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Nearby Nature

Global climate change on your mind lately? Several days in the 80’s in March might cause you to consider its validity. Well, it shouldn’t because the unseasonable warmth we have experienced throughout March (actually all winter) is just variation in our weather. The saying goes ‘if you don’t like NE Ohio weather, wait a day and it will change’. This is probably more true in spring than any other time of the year. Notice though, that it is not called ‘global weather change’. The word climate is inserted because it means something different. Let’s review a couple of important terms. Weather describes the current or recent conditions, for example rainy and cool, or sunny, hot and dry. Climate, on the other hand, is the long-term average of weather. Some climate data is a compilation of over 100 years of weather data. Thirty years or more weather data goes in to describe climate. For the most part, our climate in northern Portage County is temperate, which means we have cold winters, hot summers and mild spring and fall seasons. Our climate also indicates we will amass 39 inches of precipitation each year. Most people would guess that April is the rainiest month of the year. It actually ranks 4th with slightly less than 3 ½ inches of rain. May, June and July are actually the rainiest months in Hiram, Ohio. Wondering about our average high temperature in March, particularly after the 70 and 80oF days we have experienced? 45oF! March 2012 will certainly go down as one of the warmest in history, but it will do little to change the climate records from the past 100 years (58oF is the average high temperature for April). So if summer temperatures in March don’t change your mind about climate change, what might? Phenology, of course! What is Phenology? “Many of the events of the annual cycle recur year after year in a regular order. A year-to-year record of this order is a record of the rates at which solar energy flows to and through living things. They are the arteries of the land. By tracing their response to the sun, phenology may eventually shed some light on that ultimate enigma, the land’s inner workings.” –Aldo Leopold, A Phenological Record for Sauk and Dane Counties, Wisconsin, 1935-1945 Naturalist Aldo Leopold began recording season observations at his shack in Wisconsin in 1935. For the next 11 years, his observations recorded the arrival of spring birds, melting ice on the nearby rivers and ponds, the familiar wedge of Canda Geese flying south and much more. Simple, careful observations that provided the basis for his famous work, A Sand County Almanac, still a must read for anyone interested in ecology, natural history, conservation or just a good story. The story that A Sand County Almanac tells is about phenology, the study of plant and animal life cycles changes due to climate and seasonal changes in the environment. Phenology is derived from the Greek word phaino meaning ‘to show or appear’, and is therefore used to describe the science concerned with the dates of first occurrence of natural events in their annual cycle. Animal migrations, plants budding and blooming, insect emergence, frost and ice-over and ice-out dates, and other data are important to understanding changes to climate. These observations are often referred to as “greening-up” (observing spring buds and flowers) and “browning down” (observing fall colors and leaf fall). Farmers are excellent sources of phenological data. They often keep careful records of last and first frost dates, rainfall, soil temperature, planting and harvest dates and much more. Each piece of data is useful for the next year and helps to maximize crop production. Actually, many of us keep track of such information, even if we don’t record our observations carefully. We know that daffodils usually bloom in April and even teach our children that “April showers bring May flowers”. Nature lovers know that the last week in April and first week in May is often the best time to observe trilliums and other spring wildflowers. Birders know that Mother’s Day weekend is often the best for viewing spring migrants. Fortunately, there are people and organizations that have been recording phenology data for many decades. These long-term observations have been essential to understanding climate change. More and more information from phenology studies demonstrates long term trends and shifts in climate. Record warmth in March or even a warm winter does not indicate a trend. Decades of data are necessary. Plants are budding and blooming earlier than 30 or 40 years ago and some are growing in areas that have been too cold. Migrating birds are returning days and sometimes weeks earlier to summer breeding grounds than they have in the past. The USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) monitors the influence of climate on the phenology of plants, animals, and landscapes. This organization of scientists, resource managers and volunteers (aka, citizen scientists) learn how to make observations and submit data as a means to understand environmental change. Visit http://www.usanpn.org/about. Project Budburst (http://neoninc.org/budburst/phenology.php) and Journey North (http://journeynorth.org/) are two other resources to learn more about phenology and to get involved in viewing interactive maps and participating in making observations. The Ohio State University has been promoting Phenology Gardens to record dates of blooms and ultimately assist with identifying insect activity. The list of plants for the gardens has been carefully selected because of their close relationships with pollinating insects. Gardens can be planted at schools, businesses and backyards. For more information, visit (http://phenology.osu.edu/default.asp). Did You Know… The famous Washington D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival happens during the first two weeks in April. Over the past two or three decades, the cherry trees have bloomed earlier and the closing parade often happens after the blossoms have lost their luster. The festival may be blossom-less altogether this year as the cherries were already blooming in mid-March. More Nearby Nature Burton Wetlands: Saturday, April 7 (9:00am-Noon) Explore trails and pathways of the Burton Wetlands, the largest and one of the most important wetlands of the Lake Erie watershed. The area provides habitat for bald eagles, river otters, sandhill cranes, and a host of other wildlife. Glacial lakes, bogs, swamp forests, marshland and the old and new Cuyahoga River are all part of this fascinating complex. Sponsored by the Friends of the Hiram College Field Station (hiking fee: $5 for members, $8 for non-members). To register, call 330.569.6003 or email sorrickmw@hiram.edu. Directions provided upon registration. Audubon Bird Walks: April 15, 22, 29; May 6, 13, 20 (7:30-9:00am) Experienced and beginning birders are invited for these walks as we set out early Sunday mornings to learn and record the sights and sounds, indicating the return of our feathered friends from distant lands. Bring your binoculars and meet at the JH Barrow Field Station on Wheeler Rd. (between SR 305 and SR 82) near Garrettsville. It is a great way to learn birding from experts. No registration is necessary. For questions, call 330.569.6003.

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