As 2020 comes to a close, I'll admit I'm not too sorry to see the end of it! It's been a strange and difficult year in many ways. It's a comfort to have the steady succession of plant and animal life cycle events as an anchor, even though these events can be unusual at times!

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised that 2020 brought with it some strange phenology. This fall, observers across the country reported anomalous leafing and flowering on a variety of species, and researchers made some remarkable discoveries about the impact of light pollution on bird phenology. Check out these and other phenological findings below.

Best wishes to you for (a hopefully more normal) 2021,
What your data are telling us
Unusual bloom timing this fall
Nature's Notebook observers reported some oddly-timed flowering for species across the country this fall. This great article from Yale Climate Connections discusses some causes of fall flowering including drought, heatwaves, and other stressors. According to, this fall was the warmest on record in some locations.

These observations are for the bats
Students at the University of Arizona have been diligently collecting data on flowering of agave in Southeastern Arizona to support the Flowers for Bats campaign. Undergraduate student Jacob Brown made a video to describe their data collection process.

What's new at Nature's Notebook and USA-NPN
What did we learn about pesky plants?
We just finished up a successful first year of our new Pesky Plant Trackers campaign, which invited observers in the Midwest and Northeast to track the leafing, flowering, and fruiting of Japanese knotweed and wild parsnip. The data collected will give land managers important information about when to treat these invasive species.

Recent happenings in the field of phenology
Light pollution benefits mismatched birds
Authors of a new study published in the journal Nature sought to understand how human-caused light and noise pollution might pose additional challenges to birds impacted by climate change. They found that light pollution caused birds to nest a month earlier in open environments and 18 days earlier in forested environments. This advance in timing allowed the birds to catch up to earlier spring onset and availability of food, resulting in better nesting success. Managers can use this information to know which species are at greater risk from climate change impacts, and prioritize habitat for vulnerable species. Communities can also use this information to assess their own light and sound footprints.

Photo: Tom Grey
Nature's Notebook Nuggets
How often should I observe in winter?
In northern states, most plants will not need weekly observations in the middle of winter. However, if your species retains ripe fruit in the winter, you should still report on fruiting phenophases. In southern states, many species may have active flower buds or open flowers that will require normal weekly observations. Get familiar with the seasonal progression of phenophases for your species to predict what’s coming!

More ways to get involved
Hoosiers track changes across Indiana
Indiana observers are coming together to document phenology in their state, and you can help! Amanda Wanlass, Executive Director of Indiana Phenology, intends to enlist backyard observers in all 92 Indiana counties. These data will be used to see how Indiana's environment is shifting in response to climate change, and give information to managers about invasive species, disease vectors, and more.

Phenology findings at Downer Woods
In a new video, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Distinguished Professor Mark Schwartz talks about how he and his team are using phenology data from the University's Downer Woods on species such as ash and cloned lilacs to understand environmental change.

Trees, Water & People hiring Coordinator
Trees, Water & People is hiring a National Program Coordinator to implement programs supporting reforestation, agroforestry, rangeland management, and riparian restoration on U.S. Tribal Lands.

Erin Posthumus