Friday, February 18, 2011

Nature Journaling and Phenology

A spring hickory bud at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center.

Spring is on its way, and now is the time of year to start up nature journals with your family or students. It's also a perfect time introduce them to phenology! Phenology, derived from the Greek word phaino, meaning "to show or appear," is literally "the science of appearance." It is a segment of ecology focused on the study of periodic plant and animal lifecycle events related to climate and seasonal changes. Although these natural observations can be done year-round, spring is a great time to get started by recording all the "firsts" you see. From noting the first bud on a tree to spotting the first robin in your yard, observing and recording these events can be the beginning of a life-long relationship with nature. You can record observations from your classroom or family in a yearly journal, and use these to compare notes from the past or make predictions about what will happen this year. It is a great way to connect deeply with a special piece of nature you visit regularly. 
Aldo Leopold was a major proponent of observing, recording and phenology.
Aldo Leopold was an important Wisconsin conservationist who championed phenology. He kept his own nature journals from the age of twelve and passed this tradition down to his own children. His notes have been an instrumental part of the phenological record of Wisconsin, and inspired the writing of his famous book, A Sand County Almanac. Learn more about Aldo as a boy and adult, and be inspired to follow in his footsteps with your own Leopold nature journals.

In addition to keeping your own records in a journal, your observations can be part of a larger effort to record phenological data around the U.S. and the world! Learn why phenology is important to scientists, citizens, climatologists and more, and check out some of these great sites on which you can become a phenology expert and contribute your observations.

If you are new to phenology or nature journaling, never fear! The Wisconsin Environmental Education Resource Library has put together a great list of nature journaling resources, from educator guides to books for adults and kids. National Environmental Education Week has an online Nature Journal if you'd like to start with some examples. This page from has a short video clip and some great teaching tips about phenology in Wisconsin. You can also use this activity plan from the UW Arboretum to indroduce kids to phenological concepts through a fun birthday game!

Nature journaling can easily be done in your own backyard or schoolyard. However, if you don't have access to a natural space, or just want some variety, consider doing a nature observation walk at any of the Nature Net sites. Many of these parks and nature centers would be happy to point out phenological events for you to observe while you are visiting.

Happy journaling!


  1. Hello Nature Net!

    I am a new visitor (and follower!) of your site and I just wanted to say great work. As a Leopold lover, environmental educator, and UW system graduate I have a particular attraction to your site. Keep up the wonderful work!

  2. Thanks for the comment Bill!

  3. Great post Brenna! That hickory bud photo is one of my favorites!