A dictionary might say that to observe is to notice or perceive something, and register it as being significant. It’s that second half that makes observation more than just seeing.

I try to be observant. I try to pay attention to nature and to what is happening in the sky above. “Observations” and “Celestial Observations” are categories on this site.

One way I do that is to participate in the National Phenology Network. One thing they developed is Nature’s Notebook, a project focused on collecting standardized ground observations by researchers, students and just plain old volunteers like myself.

Phenology refers to key seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year. That means flowering, emergence of insects and the migration of birds or mammals with a particular interest in their timing and relationship with weather and climate.

I was drawn to this because of the idea of things like observing the migration of birds and how the timing relates with weather and climate.

This year the Network had 2 million records submitted.

I don’t live in a wildlife paradise, but there is a surprising amount of plant life and wildlife in almost any neighborhood. In my home area, observing a bobcat is possible but unusual. Observing the budding and blooms on rhododendrons is easy.

As a citizen scientist, observing the rare or the common is important.

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Photo: Terry Spivey, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

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Photo: © Ben Carter via iNaturalist.org. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) License

With plants, you observe the same individual plants each time you visit your observation site, which could be your neighborhood or a nearby woods. For example, you could observe the same red maple in your backyard all through the year.

With animals, you create a checklist of animal species and look for all of them each time you visit your site. For example, if your checklist has robins, wood frogs, and tent caterpillars on it, you should record whether or not you see or hear those species anywhere in your site each time you visit.

You can choose one or more species from the Network’s list of plant and animal species. For plants, they would like you to select at least one plant campaign species. For animals, they recommend that you select several species that occur in your local area or in your state.

It is not difficult. It will help tune you in to the world around you and share it in a useful way to a larger effort.

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