Afton State Park Phenology, June 28 to July 4

Mimics and moths, blooming basswoods, and deer at dawn and dusk.

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Mimics and moths
Afton State Park Visitor Center (Greg Seitz/St. Croix 360)

Astronomy

On Sunday the 30th get up early and look in the east before sunrise. You will see the planet Mars halfway between the crescent Moon and bright Jupiter. The next morning, July 1st, the Moon is just above Mars. On Tuesday the 2nd the Moon will be in between Mars and Jupiter, and in the morning on the 3rd Jupiter and the Moon will be very close together, forming what is called a conjunction. They aren’t really close to each other in reality, but they will look like they are from our vantage point.

Birds

Many birds have the names of colors as part of their name. Some “color” birds you might see in the woods at this time of year include the Indigo Bunting, the Scarlet Tanager, the Bluejay, and the Brown Thrasher.

Other birds have names that mimic their calls. Some of those you might see and hear at Afton are the Chickadee, Bobolink, Killdeer, and the Black-Billed Cuckoo. The Chickadee’s call is “Chick-a-dee-dee- dee”. European settlers in New England who named the Bobolink thought its call sounded like “Bob O Link, Bob O Link, Spink, Spank, Spink”. The Killdeer says its name with a New England accent: “Kill- deah”. The Rufous-sided Towhee makes a two-toned call that sounds like “towhee”, or sometimes “che-wink”. I have not seen or heard a Cuckoo at Afton, but the range maps show that it’s possible! If you see or hear one, please let us know. It sounds a lot like a cuckoo clock!

Insects

National Moth Week is coming! National Moth Week is July 20th to 28th, and is celebrated worldwide. Visit nationalmothweek.org to send in your moth observations and instructions on how to hang a sheet and see beautiful moths in your own backyard. Or try setting up a black light if you have one and see what beautiful insects pay you a visit.

Why moths? The moths are an ancient and diverse group of insects, with the oldest fossils dating to about 200 million years ago. There are an estimated 160,000 species of moths, many of which have not yet been described. The butterflies diverged from the moths about 100 million years ago, and there are only about 17,500 species of butterflies. The easy way to tell them apart visually is that the butterflies have little balls at the ends of their antennae, and the moths do not. Moths also have thicker and furrier bodies. Moths are important pollinators; one study showed that moths do more pollinating at night than do day-flying bees! And moths are an important part of the food web, providing food for songbirds, mammals, and other insects.

Members of the Plume Moth family have spindly legs and look rather like airplanes. The Eight-spotted Forester flies in the daytime and is often mistaken for a butterfly. The Hummingbird Moth is often mistaken for a . . . hummingbird! Its official name is “White-Lined Sphinx Moth” but many people call it the Hummingbird Moth. Sphinx Moths beat their wings about 40 times per second and feed at dawn and dusk. Because they are active at times of low light, they feed mostly on white or light-colored flowers, including primroses. The caterpillars of Hummingbird Moths burrow underground to form their cocoons, spending the winter below ground before undergoing metamorphosis in the springtime and emerging as moths, sometimes as early as April. The Indomitable Melipotis is a member of the tribe of Underwing Moths. They have very detailed patterning on their forewings, which allows them to blend in with tree bark. Their hindwings, which are hidden when they are at rest, have splashes of bright colors that they can flash to frighten away predators that disturb them. Look for Plume Moths and Foresters in the daytime, for Hummingbird Moths visiting flowers at the end of day or early in the morning, and for Underwings like the Indomitable Melipotis in the woods.

Mammals

Deer have changed from their winter gray coats to summer red. Young fawns are becoming more independent, though they still have their spotted coats. Bucks have started to grow antlers. Growing antlers are said to be “in velvet” due to the fuzzy coating on the antlers as they grow. Look for deer at dawn and dusk. Animals that are active at dawn and dusk, like deer, are called “crepuscular”.

Plants

Basswood trees, also called lindens, are in bloom and covered with hundreds of fragrant white blossoms. The leaves of the basswood are large and somewhat heart-shaped, and the bark is furrowed. And while you’re admiring the many basswoods in the forest at Afton, keep a lookout for Underwing moths. The Basswood is the host plant for the Yellow-Banded Underwing, and its forewings look a lot like basswood bark!

Weather observations

Here are some weather observations from past years.

Friday, June 282020: 3 5/8” rain
Saturday, June 292015: Thunderstorm and hail in late afternoon
Sunday, June 302022: thunderstorm in the early morning hours; 2015: Sunny with a high in the upper 70s
Monday, July 12020: Sultry start to July, so hot that the tree frogs quieted down
Tuesday, July 22012: record high of 99°
Wednesday, July 3 2021: Sky hazy from western wildfires. Hot and humid,
in 80s
Thursday, July 42012: record high of 101°

Photo/Image credits:

All photos copyright Nina Manzi, except:

  • Travis Bonovsky, MN Conservation Volunteer: Bluejay
  • Mary Jane Hedstrom: Hummingbird Moth
  • Dean Lokken: Buck deer in velvet, Killdeer, Scarlet Tanager, sleeping fawn
  • Bill Marchel, MN Conservation Volunteer: Brown Thrasher
  • Bill Marx: Plume Moth
  • Gary Sater: Indigo Bunting
  • John Schultz: Rufous-sided Towhee
  • Allen Blake Sheldon, MN Conservation Volunteer: Bobolink

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