The new year gives us a chance to start with a fresh calendar and toss out the old one. But, what if the information you collected in that calendar was vital to your survival?

People have always observed and noted the timing of natural events. Early people knew when it was the best time to plant, when to collect maple sap, and when to fish because, by observing nature closely, they understood natural cycles. Their observations were critical to their survival.

Phenology (fee·naa·luh·jee) is the study of the timing of natural events to discover the rhythms of nature. Aldo Leopold from Wisconsin was a famous phenologist who kept records of the seasonal patterns of plants and animals on his farm in the 1930s. Scientists are using his records today to look for trends in bird migrations and weather patterns.          

You too can create a calendar of natural events that occur outside your back door. By looking at your phenology notebook each year, you can predict the return of the first robin in spring, the appearance of the first monarch butterfly, or the first snow of the season. It’s a great activity for all ages and abilities.

Why Observe and Record?

  • Participating in Phenology is an exciting way to experience your favorite trail, neighborhood park or even your own backyard.
  • Going outside to look at plants or animals up-close will expand your knowledge of nature and give you a new way to experience the great outdoors.
  • You can intimately connect with plants or animals that you see all the time in a new way.
  • As an observer, you’ll notice things you never saw before.
  • Researchers, resource managers, educators and others use your data for scientific discovery and decision-making.

Below are some options for helping you organize your data:

  • To create a phenology notebook, fill a binder with notebook paper and add a divider for each month. Each time you see or hear something of interest, turn to the correct month, record the date on a sheet of paper and describe what is happening and where.
  • You can use a paper calendar to record your observations and keep each calendar from year to year to refer to.
  • Or you can use technology to record your observations. I use Google calendar and have created “recurring” events on a Phenology calendar that I made, so I can see when the first wren appeared, or the first daffodil bloomed on certain years.
  • Phone App – There is a network of citizen scientists that contribute their observations using a phone app called “Nature’s Notebook” by the USA National Phenology Network. You use this phone app to record your observations on your own private sites you’ve created, such as “My Backyard”. You could also create one called “Nature At The Confluence” to record your sightings while visiting us. Or you can join group efforts called “Campaigns” to record specific things, such as “Pest Patrol”, “Nectar Connectors” and your observation data will help researchers.  Budburst is another resource and app which is a project of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Find links below for both.