I know it doesn’t feel like spring on the East Coast of the US, what with the big snow day yesterday. But it’s been in the 60′s here for the past three days, and in the 50′s before that. At my elevation (6800 feet), the snow is gone except in the shade and on north-facing slopes. It’s nice, but worrisome: my mountains are the headwaters of the Rio Grande and part of the Colorado, and our snow is the water supply for cities and farms from Texas to California. March is supposed to be the big snow month here. We’ll see.
In the meantime, I’m watching spring arrive. And this year, I’m going to try to turn my random observations into data.
The USA National Phenology Network is looking for people to go outside, look at plants, and keep track of when they leaf out, bloom, bear fruit, and lose their leaves. If enough people make careful observations, it should be possible to test whether climate change is affecting plants, and in what way. Some of the plants that they’re monitoring are adapted to particular climates; some are widespread weeds. (I’m planning to monitor dandelions and aspen, because I know what they look like, and they’re in my yard.) I hope I can convince my 5-year-old to join me – this seems like a great project for kids – but he might prefer to draw pictures on the driveway.
As of today, there is some kind of grass starting to poke up, and the dandelions seem to ready to go, too. The aspens don’t show any signs of leaves yet (and one was girdled by deer this winter, though its clones look healthy). The phenology project isn’t keeping track of animals yet, but I’ve been noticing them. A vole stuck its head out of the ground while we watched through a window, some finches are thinking hard about nesting in an old hanging flower pot, and the red-winged blackbirds are making a lot of noise in the wetland across the road.
The human animals are acting like it’s spring, too. During my run on Sunday, I saw:
- two groups of children doing experimental hydrology, one in a gully running through a playground, and another in snowmelt that was running down the road;
- one grey-haired man sitting outside, reading, without a shirt;
…the beginnings of spring training for kindergarteners.
I don’t think the phenology network will ever have a category for those observations, though.