The Science of Phenology
Phenology (fi-nal'-e-jee) - A branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena (such as bird migration or plant flowering).
Why study Phenology?
People have studied phenology since prehistory for many reasons. Farmers must know about the timing of the cycles of their crops and the insects that eat them. Hunters benefit from knowing about the seasonal activities of the animals they hunt.
In modern times fewer people depend directly on nature's cycles for their livelihood so most are not as aware of those cycles. There is great joy and benefit, however, in becoming aware of the subtle changes in the seasons. For example, studying phenology helps us know when to look for migrating birds, flowering plants, singing frogs and other natural events. As we watch for seasonal events, we learn about the natural world and come to feel more at home in it.
In addition, there are scientific reasons for recording phenological data. The effects of global climate change on biological systems can be documented through phenology. Being aware of and anticipating events helps us notice if those events change or fail to occur. For example, if one is waiting for and expecting the return of a bird species at a certain time, one will notice if that species is absent. If changes are noticed we can seek the reasons and perhaps prevent damage to our ecosystems.
Besides, searching for signs of spring is a great cure for winter blues.
What will Pheno-log Data be used for?
Pheno-log data can be used for many purposes. I use confirmed sightings for the yearly updates of the Pheno-log charts. They will also be useful in updating such publications as The Birds of Leelanau County and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I keep a permanent record of each year's dates as baseline data for future studies of changes in our climate and its effect on nature's cycles. As in most basic science, other uses for the data are likely to emerge in the future. For instance, wouldn't it be interesting to have detailed local phenology records from a hundred years ago to compare with ours?
Using Phenology for Education
Pheno-log is a phenology project based in Northwest Lower Michigan; particularly Leelanau, Benzie and Grand Traverse counties. Participants watch for and chart events as they occur, and compare the year's progress with that of previous years. Classrooms begin with eight events to watch for in kindergarten and add several events each year through 5th grade. Tips are provided on the Pheno-log website for identifying species and events. (Pheno-log may be extended into secondary levels in the future.) Individual participants can use any of the classroom levels or a more encompassing Advanced level which continues into the summer and fall. Data can be reported to me by registered users over the internet using this website. Data for previous years is available by request.
In addition to this website, Pheno-log consists of printed, illustrated datasheets. Pheno-log subscribers can print copies of these sheets and also will receive regular e-mail updates during the spring months about what to watch for and current tips for observing nature. Subscribers are encouraged to contact me with comments and questions about things they have observed.
Pheno-log in the classroom
The search for the turn towards spring begins early, when Chickadees and Cardinals start singing in January. It continues through the end of the school year with the blooming of spring flowers and the return of migrant birds. Pheno-log can be used with classroom calendar activities, as part of science classes, as a journal writing activity, and to sharpen observation skills. This is a fun activity for students to do at home, on the playground, and as a part of classroom trips outside. Classrooms that subscribe to Pheno-log will receive weekly updates from February through June about what to watch and listen for in the coming week. These weekly Pheno-log notes also contain interesting natural history information to share with interested students.
I am available to help teachers with workshops and/or field trips to make you and your students experts on the spring signs for which your grade level is hunting. In addition Pheno-log subscribers (both teachers, students, and individual subscribers) are always welcome to ask questions and share information with me by e-mail.
It is my hope that by participating in Pheno-log, people will become more appreciative and aware of the events occurring around us each year, and that we will notice, care, and act if a species becomes less abundant or if the timing of their activities changes.