Posted by: dscaffidi | September 6, 2013

Phenology at Conserve School (Part I)

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I hear autumn whisper into summer’s ear and notice the changes taking place around me. Chlorophyll begins its vanishing act, lightly painting the edges of maple leaves orange and yellow, revealing those inconspicuous carotenoids. From the garden where I harvest bright red tomatoes and deep green cucumbers, I see a fellow Grad Fellow with her eyes to the sky, awaiting the annual appearance of Nighthawks as they migrate south in massive flocks. The study and observation of biological events in relation to the seasonal changes that occur throughout the year and climatic changes that occur over time is the study of phenology, and phenological observations abound here at Conserve School.

13-09-02 - 2. Nick adds bird species observed on a weekend birding activity

Graduate fellow Nick adds 21 avian species that were spotted during his weekend birding activity.

As part of Environmental Science class, students are engaged in several phenological projects. This week begins weather station monitoring, where teams of students will be responsible for recording daily weather parameters such as maximum and minimum temperature, relative humidity, atmospheric pressure, and rainfall. Weather data is added to the gigantic phenology book that rests on the table outside the cafeteria. Students also add floral and faunal observations such as bird and insect sightings, plant flowering, and seed development.

Students also engaged in a mark and recapture study in the garden to learn how researchers commonly estimate population size. This method can be used in phenological studies, revealing much about the timing and location of populations in relation to weather and climate. Check out the details of the lab on Andy’s webpage here.

While in the garden, monarchs were spotted, and this week students received and began feeding their own monarch larvae their favorite meal: milkweed! Students will observe the larvae metamorphose into adults and tag the butterflies before they are released, just in time for the fall migration south. Through the raising and tagging of monarch butterflies, the Conserve School community is part of an international citizen science effort to learn more about monarch migration and the effects of climate change on animal behavior. Learn more about the project here:

For the past week students have also been on the lookout for a very special spot. A spot where they can return to over the next sixteen weeks and observe the changes that take place; their phenology spot. The time spent at their phenology spot will not only give students insight into the appearance (or disappearance) of the flora and fauna around them, but will also inspire a sense of place, deepening their connection to the natural world.

Two CS7 students offered to share their first impressions of their phenology spot and why they chose it. They also snapped a picture.

Emily’s spot

Emily’s phenology spot is along the green trail.

“My spot is simply beautiful and away from inner campus. It is so open yet so enclosed, and there are beautiful plants if you look for them.”

Henry’s spot

Henry’s phenology spot is on just off of the black trail on a point in Little Bateau Lake.

“One day I was exploring the woods, when I saw this point across of the bay. From that moment, I knew that it was the perfect spot. It has a great view of the lake on three sides, and also an old white pine forest where the trees are far apart and you can see for a long way. In the background there is also a stretch of low altitude where everything is covered in a thick bright green moss. It is truly beautiful out in nature. My first impression was awe. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was, not just one side, but from every angle. I am very excited to be watching the course of nature as we progress through the seasons.”

Stay tuned for more insight and observations from our local phenologists (Phenology Part II blog post)!

~ Donelle Scaffidi, Graduate Fellow



  1. […] ago Emily and Henry H. shared photographs and initial impressions of their phenology spots: Phenology (Part I) blog post. Today, as we celebrate the longest night, I leave you with fresh images and closing thoughts from […]

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