Out the Back Window | Phenology

Brought to you today by the letter ‘r‘. It is remarkable what a difference one letter can make in the meaning of a word? My previous post was on the subject of phrenology. Or, how to tell personality by the shape of the skull. That was the claim.

This post is on a topic very different. But, the word for it only differs by the single letter ‘r‘. This one is about phenology. Or, the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life.

Our home has a wooded area directly behind it to the west. From our living room and deck, we are able to observe the climate and plant and animal life year round. We note certain things each year. We look forward to seeing them again. Sometimes we note on the calendar when that event occurred. The cyclic and predictable quality of nature is usually a comfort. This is a source for several of our Out the Back Window posts here and in Our View From Iowa.

Phenology is derived from the Greek word phaino meaning to show or appear. The timing of phenological events is important for several good reasons. Among them…

  • Emergence of allergens and infectious diseases
  • Timing of wildflower displays and fall colors
  • Planting and harvest times and pest control
  • Management of natural resources
  • Understanding the migration habits of various species
  • Conservation of plants and animals

Phenology can be thought of as a field of citizen science involvement with the natural world around us. We can each participate in different ways. Some of us are casual observers of our backyard and neighborhoods. We rely on our memories of our surroundings over the years. Some of us are more systematic about it and have log books of notations going back for years. All of us are paying attention to the cycles of life. If you would like to be more involved and contribute your observations to those of others, this USA National Phenology Network website might be a good fit for you.

Full participation in the NPN site requires registration. Set yourself up with a username and password at no cost.

There are several ways to participate. Learn how to observe plant and animal phenology. Contribute new observations of your own.

Share your records of phenological data for plants or animals. Maybe you have the records of someone else. Make that information available through the website.

Rescue historical birding data. The North American Bird Phenology Program has six million index cards being scanned and transcribed by volunteers.

The North American Bird Phenology Program, part of the USA-National Phenology Network, was a network of volunteer observers who recorded information on first arrival dates, maximum abundance, and departure dates of migratory birds across North America.  Active between 1880 and 1970, the program was coordinated by the Federal government and sponsored by the American Ornithologists’ Union.  It exists now as a historic collection of six million migration card observations, illuminating almost a century of migration patterns and population status of birds.  Today, in an innovative project to curate the data and make them publically available, the records are being scanned and placed on the internet, where volunteers worldwide transcribe these records and add them into a database for analysis.

As you can see, this site alone offers many opportunities for citizen scientists to contribute. It can be a small or a large investment in time and energy. You get to decide. I hope this inspires you to go outside and do what you can to record the events around you.

Thank you for reading.

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