February – the month where we start noticing our first signs of spring at Oregon Ridge Park: skunk cabbage blooming; maple tree tapping; and tree buds swelling in preparation of blooming later in spring.
Possibly you have your own “firsts” that you notice every year: buds forming in the native garden, a robin hopping across the meadow, and later, the croaking of frogs in the pond or the sight of a salamander whisking under a log. One of my personal “firsts” of spring is the first evening I make it home from work while there is still some light in the sky. We notice these signs of nature year after year, occurring like clockwork.
But do they occur on the same date each year? Tracking the dates of these “firsts” is important for studying changes in the environment, including the impact of climate change. A branch of ecology, called phenology, studies the cycles of plant and animal life by tracking the “first” occurrence of an event.
Phenology depends on regular folks like us, too — not just scientists — to notice and record the dates of “firsts”. If you’re interested in more structured observations about your springtime “firsts”, you can participate in these citizen science projects:
- Project BudBurst monitors plants as the season changes
- Project Feederwatch monitors bird census by counting the birds at your feeder
- FrogWatch USA monitors wetlands by reporting the calls of frogs and toads
What “first” do you look for every year?