Afton State Park Phenology November 24 to December 7

Winter offers plenty of wildlife wonders.

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3 minute read

Afton State Park (aossanna/Flickr)

Astronomy

On Friday the 24th the planet Jupiter is to the left of the Moon. It’s really bright, so you can’t miss it! The Andromedid Meteor Shower happens from the 25th to the 27th; look for shooting stars in the southern sky in the late evening. The Moon is full on the 27th, and this full Moon is called the Beaver Moon. At this time of year beavers have grown in their warm fur for winter. American Indians would trap beavers at this time to use the fur to make warm clothing for winter.

Birds

Many birds that are at Afton for the summer have gone farther south for the winter. But other birds who go farther north for the summer have come south to Afton for the winter! When you hike at the park look for flocks of dark-eyed juncos, golden-crowned kinglets, red-breasted nuthatches, and tree sparrows. The red-breasted nuthatches don’t come south every year, only in years when their preferred winter food, the seeds of conifers, are in short supply farther north. Many conifers produce large numbers of cones one year and very few the next, which leads to a two-year cycle in which the red-breasted nuthatches come south to Afton (and other places) in one year but not so much in the next.

Mammals

Most people don’t think twice about deer growing new antlers each fall then losing them in the winter. But re-growth of antlers by members of the deer family is the one and only instance of organ regeneration among mammals. This is a prime time to see bucks with full racks of antlers; after the first of the year you may come across dropped antlers or “sheds” out in the woods. Deer tracks are among the easiest tracks at Afton to identify – look for them in the mud or snow when you’re hiking.

Reptiles and amphibians

What do frogs and toads do in the winter? American toads are good diggers and burrow down below the frost line to sleep away the winter in a state of torpor, sometimes waking up enough to move up or down in order to stay just a bit below the frost line. If you were planting bulbs this fall you might have surprised a toad or two!

Frogs that spend most of their time on land are called “terrestrial frogs”. Terrestrial frogs, like the wood frog, are not good diggers. They look for cracks and spaces in rocks and logs and crawl in there for the winter. Frogs that spend most of their time in the water are called “aquatic frogs”. Aquatic frogs, like the leopard frog, don’t dig into the mud at the bottom of a pond but lie on top of the mud or only partially buried in it so they can continue to breathe. Frogs, unlike toads, actually freeze in the winter! How do they do that and survive? Frogs have high levels of glucose in their vital organs. The glucose acts as antifreeze and prevents ice from puncturing their cells. For a time their hearts actually stop! But they thaw out in the spring and come back to life. Pretty amazing!

Trees

Evergreen or conifer trees have specialized leaves called needles, and grow cones that hold their seeds. The Red Pine is a conifer, and it’s also Minnesota’s official state tree. Red pines grow to between 40 and 80 feet tall and often live for 150 to 200 years! They have reddish-brown bark in flat scales, and have small egg-shaped cones that are two to three inches long. The cones may hang on the tree for several years. The needles of the Red Pine are in what are called “bundles” of two needles, and are four to six inches long and dark green.

Weather observations

Here are some weather observations from past years.

Friday, November 242020: murky and drizzly through day, temperature in
the low 30s; 2017: record high of 60°; 2001: record
rainfall of 1.06”
Saturday, November 252012: clouds, high in low 30s
Sunday, November 262001: record snowfall of 5.9”
Monday, November 272019: record snowfall of 7.2”; 2014: high of 10°
Tuesday, November 282015: 30s and sunny; 2020: 50s and sunny
Wednesday, November 292022: 5” snow; 2009: light snow overnight
Thursday, November 302016: high 30s with light rain; sunny, 29°
Friday, December 12020: beautiful day in the low 50s; 2012: fog and low clouds through day
Saturday, December 22021: mid-40s, partly sunny; 2013: alternating rain and snow through day
Sunday, December 32022: dusting of snow overnight, single digits in morning; 2012: high in the 50s
Monday, December 42017: record high of 57°
Tuesday, December 52021: light snow overnight; 2001: record high of 63°
Wednesday, December 62013: cold and clear, high in single digits
Thursday, December 72020: murky day in the low 30s; 2015: high of 46°

Photo/Image credits

All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except:

  • Stephen B. Antus Jr., MN Conservation Volunteer: Buck deer
  • Bill Marchel, MN Conservation Volunteer: Deer antler shed, Deer track
  • Richard Hamilton Smith, MN Conservation Volunteer: Red Pine

Comments

One response to “Afton State Park Phenology November 24 to December 7”

  1. Mark Hove Avatar
    Mark Hove

    Some great photos and content, thanks.

Comment

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Afton State Park Phenology November 24 to December 7