What is Phenology?
Phenology is the study of cycles in relation to biological occurrences. Phenology studies seasons, biological events, weather patterns, habitat changes, and any other shifts in nature through the passage of time. Anyone can practice phenology! It begs questions like: “Why do I hear more birds chirping in May than in April?”, “What time of year do deer have their fawns?”, or “Why does the shoreline of Kinni look a little different than it did last year?”. Phenology reports are important to protecting our natural resources because they allow us to notice changes and compare or contrast them to the past.
May is an exciting month full of new growth, birth, and ecological change. Migratory birds have made their journey back and the buzz of pollinators have returned. Taking a walk through the preserves looks different this time of year as wildflowers begin to pop up, trees are in full bloom, and birdsong fills up the sky. Rising temperatures in streams and rivers mean that fishing season is in full swing, and more people are engaging in outdoor recreational activity. May is a time of re-birth and soon you will be able to spot an increasing number of baby animals such as ducklings, goslings, and fawns. This month exhibits dramatic ecological change, as we shift from a long, cold winter, to a time of new growth and activity.
April Showers Bring May Flowers:
Wildflowers are a lovely sight to stumble across as you wonder through the preserves and areas around the watershed. Wildflowers aid pollinators in survival and the distribution of pollen; they can come in a wide variety of different sizes, colors, and smells. While dandelions are not the flashiest flowers, they are critical to the survival of bees, as they are some of the first and only flowers to bloom in early spring. Sharp-lobed Hepatica, common violets, and bloodroot are other spring ephemerals that grow this time of year.
Bloodroot is a common flowering plant that can be found all throughout the watershed in May. Bloodroot tends to grow is partially shaded areas such as the understory of forests or other areas with moist and acidic soil. The plant can be most easily identified by its delicate, white flowers, and its red-orange roots. Bloodroot can be used in natural dyes, as well as for topical uses, although it is not widely consumed. Look out for this dainty flower on your next hike around the Kinnickinnic River!
Pictures taken and provided by Molly Barritt
Spring Songs and Grassland Birds:
While sitting on a bench next to Kelly Creek Park Reserve’s natural spring, one can hear a variety of birdsong fill the air. Grassland and prairie birds are abundant this month and can be seen all throughout the watershed. May is a wonderful month to get outside and go birding, as the temperature is fairly comfortable, and the birds are plentiful. You do not need an extensive knowledge of bird species or fancy equipment to go birding; you simply need to get outside and have a good eye for spotting our feathered friends!
The Sedge Wren is a small bird that can be found in prairies, grasslands, and wetlands. They tend to forage for food in the soil, which can make them harder to spot, though the males often perch on vegetation to sing. The Sedge Wren is becoming more and more scare due to habitat loss and food scarcity. Sedge Wrens feed primarily on insects and rely on them for nutrients. In an interview with KRLT Board member Mark Ritzinger, he discussed their food scarcity issue; Mark explained “think about driving around in May even just a few years back; your windshield would be covered with bug debris. Now? Barely anything…”. Noticing these kind of changes is what phenology is all about!
The Bobolink is a grassland bird that has distinguishable white feathers on its back, and a patch of yellow feathers on its head. The Bobolink is a quirky little bird that has a unique flying display and an equally unique song; their song, though hard to describe with words, can be compared to something ‘bubbling’, ‘electronic’, or even ‘alien’. These birds embark on a long migration yearly by orienting themselves with the magnetic field and stars. Similarly to the Sedge Wren, the Bobolink population is declining; conserving the grasslands and prairie surrounding the Kinnickinnic River is crucial to protecting these birds.
Pictures taken and provided by Mark Ritzinger Left Picture: Sedge Wren in Kelly Creek Right Picture: Bobolink in St Croix County
Welcome Back Pollinators:
The blooming of flowers this time of year would not be possible without the aid of pollinator species. You may have noticed that bees, flies, butterflies, wasps, and beetles are a-buzz again after a long winter. Spring can be a difficult time of year for pollinators, as flowers that provide pollen and nectar are limited. The first monarch butterflies will most likely begin to emerge later this month, making it a great time to plant pollinator friendly flowers in your own space! Coneflower, goldenrod, and milkweed are examples of wildflowers that are beneficial to pollinators like bees and butterflies.
Pictures provided by KRLT
My name is Jane Taylor, and I write phenology reports for the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls in 2021 with a degree in Environmental Conservation. I have been passionate about the outdoors from a young age, and as I have grown up, I have realized more and more just how important it is to protect our natural resources. I live near the Twin Cities and when I am not writing phenology reports for the KRLT, I am working as an Interpretive Naturalist at a park in Shakopee, Minnesota. I love to spend as much time as possible outdoors; my favorite outdoor activities include birding, camping, and spending time at the lake.
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