Citizen Science

Share Your Field Notes: Nature’s Notebook

February 22, 2016

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Bumblebee visiting a flower, Tucson, AZ. Photo © Lili Gama

Have you noticed changes in your area? Maybe flowers tend to bloom a little earlier in the year or birds that used to migrate are hanging around your yard through the winter?

The timing of natural events (like blooming flowers and migrating animals) is called phenology. Phenology is the study of recurring plant and animal life cycle events, their timing, and relationship to the environment. Changes in phenology can have cascading effects on plants, wildlife and the people who rely on them for resources.

Nature’s Notebook is an online citizen science project sponsored by the USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) that allows people all over the United States to track phenology in the places that matter to them. They share their observations with others, including scientists and resource managers, who will use the data for research and decision-making.

Nature’s Notebook is a great way to spend time outdoors and contribute valuable observations to science. It’s okay to enjoy yourself while making an important contribution to science and conservation!

“You can intimately connect with plants or animals that you see all the time in a brand new way. As an observer, you’ll notice things you never saw before,” says Sara Schaffer of Nature’s Notebook. “The slightest blush on a maple leaf that foreshadows the coming fall. The new, more vibrant feathers warblers put on days before mating.”

Why Is Nature’s Notebook Important?

The USA-NPN has many partners, including scientists, resource managers, educators, volunteers, and policy-makers. Through this network, they share data quickly with people who then put it to use in scientific research or in conservation.

Without careful, annual field notes on the history of events like bird migrations, it is extremely difficult to understand long-term trends in their timing and to predict future events. Records are crucial for revealing the long-term impacts of climate change and for more accurately predicting events in the near future.

Nature's Notebook records by site. Join people across the country in contributing your field notes! Image courtesy of Nature's Notebook.
Nature’s Notebook records by site. Join people across the country in contributing your field notes! Image courtesy of Nature’s Notebook.

“Your data are a big deal! Phenology data help us predict threats to people and the environment such as wildfires, drought or flooding,” Schaffer explains. “They help us decide the timing of events, from when to harvest or irrigate land to when to conduct controlled burns in forests.”

Phenology data can also help in the fight against invasive species. For instance, managers might want to know when the seeds of an invasive plant will ripen so that they can treat or remove the plants before the seeds disperse. 

How Can You Get Involved?

There is a three-step process to become an observer.

There are many materials to help you get started, including an online course, videos, an FAQ if you run into any questions along the way.

Tucson, Arizona. Photo © Brian Powell
Tucson, Arizona. Photo © Brian Powell

For the curious, the Botany Primer: Understanding Botany for Nature’s Notebook provides a very thorough introduction to basic botany and Nature’s Notebook phenology monitoring. There are educational materials for introducing Nature’s Notebook in the classroom (from kindergarten to college).

Set up an observation site in your backyard or join a Partner Group near you. Start taking your field notes today!

Lisa Feldkamp

Lisa loves all things citizen science and enjoys learning about everything that goes on four legs, two wings or fins - she even finds six and eight-legged critters fascinating at a safe distance. She has a PhD in Classical Literature and Languages from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and enjoys reading Greek and Roman literature or talking about mythology in her spare time. More from Lisa

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    1. That is a good question. It doesn’t look quite like the bumblebees I’m used to either. That is the caption on the Nature’s Notebook page, I will ask them. Thank you!

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