Afton State Park phenology, January 5 to 18

Eagles, opossums, monarchs, and basswoods.

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Astronomy

The planets Jupiter and Saturn are both visible in the evening sky to start the year. Jupiter is high in the southwestern sky after sunset, while Saturn is low in the southwest. The Moon is just above Saturn on Saturday the 13th, and just below it on Sunday the 14th. On Thursday the 18th the Moon and Jupiter appear to be very close together from our vantage point, in what is called a “conjunction.”

Birds

In the fall and winter bald eagles follow open water south, with many wintering along rivers in the Mississippi system, including the St. Croix. Look for them perched on trees along the river, or standing on the ice looking into open water for fish.

Mammals

Raccoons and opossums are not true hibernators but are active on mild days. The opossum photo here was taken in January of 2008, when the opossum was foraging beneath the bird feeder at the Afton Visitor Center. Opossum and raccoon tracks both look like little hands. Opossum tracks are easy to distinguish because the outer toes on both feet splay outward, and there is often a line between the tracks made by the opossum’s tail dragging on the ground. The hind feet of opossums are about two inches long, and the front feet are about one and a half inches long. Raccoon tracks will usually have the track of the right front foot next to that of the left hind foot, and of the left front foot next to the right hind foot. The hind feet of raccoons are about four inches long, and the front feet about two and a half inches long, which is quite a bit longer than the feet of the opossum.

Insects

Remember the Monarch butterflies that left Minnesota last August and September to go
south? Those that survived the 3,000 mile journey are spending the winter in the Oyamel Fir Forests of Mexico.

Trees

And remember the golden-yellow leaves of American Basswood trees in the fall? Those leaves have all dropped. But if you are out hiking you may still be able to identify a basswood tree by its bark, and by the reddish-colored buds on its twigs. The buds are quite prominent and provide a splash of color in the winter landscape. Red squirrels who eat all the conifer seeds they’ve stored up in their middens may snack on basswood buds during the winter. They’re said to be quite sweet and tasty.

Weather observations

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

Friday, January 52019: record high of 47°
Saturday, January 62014: record low high temperature, in the teens below zero. Low of minus 22°
Sunday, January 72021: 20s, with rime ice on trees; 2003: record high of 52°
Monday, January 82015: record snowfall of 3.0 inches; 2003: record highof 54°
Tuesday, January 92002 and 2012: record high of 49°
Wednesday, January 102012: record high of 52°
Thursday, January 11 2018: 2 ½” snow
Friday, January 122022: partly sunny and in the 40s; 2000: Record snowfall of 8.7”
Saturday, January 132022: gray day in the 30s; 2017: 7° below at sunrise
Sunday, January 142022: light snow through the day, very dry; 2019: low 30s in the morning
Monday, January 152022: sunny and in the teens; 2017: high in the 30s and sunny
Tuesday, January 162020: single digits through day and sunny
Wednesday, January 172023: rain through day, changing to snow in the evening; 2015: a murky day with a high in the 20s
Thursday, January 182023: cloudy and in the 30s; 2014: record snowfall of
4.5”

Photo/Image credits

All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except:

  • Keith Henjum: Raccoon
  • Gary Sater: center Bald Eagle

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Afton State Park phenology, January 5 to 18