Phenology journals

“The study of how the biological world times natural events is called phenology,” says the National Wildlife Federation. “The three main non-biological factors that affect phenology are sunlight, temperature and precipitation (rainfall, snowfall, etc.). These three factors work together to determine the timing of natural events,” including the effects of climate change.

The appearance of biological data also tells farmers and gardeners the right time to plant. In the Midwest people used to say, “When oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear, it’s time to plant corn.” I never could get a squirrel to stay still long enough to measure. But at our farm, when the white-crowned sparrows arrive, it is time to plant peas and onions. The appearance of the white-crowned sparrows also tells us it is time to watch and wonder.

Sometime around April 25, the white-crowned sparrows also find their way into the garage and flutter helplessly against the window panes. This gives us an opportunity to save them from enemies or from bashing their birdbrains out in futile thrashing. I consider it a privilege to co-exist with these creatures . . . and to strengthen them with birdseed for the rest of their migration. Usually a pair stays around our farm and raises a family.

What you can do
Pay attention to more experienced observers (e.g., old people) when they speak about the creation. In Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, purple martins used to send their “scouts” to our backyard on April 20, which also happens to be my Aunt Harriet’s birthday (also Hitler’s birthday, but you may forget that).

When I’m not sure about birds of the Bulkley Valley in British Columbia, I ask Mel Coulson or Dennis Verbeek or John Franken. Dennis alerted me to the gradual movement of white-throated sparrows into our area. Mel knows almost all the bird songs (in fact he and his wife have made CDs of local birdsongs). John Franken (who also writes in Christian Courier) has records of bluebirds and tree swallows, their arrivals and departure, their nesting successes.

Don’t feel bad if your friend points out a skunk cabbage before you even knew what they were, or the appearance of coltsfoot when you were looking for it in a stable.

Start a phenology journal. Everything starts somewhere. Maybe you didn’t see the first robin of the spring. Maybe you haven’t seen the first purple martin or tree swallow. Or the rare appearance of the blue-bellied walleye-catching, forked tailed, spinner-bait bird. Write down what you see in a nice little journal or notebook with the date; note the weather, and as much other information as you desire.

Who knows? Your observations may help in charting the effects of climate change. But almost for sure noticing the world around you and reacting to that world is a way to pay attention to the One who is the Creator of all.


  • Curt Gesch and his wife lead the singing via Zoom for a combined service of small United Church congregations in central B.C. each Sunday morning. In the afternoon, they lead a Friends and Family Zoom worship from their home. If you'd like to join that service, please write Curt at moc.liamg@36hcsegc.

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