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Monday Phenology: November 14th, 2011

Posted by Kirk Mona Monday, November 14, 2011
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Welcome to another edition of Monday Phenology. You can either read on or listen to the Podcast version.







Let's look at the daily march toward darkness. The sun rose today at 7:09 AM which still sounds nice but sunset is coming earlier and earlier. Today it set at 4:45 PM. I'll just leave that without comment and not point out how painfully early that already is. We're losing two minutes and 25 seconds per day now. This week I attended the annual conference for the National Association for Interpretation conference in St. Paul. It meant I was locked in conference rooms all day and didn't get out much. Monday and Tuesday were a blur but here's how the rest of the week shaped up.

The (partial) week in review:

Wednesday I was still locked in conferences all day learning to hone my natural history interpretive skills but I did get set free early enough to note that it was very windy in the evening with winds out of the northwest. It was a good night for migrating waterfowl like tundra swans. They seem a little behind schedule this fall, then again, everything seems behind schedule this fall.

Thursday I had to laugh because my wife Chelsey is getting into birds in spite of her insistence she's not a birder. She went on a hike at lunch and couldn't help noticing all these bird calls in the trees and spent a good part of the walk staring into the trees trying to identify what was making the sound. She never did see the bird but was intrigued. I played her the call of a brown creeper and she exclaimed, "That's it!" This is how it begins hon. Only a matter of time now. In other news,  I have an ongoing love-hate relationship with the smoke detectors in my house. I love that they keep me from being slow roasted like a crispy chicken breast but I hate that they always seem to run low on batteries in the middle of the night. When I test the batteries they always seem fresh so I guess they are battery snobs and want only the freshest of the fresh and maybe they just think beeping at night is funnier than during the day. Wednesday night/Thursday morning one of them decided to start beeping at 4:00 in the morning. My normally completely chill dog is completely unnerved by the sporadic chirping of the alarms and it was more his pacing around the bedroom that woke me up. I guess I should feel good that my dog tries to wake me up at night when something seems wrong but I was still a little grumpy. I let him out to go to the bathroom and I was sorely tempted to chuck the smoke detector out there as well. The point of this story is that when I poked my head outside at 4:15 in the morning there wasn't any snow. When I woke up again a few hours later and headed out to work at 7:00 there were flakes in the air. There wasn't any accumulation of any sort, just the occasional stray flake. I guess this counts as the first snow of the season but I've seen heavier flakes off a person's head than what we got on Thursday.

Friday was a beautiful warm day. It was also the field day for the National Association for Interpretation's conference. I opted to go on a birding trip driving along the Mississippi River. Our first stop was the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN.  Eagles congregate there in large numbers in the winter due to the confluence of the Chippewa and Mississippi rivers. The turbidity keeps the river open for fishing. We saw a few eagles on the river along the way but nothing like the hundreds that will be there during the winter. The highlight of the trip for me was a stop at Weaver Bottoms in Weaver Minnesota. This has become a spot for Tundra swans to congregate. It was hard to get a count of the swans, probably several hundred were there. They apparently recently showed up. Maybe that wind on Wednesday night helped? There were other species there as well. I saw Canada Geese, Wood Ducks, American Wigeon, American Black Ducks, Mallards, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, and American Coots. There were probably Gadwall and Scaup present as well but we couldn't stick around long enough to confirm those. There were fly-overs from a pair of Sandhill Cranes, 3 Red-winged Blackbirds and a Bald Eagle. It is a very cool place to check out this time of year.

Saturday I spent most of my time in conference sessions but did have an opportunity to eat lunch outside. The power of the sun was still impressive and it was nice and warm. Not too many days left like that this year, in fact, looking at the forecast, there might not be any days like that left this year. 

Sunday was a mad dash to get our house ready for guests as we celebrated my son turning 4. While cleaning up the back entryway, I cleaned up my bird feeding supplies and then headed out to fill the feeders outside the kitchen window. I could see my wife standing in the window putting the finishing touches on a Clifford the Big Red Dog cake and my suspicions were confirmed later when I was told she exclaimed, "We've got company coming any time now and THAT's what he thinks is important?" In my defense, it was the birthday boy who wanted me to fill the feeders so, yes. The English house sparrows were on the feeder within 30 seconds of my leaving.

My uncle attended the party and informed me that his neighbor saw a large white owl in his back yard. No way to be certain but it sure sounded like a Snowy Owl. He lives in Eagan which is across the river from their preferred hang out at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport so it is very possible they have started to show up.

The week ahead:
I feel kind of bad about last week. I strongly suggested we'd have snow and at least all we got here in the Twin Cities was a few stray flakes. If you happened to blink you would have missed them. There's another chance for snow this weekend but frankly this time of year a forecast that far out is about like throwing darts blindfolded so if you're curious what the weather will be like on Saturday your best bet is to wait until Saturday.  Waterfowl is congregating in great numbers this week on large lakes and rivers. Try to get out to see what's there. Your best bet is to bring a spotting scope. What? You don't have one? Then I guess you had better enter my contest to win one. The contest ends next Monday and there are plenty of chances to win. Good Luck!

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The Twin Cities Naturalist is a natural history based look at both the Twin Cities and the larger world written by professional naturalist Kirk Mona.

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