In the last 24 hours we have had a continuously fluctuating “wintry mix’ of rain, snow, sleet, freezing rain, graupel, and freezing fog. It is good to have some precipitation after a very dry December and January.

I looked out the kitchen window this morning, through the trunks and under the bowed branches of the frozen yews, and watched as a squirrel took turns with a gaudy male pheasant to eat the dry cat food. (I have only recently realized that squirrels are omnivores, and will eat meat. These are eastern grey squirrels, an import I call “city park squirrels”.) The pheasant turned away when he saw me watching. The little crumbs of snow on on his back fit in nicely with the spots on his plumage.

What is phenology?
“Phenology refers to key seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year - such as flowering, emergence of insects, and migration of birds - especially their timing and relationship with weather and climate.” (from the National Phenology Network,

Keeping a journal of local life-cycle events is a really good way to get to know where you live - to develop a sense of place. You can put those observations to personal use;
it is really helpful, if you are gardener, to know when you can safely set out your tomatoes in our area, for example, and when you have to get your winter squash in to avoid the fall rains.

On a larger scale, the pooled observations of many ordinary people around the county generate really useful data for tracking climate trends, and are one example of “citizen science.”

There are national and regional phenology networks that you may want to join, or at least learn about. The National Phenology Network is sponsored by the USGS. Read “Why Phenology” at To learn about their monitoring program go to’s_notebook. “Our history” is interesting too.

Coordinating with the NPN is The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), (funded by The National Science Foundation) and its Project Budburst, a national project to track life-cycle events of plants. (

These are excellent organizations, with excellent phenology projects - and great websites.

A Palouse Phenology

by Suvia Judd


We have been having frozen fog all week. Still an open (virtually snowless) winter. Two days ago I went up to the barn in the morning to feed the camelids, and there was a rime of frozen fog on everything. I particularly noticed the bristlecone pine, with silvered needles, seen against a background of horizontal English hawthorn branches covered with red berries, and the dense upright yellow canes of the “Darlow’s Enigma” rose.

I moved some plastic lying on the ground to put under a load of hay, and found lively earthworms and sowbugs, (which I tucked under a layer of composting hay.) The top layer of the ground is frozen, but wherever there is some organic cover it is soft.

I hope all the fleas get frozen!

Next time: What is phenology? (Hint, it is NOT the study of head bumps, or word sounds, nor of fish fins!)