Grebe


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Afton State Park phenology Dec. 8 to 21