Depending on where you live, you might have noticed that spring is acting very strange this year. For those of you in the eastern part of the United States, spring temperatures arrived 2-3 weeks earlier than average. In some areas this was followed by a cold front, potentially causing damage to newly emerged flower or leaf buds (and potentially fewer blueberries and peaches).  On the west coast, you've had winter that is much colder and wetter than in recent years, providing much needed relief from drought. 

How will the plants and animals that you observe respond to these weather patterns? Will you see earlier breaking leaf buds? More animals from your checklist? A mismatch in presence of flowers and their pollinators? Only you can find out how the plants and animals you track will respond. Make sure you report what you find to Nature's Notebook so that we can all better understand how changes in climate patterns affect the plants and animals that share our world. 

Happy observing,
What your data are telling us
Yes, spring is very early this year

We've been tracking the arrival of spring this year using the Spring Leaf Index - a proxy of leaf-out in early-season plants that is based on many years of data on leafing of cloned lilacs. This Leaf Index showed us that spring arrived 2-3 weeks earlier than a long-term average (1981-2010) across much of the South, then continued to spread rapidly up the country, arriving in some Midwest and Northeast states 3-4 weeks early. The spread of spring then stalled when a cold front hit the east in mid-March.  

We still have not caught up to the very early spring of 2012 for some states, but for other states (such as Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and parts of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast), we're earlier than even that early spring of 2012. 
Let's check back in on 2017's temperature accumulation

AGDD Diff. from Ave. on
Jan 24th
AGDD Diff. from Ave. on
Mar 19th
148 GDD behind
161 GDD behind
Los Angeles
103 GDD behind
13 GDD ahead
34 GDD behind
342 GDD ahead
2 GDD behind
242 GDD ahead
14 GDD ahead
72 GDD ahead
194 GDD ahead
442 GDD ahead
New Orleans
174 GDD ahead
201 GDD ahead
9 GDD ahead
82 GDD ahead
Washington DC
82 GDD ahead
288 GDD ahead
27 GDD ahead
111 GDD ahead
In our last newsletter, we explained that the amount of heat generated in a year is commonly measured as Accumulated Growing Degree Days (AGDD). These accumulated heat units are used by gardeners for crop management, by managers to know when to treat pests, and more! 

Here, we've calculated how the accumulated heat for March 19th stacks up to the long-term average (1981-2010) for that day for selected cities across the country (using a 32 degree F base). See if a city near you is behind or ahead of the long-term average this year, and how this has changed since January. We'll check back on these cities throughout the year to see how their AGDD difference changes!
Photo: NPS
Smokies Volunteers record seasonal changes

Citizen scientists at Great Smoky Mountains National Park are collecting key information to help park staff understand climate change impacts. These volunteers help scientists collect data at a scale that the professionals could not do on their own. Their observations of phenology of focal tree species are helping the park learn how seasons are changing and how those changes impact the ecosystem. A recent article by Smoky Mountains News explains what these citizen 
scientists  are finding. 
What's new at  Nature's Notebook  and USA-NPN
Spring Campaigns are here!                   
Nectar Connectors badge

Nature's Notebook campaigns are a great way to learn about the phenology of species of special interest, and see how the timing of their phenology changes over time. By collecting data for these campaigns, you also contribute to important scientific research! 

This year we have a new campaign, Nectar Connectors, that focuses on species of special importance to pollinators. And we hope you will continue to participate in our ongoing campaigns, including Green waveLilacs and DogwoodsMayfly WatchShady Invaders, and Southwest Season Trackers. Visit the individual campaign pages to 
find out how to sign up for campaign messaging.
New year, new goal, new tracker

We are hoping to have 2.5 million phenology records submitted this year to  Nature's Notebook ! Our new goal tracker on the homepage will track our progress, changing with the seasons and filling in the meadow scene with new plants and animals for each 100,000 records submitted. 
Recent happenings in the field
Photo: Erin E Posthumus
Phenology improves restoration ecology

Restoration is a vital process to return degraded, damaged, or destroyed ecosystems to a state where they can support species of interest. While plant and animal phenology information is often used to determine the impact of environmental change on plants and animals, this information has not been widely used in the context of ecological restoration.  The authors found that phenology information improved restoration projects, informing what and when to plant, improving the 
timing of management actions, and increasing the efficiency of 
post-restoration monitoring. Adding phenology information into the 
toolkit of restoration managers will help them to be more efficient and 
effective in their restoration actions.
Photo: Brian F Powell
It's a great time for wildflowers if you know where to look

Despite the unusual spring we are seeing across the country, it's a great time to see one of the most showy aspects of phenology - flowers! Heavy winter rains in California have led to spectacular wildflowers this year, but you can find flowers in many other locations too. Learn how to find your favorite wildflowers with tools like Great Smoky Mountains NP's Species Mapper, or the NPSpecies Webpage. And don't forget 
to stop to smell the flowers! 

Nature's Notebook Nuggets
Photo: Ellen G Denny
Catch spring in the act!

The cues for a plant's transition from dormancy to renewed activity can be subtle, yet can be quite visible if you are watching closely. It may take careful sleuthing - and sometimes previous experience - to detect the early stages. The tightly clasping bud scales of the dormant buds - (those tightly packed leaves of naked buds) begin to shift or ever-so-slightly "swell" and may also shift color. These signals suggest that reporting on "Breaking leaf buds" and "Flowers and flower buds" is not long off.

More ways to get involved
Nature's Notebook featured on new show

Multiple Nature's Notebook efforts will be featured next month on the new WORLD channel series The Crowd and The Cloud. The series focuses on the rise of Citizen Science, and its importance to topics as diverse as health and wildlife conservation.  The fourth and final episode, Citizens4Earth, will air on April 27th and feature two of our 
Nature's  Notebook partners - Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge  
and the  New York Phenology Project . We hope you will tune in!

What can we learn from cherry blossoms? 

Each spring, over a million people descend on our nation's capital to view the impressive display of cherry blossoms. Predicting when the cherry blossoms will bloom (and therefore when to have the festival) has become more difficult in recent years. This year, the fragile new flower buds that took advantage of the very early spring temperatures in Washington DC were hit hard by a cold snap. It's estimated that around 50% of the buds have survived the frost, but another cold front is on the way at an even more vulnerable time for the flowers. 

These cherry blossoms tell an important story about the dangers of an early spring. While plants may be at an advantage by leafing out or blooming in response to these early spring temperatures, it also puts them at a danger of late-spring freezes, which are predicted to become even more frequent in future years

Erin Posthumus
Outreach Coordinator