Photo by Corey Husic

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Some phenology notes for the end of March 2011

Well, for 2011, March is ending by "going out like a lion" as the saying goes, with the return of snowy cold weather over the past week.  Daily, I had been watching for the final small patches of snow to disappear on the top of the Kittatinny Ridge's north face, but when we ended up getting snow a few times last week, there is now still a significant amount left.  There is also snow in the forecast for this week. 

So the onset of signs of spring has slowed, but I have noticed the higher abundance of robins on lawns (and some in flocks in the woods with an occasional phoebe mixed in which is kind of odd), the slow greening of the grass, my cats are beginning to shed, downy woodpeckers are pairing up, and the serviceberry all of a sudden has enlarged flower buds.

The ornamental cherry trees are blooming in Washington D.C., but in southern Monroe County (PA) we have a ways to go.  The buds on my weeping cherry are definitely more prominent and if I brought some branch cuttings into the house in a vase, they would likely open quite quickly.  (Add some forsythia branches and you have a lovely spring bouquet.)  I mentioned previously the gift of cherry trees from Japan to the city of Bethlehem, and, of course, the trees in D.C. have links to Japan as well.  The earliest ones planted were a gift from the mayor of Tokyo in 1912 to promote continued good relationships between the two countries.  It turns out the cherry blossom time in Japan is also an important seasonal attraction (see

While skimming through a book entitled Phenological Research:  Methods for Environmental and Climate Change Analysis last night (Hudson and Keatley, editors, 2010, Springer), I learned that there are records of the dates of cherry tree flowerings in Kyoto, Japan going back to the 9th century!  An interesting (and much less technical) article entitled Climate Change and Cherry Tree Blossom Festivals in Japan can be found at

There are still debates as to the scientific rigor of phenology but the rise in the number of peer-reviewed scientific publications in this area over the past few years is extraordinary and represents the growing acceptance of the importance of this field, especially with respect to understanding the impacts of climate change.  Personally, I hope that the field doesn’t lose the connection to natural history and culture—aspects that are really appealing to me and hopefully to many of the public volunteers working on phenological research projects!

The public significance of paying attention to seasonal changes was reinforced last night when I noticed on the Weather Channel online ( the first spring warnings for fire risk in the southeastern PA counties and the first notice of a high pollen count (from trees) for the state!

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