Thursday, April 27, 2006

Wilson's Almanac and phenology

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted

Nature and calendar side-by-side

Cuckoo Day is a good time to think about how Ma Nature's clocks are 'going cuckoo'. I like to think that Wilson’s Almanac has something to say about our place in Nature, and how 'seizing the day' is best when we seize it with all its glorious natural wonders that surround us. I hope that when you visit the Almanac, you'll learn with me more about how Nature has always had a huge influence in the conscious and unconscious life of humanity.

There is now a science of studying the calendar in relation natural phenomena that will probably interest Almaniacs. Phenology is the study of the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena, such as the migrations and breeding of birds, the flowering and fruiting of plants, and so on.

Webster-Merriam’s Dictionary defines it thus: “a branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena (as bird migration or plant flowering)”. Phenology is related to biometeorology, an interdisciplinary science studying the interactions between atmospheric processes and living organisms – plants, animals and humans.

Wikipedia notes in its article on phenology that in Japan and China the time of blossoming of cherry and peach trees is associated with ancient festivals and some of these dates can be traced back to the eighth century. Such records form an important part of climate change research. The pinot noir grape can also be used in historical phenology. Writing in Nature, Isabelle Chuine and co-workers describe how French records of pinot noir grape-harvest dates in Burgundy can be used to reconstruct Spring - Summer temperatures from 1370 to 2003. Chuine found that 2003 summer temperatures were probably higher than in any other year since 1370.

Phenology UK has a good website which puts it this way:

“Phenology is the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena especially in relation to climate change. It is recording when you heard the first cuckoo or saw the blackthorn blossom. This can then be compared with other records.”

In these days of climate change, you can see how important folklore and Nature observation can be when they work together. Sometimes we can tell much about the damage being done by our lifestyles, by comparing today with yesterday. The rapidly disappearing Springtime song of "Cuck-oo! Cuck-oo", such a prominent sound in old British calendar customs, gives just one example of how all this ties together, and why I recommend 'amateur phenology' to Almaniacs.

A very useful collection of global (but mostly Northern Hemisphere) phenology links is to be found at Phenology Web Links, and here are some more. Canada has its NatureWatch, while the Backyard Nature site is just one of a growing number of sites where amateurs can learn more about the seasons around them. Nature Detectives is an online phenology research and education project for under 18s in the UK.

For Australians, the Scribbly Gum website is an interesting place to read up on Aussie natural phenomena through the calendar, and Macquarie University (Sydney) has its Biowatch phenology project ...

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