[Tweeters] Thrills of Phenology

Jeff Gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Sun Mar 6 09:50:54 PST 2016

Hey, how about that phenology!

Phenology (not to be confused with phrenology) is the study of key seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year, especially their timing and relationship with weather and climate ( including microclimate) and habitat. The flowering of plants, emergence of insects, plumage changes and migration of birds, are some examples of phenology. Each species has it's own.
One of my favorite things, is how easy phenology can make identifying various deciduous trees and shrubs. Port Townsend is blessed with many brushy patches and hedgerows (great for birds) which are sometimes quite the mix of species. In winter these places are a mass of bare twigs and branches - just general brush. But now things are changing - there is sex in the shrubbery!
Flowering plants are now flowering (having, or waiting for, sex) which can great for ID. Of course you have to have done some some closer ID- ing, of plants previously, but once you know your plants a bit you don't even have to stop your car to note various species, previously lurking, now showing off in the brush.
Right now in PT one of those shrubs is our native Hazelnut with it's showy catkins hanging down like falling rain. What looked like just more twigs in December now is clearly a Hazel. Another plant here is a certain brightly blooming (for a willow) willow. Willows are notoriously difficult to ID - there are many species which you'd need a hand lens and big plant key to ID by flower details. But whatever, this willow is pretty - a real showoff.
Last fall I had fun finding Douglas Hawthorn's - another small tree lurking in the hedgerows and such. In the phenology of this native tree are periods of blooming, and fruiting, that make it stand out a bit, but in the fall I was noting it's fall leaf color in the hedgerow across the street - one of the last plants to turn. It was sort of a unique hard to describe orangish color. Having figured that out, I was spotting Hawthorns revealing themselves in the brush all over town, even just driving around in my truck. There were more of them than than I suspected. I could go on with other good examples.
As for birds, Tweeters of course are familiar with phenology. Not too long ago I was down at Point Wilson after a period of being "under the weather", and was surprised to find the Pigeon Guillemots had changed over into their natty summer wear already - although a few were still in their dirty winter underwear. More bird changes on the way. Wonder what phenology is gonna happen today.
Jeff Gibson, amateur phenologistPort Townsend Wa

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