Regardless of the foot of snow we got last weekend, and despite a maple sugaring season that’s off to a late and fitful start, a great awakening is happening across the North Country. In the coming weeks, we will see our frozen grey-white tundra transition to a verdant landscape brimming with plant and animal activity. In anticipation of spring, Nature Up North is offering two new fun, family friendly projects to track how the North Country comes to life at this time of year.
The Signs of Spring webform allows you to record the phenology* of local species as you watch the North Country plants and animals come alive this spring. When you hear spring peepers calling, see daffodils blooming, or notice the first red-winged blackbird of the year, record the date of your observations. We encourage you to share photos and audio as well. With enough observations from across the North Country, we can gain a wealth of knowledge about the timing of spring events. It’s also a fun way to get your family outdoors to observe the great spring reawakening of local wildlife. Feel free to download the data sheet to remind you of what to look for, but be sure to upload each unique observation on the Nature Up North webform. Already this year we’ve seen turkey vultures, red-winged blackbirds, and pussy willows in bud!
Have you been making these sorts of observations for years? Many of us keep phenology calendars on which we record the dates of interesting spring observations. If you’ve got such a calendar at home, a second way you can contribute to the Signs of Spring project is by sharing those prior-year observations with us. Doing so allows us to compare the timing of events we are witnessing this year with previous dates. Simply scan or photocopy your calendar, and then either e-mail us a copy (email@example.com) or drop it in the mail to us (Nature Up North, Biology Department, St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY 13617).
Sugar Maple budburst may mark the end of the sugaring season, but it also marks the beginning of our Spring Maple Monitoring Project, the springtime version of the Fall Sugar Maple Monitoring Project that began last fall. This is an opportunity to contribute to our understanding of sugar maples, an iconic North Country species that may be threatened by climate change. Participating in Maple Monitoring is easy. Simply choose a sugar maple in your yard or in a local park that you visit frequently. When you notice the buds on your sugar maple have broken, revealing a small green leaf tip, record your date of this observation using this web form. Fill out a new web form when the young leaves have fully unfolded. Over time, we hope to develop a robust, long term data set tracking the health of one of our most cherished North Country tree species.
Spring is just arriving – this is an exciting time to get outside and share your observations as the days get warmer and local species reawaken.
*Phenology is another word for nature’s calendar, or the timing of natural events. When leaves change color in the fall, when frogs breed and lay eggs, when flowers bloom in the spring- these are all examples of phenology. Seasonal timing is critical for the survival of plants and animals. For example, a mother bird would not want its eggs to hatch before insects were available to feed its nestlings. A tree could sustain damage if it experienced a heavy frost after its leaves had fully unfolded in the spring. Climate change can disrupt this timing, threatening species that depend on the synchronization of certain natural events. We already know this is happening in other areas of the world, but have little data from Northern New York. By studying phenology, we can better understand how climate change may affect our local environment.