When I tell someone for the first time that I am a phenologist it usually engenders one of two responses, a look of complete bewilderment or the mistaken assumption that I can discern their psychological make-up by mapping the lumps on their heads. I prefer the bewildered look over the possibility that I might be a Phrenologist.

Phenology is at its core a finely tuned look at the natural world. Some might argue that what I have described fits the definition of a naturalist. I'm fond of saying that a phenologist is just a naturalist who takes the time to write it down. A naturalist will tell you that the light green color seen on the aspens are the newly emerging leaves. A phenologist will tell you the same thing, only they will go on to tell you that this year's emergence varies from the average by several days and that the earliest they have emerged in his records occurred in the such and such a year.

One of the nice aspects of phenology is that you need not be an expert to pursue it. You can begin in your own backyard or in your flower gardens. Pick your perennials and note when they emerge from the soil, when the first leaf unfurls, and then first, peak, and last flowers. Or select a tree and watch as it breaks bud. That first slight change as something red or green or in some cases white cracks open and starts to expand. Some like the red maples open their flowers first and then follow with the leaves.

The stages of bud burst for a leaf begin with that first crack in the sheath and a tiny sliver of color peeking out. The next marker is when can the leaf stem, or petiole as they are called, be seen? This is usually within a few days of bud burst. Finally, I note when the leaf has reached full size. Some observers take the time to estimate the percentage of leaves having reached maximum expansion. The data would be useful to scientists but it is a personal choice as to whether or not you want to commit to the extra effort.

Flower development starts with the first flower bud opening or the expansion of the male catkin. The second stage is the ability to identify separate flower parts. Followed by the first full bloom and then peak bloom and finally last flowers. Now you have fruit set and you can record the development of the fruit or seeds.

If plants aren't your thing then perhaps bird migration. We all long for the arrival of the first robins of spring. Lately robins have been staying throughout the winter in the north. This is a risky strategy, but if they are successful they are able to be the first on a territory. So how do you determine when the robin you see is a risk taker or a migrator? My own standard is, are they singing their full song, and in the following days are more and more being seen? If that is the case then I assume that migration has begun.

Of course there are other birds that migrate and don't spend the winter in our part of the world. Killdeer, great blue herons, red winged blackbirds, and white throated sparrows are just a few easily recognized migrators. All of these birds will arrive within a few days of one another with the possible exception of the great blue herons, who must use day length as their trigger. In thirty-four years of records the arrival of the great blue herons varies by about a week, while the robins range from early March to early April. Such consistent timing on the part of the great blue herons cannot be affected by weather.

SOME OF THE OBSERVATIONS I MAKE ARE RELATED TO SOUNDS.
For instance the arrival of the first loons, which, coincidentally almost always occurs within a few days of the ice going out. Speaking of ice going out many of you may have such records, which means that you are already phenologists. These  are quite valuable to scientists especially if they go back several decades. Once the loons arrive they immediately begin to call. Frogs call from swamps and ponds and with a little effort you can learn the different songs. The order is usually wood frogs first followed by boreal chorus frogs, spring peepers, gray tree frogs, and American toads. There are others and as you develop a sense of your surroundings you'll quickly learn them. Then there are the ovenbirds whose return is usually the first week in May. They are very hard to see because they are quite secretive but their call is loud and proud. "Teacher teacher teacher" or "pizza pizza pizza" can be heard ringing strong from the forest. They arrive in the middle of the night and the next morning you can hear them while driving your car. They are that loud.

So why bother? Keeping up with all these events can take a bit of time and, if like me you start by writing your notes on a calendar, tracking down previous year's notes can be a struggle. Yet in this day of computers it is easy to structure a spreadsheet and then comparing notes is a relatively simple task.
THE TIMING OF RECURRING BIOLOGICAL EVENTS TELLS US A GREAT DEAL ABOUT CLIMATE.
My own records are the subject of study at the University of Minnesota and Harvard. It turns out that I'm a better observer than statistician. It remains to be seen what the experts may tease out of my data. It is fairly obvious that there are some significant changes taking place.

Beyond all the science lies a far more rewarding outcome. YOU WILL BECOME MUCH MORE ATTUNED TO NATURE. Stress seems to melt away when you're focused on the natural world. Start small, a few minutes each week to note what has changed. It won't be long and you'll be expanding your interests to include all manner of natural occurrences. I haven't even mentioned butterflies and dragonflies, two of the most intriguing and beautiful wonders just outside your door.


SOME OF THE OBSERVATIONS I MAKE ARE RELATED TO SOUNDS.
For instance the arrival of the first loons, which, coincidentally almost always occurs within a few days of the ice going out. Speaking of ice going out many of you may have such records, which means that you are already phenologists. These  are quite valuable to scientists especially if they go back several decades. Once the loons arrive they immediately begin to call. Frogs call from swamps and ponds and with a little effort you can learn the different songs. The order is usually wood frogs first followed by boreal chorus frogs, spring peepers, gray tree frogs, and American toads. There are others and as you develop a sense of your surroundings you'll quickly learn them. Then there are the ovenbirds whose return is usually the first week in May. They are very hard to see because they are quite secretive but their call is loud and proud. "Teacher teacher teacher" or "pizza pizza pizza" can be heard ringing strong from the forest. They arrive in the middle of the night and the next morning you can hear them while driving your car. They are that loud.

So why bother? Keeping up with all these events can take a bit of time and, if like me you start by writing your notes on a calendar, tracking down previous year's notes can be a struggle. Yet in this day of computers it is easy to structure a spreadsheet and then comparing notes is a relatively simple task.
THE TIMING OF RECURRING BIOLOGICAL EVENTS TELLS US A GREAT DEAL ABOUT CLIMATE.
My own records are the subject of study at the University of Minnesota and Harvard. It turns out that I'm a better observer than statistician. It remains to be seen what the experts may tease out of my data. It is fairly obvious that there are some significant changes taking place.

Beyond all the science lies a far more rewarding outcome. YOU WILL BECOME MUCH MORE ATTUNED TO NATURE. Stress seems to melt away when you're focused on the natural world. Start small, a few minutes each week to note what has changed. It won't be long and you'll be expanding your interests to include all manner of natural occurrences. I haven't even mentioned butterflies and dragonflies, two of the most intriguing and beautiful wonders just outside your door.




If you are interested in pursuing phenology there are several web based sites that will help you. My group, the Minnesota Phenology Network (MnPN) has joined with the National Phenology Network (NPN) to focus on seven organisms found throughout the northland that we track yearly. These include red maples, tamaracks, loons, eastern bluebirds, ruby throated hummingbirds, monarch butterflies, and lilacs. NPN has created worksheets that can be downloaded to a smart phone or printed to assist in data collection. They have also created a primer showing various stages of development in flowers and leaves. It doesn't matter what level of involvement you attempt the rewards are enormous.

I broadcast the Phenology Show on Northern Community Radio every Tuesday morning at 7:20 and will help you to stay abreast of what is happening around lake country. You will find the program at 91.7 FM in Grand Rapids, 90.5 Bagley and Bemidji, 89.9 in Brainerd and 103.9 in Ely. Here are a few web sites you may also wish to visit that deal in phenology. Good Luck!

usanpn.org/mnpn/speciesusanpn.org

Monarchjointventure.org

learner.org/jnorth/enature.com

ebird.org
bugguide.net