Thursday, March 10, 2011

Phenology: My New Favorite Science

Can you see the Red-winged Blackbird in the white birch tree?
I am so excited; my blog has a new purpose! The data that I collect and record here will be used for the Eastern Pennsylvania Phenology Project. I will be helping to advance an important scientific project in the state by recording and reporting observations such as first sightings of birds and animals, first leaf or flower buds, first flowers, first singing, etc., and sharing photographs. So what is phenology? According to Diane Husic, Audubon TogetherGreen Fellow, phenology is,
"The observation of seasonal changes including the blooming of flowers, the appearance of migratory birds, the hatching of insects, and animals coming out of hibernation."
(Well, isn't that what garden bloggers do?) Diane explains why phenology is important,
"Phenological events are very sensitive to changes in our environment including climate change. By monitoring key species, we can observe the impact that environmental change has on our natural resources."
Wow! And I am now part of this important project! I know that anyone in Eastern PA can help, but I am thrilled that Diane thinks my blog has important data embedded in it. Now, when I take a morning walk around my gardens, I observe with new eyes.

I am happy to report that this week, a flock of red-winged blackbirds arrived. They did not move close enough for a really good picture (the one above is the best I could do.) There were at least a dozen of them, all males. The males, identified by the red and yellow wing bars called epaulets, return before the females. This flock settled in the walnut trees, on the edge of the upper field, and stayed there for several hours.
You can just see silouettes of Red-winged Blackbirds in the walnut grove.
A flock of robins visited every day this week. They spent time foraging where the snow melted at the edge of the pasture. I recorded my first sighting of them here.

American Robins at the edge of my horse's pasture. 
Most of the avian activity is around the bird feeder and the heated water dish. Large numbers of  dark-eyed juncos are still evident, with titmice, nuthatches, and cardinals.

Dark-eyed Junco
And what is this bird with such pretty feathers? ...

It is a house finch. The house finch stays around all winter, but this is the first I've seen this year.
House Finch
The gray squirrels are active, spending time under the feeder waiting for the seeds to drop as the birds scatter them. I have not yet seen a red squirrel this year, and the chipmunks haven't made their early-spring appearance. I smelled skunk, so I guess skunks are out and about, now.
This gray squirrel is an opportunist, waiting for the bird seed to fall his way.
My faithful friends, the cardinal couple, continue to visit the feeder daily and scratch around under it.
Female Cardinal on the roof of the bird feeder - looking for hubby?
Male Cardinal
The Northern flicker came to the heated water dish back in January. I haven't seen him since.

Northern Flicker on January 22, 2011.
The male Northern Flicker has a black moustache.
The flicker is a woodpecker. Other woodpeckers like the suet H.H. puts out for them. The downy woodpecker below was rather disconcerted to find that it was all gone. He hung around all day until H.H. returned from work and refilled the container.
Downy Woodpecker waits for suet to appear.
One of the joys of springtime is listening to birdsong. There is some to be heard each morning now. Increasing daylight triggers spring activity in many animals through a process known as photoperiodism. Sunlight entering the eye triggers glands to release hormones, setting the stage for the spring mating ritual. I found this piece of interesting information here. The blue jays are becoming vocal these days, and I've heard wrens and sparrows chirping quite enthusiastically ... not exactly a full dawn chorus, but very welcome.

Song Sparrow
On yesterday's walk through my gardens I found a few more buds, leaf-bursts, and shoots:
Blueberry Vaccinium angustifolium
Honeysuckle Lonicera
English bluebell Hyacinthoides - non-scripta
Stonecrop Sedum 'Dragon's Blood'
Rhubarb in the Kitchen Garden
The Eastern PA Phenology Project has a list of species of particular interest to its goals. I hope to put more information about the Project in my sidebar soon. The Project partners are Audubon TogetherGreen Fellows Program, Lehigh Gap Nature Center, Moravian College, PA State Parks (eastern region), PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Lehigh Valley Audubon Society, Wildlands Conservancy, and ME! If you live in Eastern PA and you are interested in participating, let me know. There is a blog, Eastern Pennsylvania Phenology, about the project in my blogroll, and a website is coming soon.

This posting is probably my (early) entry for March Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, as I am returning to the hospital for cardiac surgery again next week. Don't forget to write your GBBD post on the 15th, and visit Carol's blog, May Dreams Gardens, to see what is blooming around the world this month.

Your friend in gardening,
Pamela x

~~ I love reading your comments. I hope you leave one so I’ll know you visited!
I look forward to visiting your blog in return.


  1. Dear Pam,
    I hope your surgery goes well. I am so excited that you found a new purpose for your blog. I look forward to seeing what types of birds are in your area. We had those nuthatches pecking little holes in our house today. They are endearing and destructive.

  2. Pam, your blog is an excellent resource for information, and the Phenology Project was very lucky to have you to work with them. How exciting this will be!

    All the birds you have seen in your gardens already; how lovely.

    I will be praying for your quick recovery from surgery.

  3. Pam how wonderful you are getting involved in Phenology..there is a National Phenology group that I work with and will be blogging about it on the 21st...I would love to link to this post as well so folks know about the PA one too...let me know if this is OK to link to your post...on another note I am sending good healing wishes your way for a speedy recovery...

  4. I'm sorry to hear that you're going back in hospital for more surgery next week, Pam. I wish you a speedy recovery, let's hope that this puts everything right and it will be your last visit. How lovely to be involved in the phenology project, I'm sure they'll be able to glean a whole host of information from your blog.

  5. Early this morning looking at your title, I thought, oh my, the bloggers are looking at head bumps now! So glad you're not practicing phrenology but embarking on this exciting project. Your pix are beautiful and my prayers are with you.

  6. Good for you, Pam! Love your birds - excellent images! All the best to you!

  7. This is a wonderful project, Pam and one to keep you so busy. It is so what bloggers do and it will be fun following it on your blog.

    You have some great images and you have a bird I have yet to see in my yard or in the park... a flicker. Such a pretty bird. I saw my first robin here a few days ago, but it looks like you have had them for a while with so many gathered in your photo.

    This is such a worthwhile project because it involves the habitat too. Good luck in so many respects. Donna

  8. Dear Pam, I feel your excitement through my screen! It is contagious! Your Red-winged Blackbirds must be singing their hearts out. The sounds must be wonderful. Take care of your heart! May your surgery go smooth and your healing be speedy. Wonderful to see all of your birds and buds! Take good care Pam! I will be thinking of you.

  9. Congratulations! Yes, this is what garden bloggers do, but obviously you do it very well! And I can detect a bit more enthusiasm in posting these changes. A well deserved recognition for your blog.

  10. Pam, I was really shocked and then had a good laugh when I saw your post title. I read it as phrenology, which is the study of skull configuration as a sign of I can't remember what. I thought Pam is really getting into some weird stuff. But actually you are providing a valuable service! Good luck on 3/14. Carolyn

  11. Dear Pam - your new science is not too far removed from phenomenology - the study of conscious experience! Great to have added inspiration for your blog posts and to be included in this important recording scheme. The Northern Flickers stole my heart :)
    Your garden is looking healthy and am sending you all good wishes and hopes that your op will have you back to health soon.
    Laura x

  12. Dear Pam - Congratulations on having your blog chosen to be apart of this valuable research.

    I wish you well over the next few days in the hospitAL - my family and I will say a prayer for you and I will be EAGERLY waiting for your next blog post! XX

  13. Congratulations! The phenologists will be waiting eagerly for you to record their details, as soon as you are back in your garden.

  14. What a wonderful project! Searching for the signs of spring, documenting them with photos and words is such a grand thing to do! I think I'll have to walk out the door when I wake at dawn to see if I can hear a bit of birdsong.

    Wonderful post, Pam!

  15. Your a gal after my own heart! I came across your blog and so happy i did! i love finding other bloggers that are into gardening too - & when i saw "english garden" in your blog name - i knew i had to visit & peek around. Would love to have you link up to Cottage Flora Thursday's....I am your newest follower! xoxo

  16. Congratulations, and how great to see so many birds in your garden. It must be a wonderful welcoming place to get so many visitors. You are very lucky.

  17. Congratulations! It's always very meaningful to find a new purpose. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful post.

  18. Hi Pam,

    Good luck with your surgery, eeek how scary!

    Lovely photos and how wonderful t have so many birds visiting. You also have some nice growth appearing in your garden.

  19. As I scanned the blogs I read this morning, I came across this post and (not wearing my glasses at the time) I thought your new science was "phrenology". :)

    All the gardeners I know study and note the activity and appearance of the wildlife in our gardens. How many of us keep binoculars in our windows for just this purpose? It is wonderful for you to be contributing this info for real, live study purposes!

    I noticed years ago that the dark-eyed Juncos leave here at almost the exact same time as the hummingbirds arrive. My mother would always wait anxiously for the time when she could put out her hummingbird feeder, afraid that she would be late and the hummers would be hungry. I assured her that she wasn't late if the Juncos were still at the feeder. Perhaps this happens the same way in your garden.

    You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers this coming week, as you return to the hospital. Know that we will all miss you and that we look forward to hearing that you are okay.

  20. Wonderful bird photos. My favourite is the male Northern Flicker with black moustache.

  21. The phenology project sounds like a fun and interesting one. It's what we garden bloggers do all the time anyway :-)

    I hope your surgery goes well Pam and that you make a full and speedy recovery.

  22. I've never heard of phenology and I think it's great that you will be part of this interesting research! I work in a cardiovascular surgical ICU and you will be in my thoughts and prayers this week for a speedy recovery...

  23. Hello dear Pam!

    Great to hear that you will be tracking all of those seasonal changes - I for one am fascinated with all the plant, bird and animal life in your part of the world. I love learning about birds I've never heard of before - a Northern Flicker is certainly new to me! And such a handsome creature!

    Best wishes for your surgery - I hope your recovery goes well and quickly.

  24. Stopped back Pam to wish you a Happy GBBD and mention that I love your new project.

  25. Congratulations on your exciting project and best wishes on a speedy recovery from surgery!

  26. What a fun new direction your blog has taken!
    Best Wishes for a speedy recovery post-surgery.

  27. I'm a new visitor to your blog, and just in time to congratulate you on your new project! May your surgery go well and have you back on your feet in no time.

  28. Pam what an exciting and important endeavor! I'll be popping in when time permits to view your findings.

    Godspeed to you concerning your second operation.

  29. Pam, that's wonderful! No one could do it better my friend.~~Dee

  30. Congratulations on this exciting adventure, Pam. You have so many different types of lovely birds visitng.

    Isn't this just such an exciting time, watching the new shoots and buds?

    It won't be long now!


  31. Greetings from Japan... thank you so much for coming by my blog to offer words of condolences with regards to the earhquake... appreciated it a lot...
    Congratulations for having a new purpose with your blog...

  32. Here is wishing that Pam is doing well. I want to thank her for being willing to share her wonderful observations and blog entries for the Eastern PA phenology project and encourage all of you to participate. You can learn more at and soon we will have a website up.

    For those of you who asked, feel free to let others know of the project and I invite each of you to report on the observations that you are seeing at Feel free to send along any questions that you have.

  33. Dear Pam, I'm so sorry to hear that you are having more surgery. I hope and pray all goes well and look forward to your next post.
    Your photographs are just beautiful and I do envy your gorgeous birds, as you know the birds in the UK as sweet as they are can't really be described as stunning or colourful.
    Take care, God bless
    maureen xx

  34. Wishing you a speedy recovery from the surgery.
    God bless

  35. You have been in our prayers. I hope you are recovering and will be able to post again soon. The observation and recording of wildlilfe and plant life is vital. I am so glad you are taking part in it.

    Blessings to you!

  36. You're the BEST !

  37. That sounds like a fun project to participate in! I enjoyed seeing what you are seeing this time of year.

    I didn't read your most recent post yet, because this one caught my eye as I was scrolling. I need to go back now to see how you are doing now that you've had your surgery. I hope it went well, and you are on the road to recovery and healing.

  38. Pam, I haven't been keeping up on your I missed that you'd been ill. I'm glad to hear that you're at home, getting better. Having your crocuses up must have been a lovely boost!

    Mine are just poking up!

    Stay well,

  39. Great photos you caught of the birds. Love seeing photos like this. Hope you have a speedy recovery.