Snowy tree, Photo Credit: Joe Riederer

Did You See That?

Are you observant? Phe-nol-o-gy is the study of changes in plants and animals as they respond to weather, climate, and the seasons. Each spring we anxiously await the first returning robin in the hope of warmer weather. That is a phenological event. It happens every year but the return date depends a lot on the weather. Migration and flowering are two more examples of phenological events.

OK, here's your challenge. Look around for the following seasonal/phenological changes and email EEK! when you notice any of the following...

  • Warm sunny weather triggers maple sap to run and skunks to wander out of their dens
  • Listen for male cardinals sing "what cheer" as they try to attract a mate. Chickadees sing "fee-bee" more frequently. Tufted titmice sing "peter, peter, peter" over and over.
  • Snowfleas gather at the base of trees on sunny days early in February.
  • Red osier dogwood bark is turning a brilliant scarlet red. A wonderful touch of color to let us know spring is just around the corner.
  • Look, deer and rabbit have chewed on twigs on the edge of woods to feed themselves this winter. Bark chewed off at the top of a tree might be from porcupines. If the edges are clipped off cleanly at a 45 degree angle and near the ground, then it was probably a cottontail rabbit in southern Wisconsin, or snowshoe hare in the north.
  • Many animals breed this time of year including raccoons, gray squirrels, timber wolves and coyotes. Great horned owls also begin nesting.
  • By the end of February in marshes, skunk cabbage pokes through the snow and begins to smell.
  • The red-winged blackbird returns to perch on cattails.
  • Migratory rainbow trout called "Skamania" or "steelhead" are on the move to spawn in Wisconsin's rivers that flow into Lake Michigan from Marinette to Kenosha.