Phenology changes are easy for volunteers of any age to observe and record. New England citizens spend a lot of time outside — in our yards and gardens, in town or city parks, in the woods, the meadows and on the coast. We often take note of the first robin in spring, the first dandelion, the first loon chick, the last maple leaf to fall. Signs of the Seasons trains citizens to identify and record seasonal changes (phenophases) in a small number of indicator species that are important for understanding New England’s changing climate.
Participants choose as many indicator species as they wish, and identify and mark a site (or several sites) where they will observe these species throughout the year. They register as Signs of the Seasons participants on the USA National Phenology Network web site’s Nature’s Notebook, where they can record their observations as often as they make them.
Observations may include the timing of budburst, the flowering and leaving of plants or the withering of foliage in autumn. Those observing birds may note the first and last sightings of migrating birds, changing plumage and nesting activity. In the marine environment, volunteers will monitor loons and look for the presence of reproductive organs on Ascophyllum nodosum, or rockweed.
As more observations are recorded, the difference between short-term variability and long-term trends become clearer. Citizen science is the key. Why? It is simply impossible for phenology scientists alone to gather the vast amount of data needed to observe these trends as they are happening. There are just too few of them out there to keep their eyes on changing landscapes throughout Maine, New Hampshire, across the country and around the world. Citizens are the ones who know their local plant and animal communities best, and citizen phenology monitors are likely to be the first to notice important changes as they happen.
How you can get involved
We are looking for volunteers who are interested in recording observations in their own community! No previous experience necessary and it doesn’t take a lot of time!
Current participants include Master Gardeners, 4-H Youth groups, and coastal groups affiliated with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Maine Sea Grant, as well as other groups and individuals across the state of Maine and now in New Hampshire as well. Please contact us if you are interested in getting involved. We would love to hear from you!
Signs of the Seasons: A New England Phenology Program Field Guide
Our training and field observation handbook shows you how to set up your observation program for plants and/or animals, including entering your observation data online with our partner, the USA National Phenology Network. Go to the site’s Nature’s Notebook. The handbook provides detailed information on each step, as well as additional resources to help you get started. Includes frequently asked questions and a glossary. 50 pages.
Available upon request. Pleas contact us to get a copy.
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