Hazel: Welcome to Milbridge Commons, here in beautiful coastal Maine. My name is Hazel Stark and I’m here with Maine Outdoor School as part of a collaboration with Women for Healthy Rural Living and our OWL series, which stands for “Outdoor Women Lead.” This program series is all about building confidence in outdoor and naturalist skills. Today’s topic is all about phenology journaling.
So to start us off, what is phenology? Phenology is the study of the timing of natural occurrences throughout the seasons. You probably already pay attention to phenology and you might not even know about it. For instance, paying attention to when the first crocus blooms of the spring, when you see the first turkey vulture returning to your area, or when you hear the peepers start to sing.
ON SCREEN: Why record your phenology observations?
- Provide data to help scientists understand trends in how the climate is changing.
- Learn how those trends are occurring in your own backyard.
- Use that information to predict the future! Predict when local fruits will be ready to start picking or when to start looking for ospreys returning.
Hazel: If you’re a person who appreciates a little more of structure with your phenology journaling, here are a few quick ideas. The first is the circle template which you can easily create on your own. I’ve broken it down by month by month, so throughout the month you can be taking notes, pictures, or making drawings about what’s going on in nature and then at the end of the month you could summarize one or a few things that really describe the phenology in your area for that month. You could also break down a circle template into days of the week where you have seven slices of pie instead of the twelve months of the year, or you could break it down differently; but, this is a nice way to get yourself going or motivate yourself to complete your circle over a certain period of time.
This is a format I use the most to record my phenology observations because I can really quickly make a note of something and see how it compares to my observations in past years. The dates are across the top and each row can be a different year, through I tend not to fill each row annually so I tend to squish observations from multiple years closely together. In this example, you’ll see that I noticed the first black flies of the season on May 4th, 2017, but two days earlier in 2018. Also, the violets bloomed sooner in 2018 than they did in 2020, possibly evidence of a warmer spring in 2018. This template is from the Naturalist Notebook by Wheelright and Hemrick, but you can easily create your own version of this.
So here’s another one for day to day reminders of paying attention to phenology. Northern Woodland Magazine creates these, and I’ve found them really handy to help me know what to be looking for because each day of the year it gives some suggestion about what kinds of things to be looking for. It’s a really handy resource and I started to take my own notes bout what was going on those days which I later transferred to a different calendar structure.
If you’re a little less inspired by structure, it’s always great to head outside or head out tho the window and just start writing and drawing what you see. The most important thing is to make sure you have the date on whatever you’re doing and what the conditions are like — what the weather is like, where you are, and then just start drawing and writing the observations that you make. You can come back to that later and do further research, add what you find to resources like inaturalist and others. It can be a really valuable snapshot in time in a given place that can be great to compare to similar efforts other times of the year.
OK, one last idea for your phenology journal before we actually get to it today. If you find something really cool, like this skull, it really provides an opportunity to dive in and learn more about that creature. So I found this skull, I took some time sketching it, I figured out using a bunch of resources that it was a skull from a skunk, and then I created what’s called a species account. So a species account allows you to really dive deep into more information about a particular species you saw. I included how to identify skunks, what their visual features are, what kind of evolutionary history they have, what adaptations they have to deal with conditions day to day, and some information about their behavior and ecology. you can do this about any kind of species that you find on a quick phenology journaling experience. Go back inside later to use resources and learn more about it. It’s always amazing what interesting things you can learn by diving a little bit deeper.
So today I’m going to take a little bit of a random approach just to see what’s going on in Milbridge Commons today. I’m going to take a moment to draw, write, and we’ll see what observations I find!
Hazel: You don’t have to be a perfect artist, scientist, or photographer to be a valuable phenology observer. In this case, I simply recorded a snapshot in time through quick sketches and some brief notes with some minimal follow-up research that allowed me to add some detail. I can use this page in future years to predict when the song sparrows will be singing, when I might find geese at Milbridge Commons, or simply to note changes in the species and landscape here over time.
We invite you to try some phenology journaling at your own home, in your backyard, or even at a local park. Let us know what you observe, we’d love to hear about it. Thank you so much for tuning in to Maine Outdoor School and Women for Healthy Rural Living’s OWL series and stay tuned for more. If you’d like to share your observations and learn from other budding phenology observers, check out the resources linked at the end of this video. We’ll provide a spot where you can share photos of your phenology observations.
ON SCREEN: Sponsored by Maine Community Foundation, Land Conservation Fund.