Stories tagged phenology

Well spring is pretty much wrapped up but I still enjoyed browsing through this BBC website Springwatch. Our updated summer phenology exhibits are coming soon.

After all the rain we've had recently, parents of toddlers in the Twin Cities area surely have two questions on their minds:

  • Will this rain EVER stop? Or, more accurately, will this rain PLEASE let up before I'd rather lie down and get eaten by bears then spend one more second cooped up in the house with my two-year-old?
  • And why are there worms all over the sidewalk whenever it rains?

I can't help with the first question.
But the second, that's a topic for Science Buzz!

I always thought that the worms came out of the ground when it rained to avoid being drowned in their burrows. Turns out I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

A series of Straight Dope articles, by Cecil Adams, have enlightened me.

Worm: (Photo by Jiva)

Turns out that the worms are in no danger of drowning. They can actually survive underwater for quite a long time. They are out on the sidewalk after it rains to engage in, um, "amorous activity." For the slimy details, read the Adams' column!

Of course, that's not ALL the worms are doing. They're also trying to move safely to new areas; vulnerable to drying out as they are, they can only do this aboveground at night or after a rain.

My toddler will be blown away by all this. Her explanation is that worms come out because of some altruistic notion that robins are hungry...

For more information about earthworms, check out this JourneyNorth Q&A page.


UPDATE - Wednesday, June 14th

One of the falcon chicks spent part of the day learning to fly. The others are doing a lot of looking and wing-flapping, and will be joining their nestmate soon.

Peregrine chicks: Photo taken by the High Bridge web cam between 8 and 9 am, Friday, June 9.
Peregrine chicks: Photo taken by the High Bridge web cam between 8 and 9 am, Friday, June 9.

UPDATE - Friday., June 9th

The little fluffballs are gaining feathers fast and looking more like adult peregrines every day. They've been flapping their wings and looking over the edge a lot. We expect them to fledge--leave the nest--sometime before June 16. See today's comment for more information.

All four chicks have hatched!: Yeah! Four hungry mouths to feed.

UPDATE - Friday., May 5th

All four of Athena's chicks have hatched now! Congratulations to Athena and her new Peregrine Falcon family. As far as we can tell from the pictures the fourth egg must have hatched around 5pm yesterday, Thur. May 4th.

One more to go: Athena seems to look straight at the camera and we have only one more egg to hatch.Courtesy Excel energy

UPDATE - Thu., May 4th

Three of Athena's chicks have hatched and you can see them crowding around the one brown egg that hasn't hatched yet.

Three mouths to feed: One of Athena's chicks raises its mouth for food, Thur. morning.

Wed., May 3rd

Athena can be seen feeding two of her chicks on Xcel's Falcon Cam. You can keep updated by watching the new pictures appear every couple minutes in the daily photos section.

Athena feeding her chicks: Check out Athena droping food into her little chicks' mouths. So cute!

Update from atop the giant smokestack at the High Bridge power plant here in Saint Paul and down the street from the Science Museum:

"Athena's" eggs have started to hatch.


It's time for the annual wild rice harvest.

The traditional harvesting technique requires one person to pole a canoe and one or two other people to gather grain. They beat the stalks with paddles, sweeping about half the rice into the boat. The rest of the grain falls to the bottom of the lake, where it sprouts the next spring.

But wild rice in Minnesota is threatened in many ways, and many lakes have produced a poor crop.

Wild rice, or Zizania palustris, is actually an aquatic grass. To grow, it needs shallow water and a mucky bottom. Drainage and damming of wetlands or lakes for farming or reservoirs have destroyed wild rice habitat. (Wild rice once grew throughout Minnesota and the eastern United States. In Minnesota alone, there are 70 Rice Lakes and 25 other lakes with "Rice" in their names, even though wild rice may no longer grow there.) And runoff of herbicides and nutrients from farm fields kills rice, too.

Fluctuating water levels are tough on the plants. When wild rice sprouts in the spring, a tiny root anchors the seed in place. When the stalk reaches the surface, long leaves form, floating on the surface of the water. If the water level rises, the weakly rooted stalk is pulled up and the plant dies. If the water level drops, the weak stalk collapses, killing the plant.

Carp often kill wild rice seedlings. They're bottom-feeders, digging up and disturbing young plants as the fish search for food. (These fish are not native.)

But there's another threat: for decades, the University of Minnesota has been researching wild rice, aiding in the development of 25,000 acres of machine-harvested, cultivated paddy rice in Minnesota. See, the seed head of the wild grain shatters easily. That allows the plant to seed itself, but makes it tough to farm commercially. Many fear it's just a matter of time until scientists genetically modify the wild rice genome, and contamination by genetically modified rice might decrease the economic and cultural value of the wild grain.

"We consider the wild rice to be a sacred gift from the Creator and it's always been here for us. Now, if the rice is altered genetically, it may be a strain that will take over the wild rice, and we will lose what was given to us by the Creator."
(Earl Hoagland, Ojibwe tribal elder)

(Not everyone agrees that the genetic research is a problem.)

Bills banning genetically modified wild rice in Minnesota (supported by White Earth Band members) didn't make it through the last legislative session, but will be reintroduced next year.

But here's the good news. At Lower Rice Lake on the White Earth Indian Reservation (north of Detroit Lakes), where lakefront development is prohibited and the White Earth Land Recovery Project manages the watershed, 200 people participate in the traditional harvest, gathering 11,000 to 15,000 pounds of rice a day, or 200,000 to 300,000 pounds each year. The rice is processed locally and sells for about $8.50 a pound. The grain itself feeds many White Earth families, and the proceeds from the rice harvest are a significant chunk of the annual income of many families.


The summer solstice is approaching. June 21st is the longest day of the year, and the first day of summer for us in the United States. The summer solstice for the U.S. occurs at the time when the Earth is at a point in its orbit where the Northern Hemisphere is most tilted towards the sun.

Many cultural traditions are tied to the summer solstice, as well as the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and the vernal and autumnal equinoxes - the days in the spring and fall where the amount of day and night time are nearly the same. Some scientists believe that Stonehenge , in England, is part of a huge astronomical calendar because Stonehenge's axis is roughly pointed in the direction of sunrise at the summer and winter solstice.

In England and Ireland the solstices and equinoxes do not mark the start of a season, as they do in the United States; rather they occur at the midpoint of their seasons. Summer for these countries starts on May 1 and ends on July 31and the summer solstice is called mid-summer.

Gene posted an entry on March 4th about his feelings on when the seasons should start based on the average temperature .


Every winter Monarch butterflies head south to Mexico to avoid cold temperatures.

monarch butterfly on a branch
Want to learn more about Monarchs and other butterflies? Visit the Science Museum's Monarchs and Migration website

But how in the world do they know how to get there? Well, they don't follow Highway 35, that's for sure. It turns out that monarchs can detect the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays even when it's cloudy out. (UV rays are the part of sunlight that causes sunburn.)

Up until now we didn't know how butterflies used this UV information to fly south. Researchers led by Steven Reppert at the University of Massachusetts Medical School ran some monarchs through a flight simulator and discovered their secrets. It turns out that monarchs' eyes are very sensitive to UV light. They synch this UV information up with a natural clock in their brain. By combining these two bits of information, monarchs are able to determine the angle of the sun and always head due south. Sailors used a similar method (a sextant) to navigate around the world before the invention of compasses. Monarchs can do the trick all by themselves, though.

Do you think you could walk due south, from Minnesota to Mexico even on a cloudy day?

Some tagged monarchs have travelled more than 265 miles in a single day! Not bad for an insect...

Journey North and Monarchs in the Classroom also have cool websites (complete with projects and "Citizen Science" opportunities) about the annual Monarch butterfly migration.


In 1989, a Northern States Power (now Xcel Energy) employee spotted a peregrine falcon hanging out around the stack of the Allen S. King Plant in Bayport, Minnesota. The company installed a nest box, which quickly became home to a falcon named Mae.

The nest box was a success, and the power company decided to provide nest boxes at nearly all of its Minnesota power plants, including the High Bridge Plant. (You can see the High Bridge Plant, about a mile upstream from the museum, from the windows of the Mississippi River Gallery on Level 5.)

This year, the High Bridge Plant nest box is home to falcons named Athena and Smoke. They appeared at the nest box for the first time this year on February 3rd. And Athena laid eggs on March 28, March 30, April 2, and April 5. Want to see what they're doing right now? Click here. (You can also watch the falcons on a big video screen in the Mississippi River Gallery.)

Check out these pictures of the nest box over the last 24 hours.

Why the nest boxes?
Peregrines once were found throughout North America, favoring rocky perches along coasts, rivers, and lakes. They prefer these areas because the open water makes it difficult for birds to find cover from a diving peregrine.

Peregrine populations plummeted in the 1950s and 1960s. The pesticide DDT thinned the eggshells of falcons and many other bird species to become so much that adults crushed the eggs while incubating them. By 1968, only about 39 nesting pairs remained in the entire United States. DDT was banned in the U.S. in 1972, and as DDT levels decreased in the environment, peregrine populations started to rebound.

But peregrines needed assistance to fully recover. In 1989, the Allen S. King Plant on the St. Croix River in Bayport, Minnesota, became the first power plant in the U.S. to provide a nest box for peregrines. Power plant nest boxes are largely responsible for returning the peregrine falcon to its rightful place on the bluffs of the Mississippi River.

Over 2000 pairs of peregrines are now nesting in North America. Because of this spectacular recovery, the peregrine has been taken off the federal government's endangered species list. Peregrines are now beginning to expand from power plant nest boxes to their former nesting habitats of cliffs and bluffs.

Between 1989 and 2000, 114 young peregrines have fledged from nest boxes located on the stacks of seven Xcel Energy power plants. Nest boxes exist on the stacks of other power companies as well as on a few commercial office buildings.

What can we expect to see at the nest box in the next few months?
Female peregrines usually lay three to five eggs in early spring. The male and female share the 33-day incubation duties, which include turning the eggs regularly. (We expect to see baby peregrines sometime between May 4th and May 10th!)

At hatching, baby peregrines are covered with white down, weigh about two ounces, and have a small bump on their beaks. This "egg tooth" helps them break out of their shells. It disappears as the chicks mature.

Feathers replace down in three to five weeks. Young falcons are banded for identification and study when they are about 20 days old. Juveniles leave the nest (fledge) when they are about 45 days old. Sixty percent of peregrines die during their first year of life. After that, the annual mortality rate is around twenty percent. And peregrines can live for 12-15 years.

Peregrines pick their mates for life when they're about three years old, and the pairs stay together even when they're not breeding. They establish a nest site at the center of a thirty-plus-mile home range. They will defend their nests from intruders and want no peregrine neighbors closer than three miles from their home.

What do we know about the High Bridge falcons?
FEMALE: Athena
Band #: 01/D
She hatched in 2003 from the Firstar Bank in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
If she stays, 2005 will mark her first year here.

MALE: Smoke
Band #: *3/*1
He hatched in 1998 from the King Plant in Oak Park Heights.
One of Mae's chicks, Smoke was one of the first two falcon chicks to "grow up" on-line. Smoke's brother Prescott has nested at the Red Wing grain elevator since 2001.


There is probably no day greeted with greater joy and anticipation than the first day of spring -- especially after a Minnesota winter! Sometimes, the only thing that gets us through February is knowing that better days are on the way. But when, exactly, does spring get here?

TV weathermen will tell you that spring starts on the vernal equinox -- the day when the number of hours of daylight are equal to the number of hours of night. (In 2005, this falls on March 20.) The problem is, the weathermen are wrong.