Keeping a Nature Journal
What seasonal nature signs have you been noticing? Are you keeping tabs on anybody in particular? Do not worry about feeling like a busy-body; it is unlikely the birds or flowers will mind your curiosity.
Do you remember last month when you first heard the raspy call of the male phoebe calling, “Fee-bee? Fee-burt!” Did you recognize the bird call? Did you exclaim, “Ah! Spring is here because the phoebe has returned!” Do you remember the day he arrived on your land? Was it within the same week as the year prior? I keep a nature notebook so that I can compare sightings and anticipate when to watch for specific wildlife. I know that in 2018 when I was in the house below the current one I reside in, the phoebe arrived on April 14. But in 2020 in my new home, he arrived on April 5, and this year he arrived April 2. I am only two houses away and on the same road, so what would account for that difference? Was I not paying as close attention to when I first heard the phoebe’s call, and he really was here at the beginning of April? Or is the phoebe arriving earlier? And if so, why?
I also always await the songs of the spring peepers – those tiny little tree frogs with the x on their back, who visit vernal pools to mate and lay their eggs. The male has a shrill “ree-deep” call. In reviewing my log, both on 2018 and this year, that call started up on April 7. And how about those wood frogs? Those little hoppers who also visit the vernal pools, sounding like crazy ducks with their “qua-acking”. Some years I have heard them in late March. They tend to be a week ahead of the Spring Peepers.
What flowers do you remember noticing in April? Were you looking up into the trees to see the red blossoms of the red maple? Perhaps you were looking down as you walked through the forest, noticing the bloodroot, trout Lily, and wake-robin trillium. Or walking along the road and noticed the daffodils and crocuses in a neighbor’s yard. Daffodils just feel like spring. And seeing them bloom always gets me excited! I have so many pictures of daffodils in April. And how about dandelions? Does your face widen into a smile just seeing these little globes of sunshine on the lawn come April? Because when the dandelion blooms the bumblebees are only a day away from emerging. They really appreciate the nectar of this early spring flower.
If you don’t have a nature journal, perhaps you can refer to your photo bank on your computer or phone to see when you took pictures of these and other beautiful flowers. I find organizing folders on my laptop by year and month is very helpful to me when looking back as to when I was taking photos of a specific flower. There is a date stamp in the photo’s information so even if you move or edit the image, as long as you don’t rename it, it will hold the date so that you can compare sightings year after year.
Whether you write or type your seasonal signs into a calendar or take photos year after year of your favorite wildlife, you are helping as a record keeper, keep tabs on wildlife habits by season. As climate change continues to impact our environment, this information may be useful to know how different species will fare if our springs continue to start earlier. Will this change migration habits of neo-tropical birds? Will frogs and mole salamanders visit their ancestral vernal pools in March instead of April? Will those vernal pools hold their water long enough for these amphibians to grow into the more adult-looking versions of themselves, so they can hop or crawl out of the water? Will the trout lilies, bloodroot, and other early spring flowers continue to bloom in time to their pollinator’s emergence? These are the questions that we can help to answer as we continue to keep track of wildlife signs by season. As you hone your observation skills you too are becoming a naturalist – a student and expert of natural history.
As we walk ourselves forward into May, what signs will you be looking for? The return of your favorite warbler? Gazing at the array of irises? Being able to eat sweet-grape scented black locust flowers again? Finding yourself among the apple blossoms watching honeybees? Foraging for morel mushrooms skirting the base of the apple tree? And how about your favorite June wildlife signs? I know my favorite early June sighting is fireflies! I love watching them communicate through lightning flashes. And then by late June I know to watch and sniff for rugosa rose blooming – I look forward to collecting rose petals for making rose elixir. Whatever your favorite seasonal signs, I encourage you to keep track of them. That way, as the years and your memory slip away, and you are left wondering, when does the yellow-throated warbler arrive? I thought I started hearing his “which-ity witch-ity witch” song in May. You can look back and remember. Ah, yes, I have his song to look forward to next week.
Revel in your five senses as you enjoy experiencing the seasons unfold.
Arianna Alexsandra Collins, naturalist, poet, writer, wild edible enthusiast, and Wiccan High Priestess lives in Ashfield, MA.
Into the Outside is a bi-monthly feature in the Ashfield News. This article appeared in the May 2021 edition of The Ashfield News.
Like Hearken to Avalon on Facebook and learn more about the magical world and natural history of plants and the Faie, and human interactions with them.