Yay! It’s Spring! And there is no better time to start a nature journal (more specifically a phenology
calandar) then, well, yesterday! The plants are budding and the birds building nests so fast that it’s hard to keep up!
Phenology is the fancy scientific word for what Charlotte Mason would have called a “Calendar of Firsts”. ‘Pheno’ is latin and it means ‘appearing or beginning’ and ‘ology’ of course means the ‘study of’. So ‘Phenology’ is simply the study of the first time things appear in nature each season.
Like I mentioned earlier, spring tends to happen FAST, so a phenology calandar or journal is not generally the elaborate, introspective journal with beautiful dry brush paintings and poems written in fancy handwritting. Trust me, spring will leave you in the dust if your not on top of it! (your phenology journal can, however, give wonderful inspiration for those beautiful paintings once you are able to catch your breath).
A Phenology calendar is simply a quick jotting down (no full sentences needed) of WHEN various seasonal changes happen each year. When did the tulips pop up? When did the maples flower? When did the cottonwoods leaf-out? When did you see the first butterfly? first snake? first turtle or drangonfly?
Here is my “work-horse phenology calendar”. It is simply a thick notebook (over 365 pages). I wrote one date (month and day but no year) at the top of each page. Then everyday most days as often as we can, the kids and I go for a short 1 mile walk along a path near our house. We try to notice the seasonal changes (and any other interesting nature sightings, too). Everyone tries to return home with at least one observation to put on the page. I write down the current year and the sightings for that day on the page when we get home. I’m hoping that we will be able to fit 4 or 5 years worth in this one little notebook. And it’s interesting to see how one year’s observations compare to another. For instance, this year our silver Maple flowered 3 weeks before it did last year, and the cottonwood by the road leafed out before the cottonwood by the parking lot three years running.
I did mention that the “work-horse phenology calendar” can provide inspiration for the more careful and decorated nature journal pages. Here are some pages from our illustrated nature journals that have been inspired by our daily phenology walks. We work in those journals once a week, rather then daily.
And for those who are interested here are some pdf download to help you get started:
1. a pdf of some common street trees and the different phenophases they go through
2. a pdf calendar of signs that we observed last spring to help get you started in finding patterns. Will the trees in your area leaf out and flower at the same time as the ones in my area? How about the birds and butterflies, do they return at the same time?
And if you need a little more help with this journaling method check out the BEAUTIFUL new book from Species Biologist and Acclaimed Nature Writed Bernd Heinrich, “The Naturalist’s Notebook”. Here is my review of this fantastic intro to keeping a calendar type nature journal.