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Tracking Nature's Rhythms: Dive into Phenology

Last month, I discussed the importance of Citizen Science, or as some may prefer, Community Science, and introduced iNaturalist.  iNaturalist is a great place to start if you want to record how many different species live in a given area.  This can refer to the biodiversity of a park or your backyard.  The more species found, the healthier the ecosystem. The better it can sustain itself, providing the species found are primarily native to the region.

But suppose you would like to take this a step further.  Suppose you would like to monitor one or two individuals in your yard to see how they change through the seasons?


Now you are entering the world of phenology. Phenology is “the study of the timing and cyclical patterns of events in the natural world.”  Find a plant or an animal, watch the changes, and record your observations.


Not sure what to look for?

Fortunately, there is an organization that can help.  The USA National Phenology Network invites people to observe and record their nature observations. While the website is full of fascinating information and research articles, you will first want to visit Nature’s Notebook.

This will get your started on what and how to observe.  You can participate in ongoing projects like Nectar Connectors, Quercus (oak) Quest, or Pest Patrol. Or if you have a specific plant or animal to observe, go to “View Species”, click on your state, then select the organism you are interested in tracking.


What makes this so simple is Nature’s Notebook provides the data sheets and instructions of what to look for and how to measure. You can download the data sheet and instructions from the web site, or you can use their phone app.


One of my favorite birds is the American Robin, the harbingers of spring. I love getting up early in the morning to walk my dog and listen to robins singing the neighborhood awake. But their numbers have been decreasing in my area in recent years.  They no longer nest on the downspouts of my home. Using Nature’s Notebook data sheet will allow me track any trends or patterns I observe about the robins over time.  Behaviors I can watch include feeding, calls, courtship, nest building and fledged young among others.

Fig. 1: Sample data sheet for the American Robin from Nature’s Notebook.


This is a great way to introduce children and pre-teens to use their powers of observation to record data, and hopefully, begin asking their own questions about plants and animals.


Fig. 1: Sample data sheet for Pin Oak from Nature’s Notebook.

My goal this year is tracking the changes of the oak tree in my yard. I was inspired to do this after reading Douglas Tallamy’s book The Nature of Oaks.

In his book, Tallamy follows the changes of the oak trees on his property over the course of a year.  And while it would be nice to start in the spring when the trees are first leafing out, Tallamy started in October, because that’s when he got the idea to do it.  So I don’t mind that I missed the leafing out, the dangling flowers and the start of acorns.  I can start today.


And so can you and your family.


USA National Phenology Network. (n.d.). Why Phenology? Retrieved May 16, 2024 from,animals%2C%20and%20other%20living%20things.




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