Sycamore Land Trust


Phenology: the study of recurring plant and animal life cycles, especially their timing and relationships with weather and climate.

Chances are you notice, even unconsciously, what is happening around you as plants and animals go through life cycles, especially during the spring and fall as the seasons shift. Sycamore Land Trust has partnered with the National Phenology Network so that you can become a “citizen scientist” and report your observations in a national database, Nature’s Notebook. We encourage you to visit Sycamore preserves – or register your own private site, such as your backyard – and report back on what you hear and see!

National Phenology Network visualization tool screenshotNature’s Notebook is valuable because it provides a way to harness individual observations to see larger trends, including ones that may be indicators of climate change. Check out NPN’s visualization tool, an interactive map of the data submitted by users. Then, consider becoming a contributor yourself! Phenology can help people connect with nature wherever they are, especially with the smart phone app (but good old pen and paper works too!).

The practice of phenology was established in large part by Aldo Leopold, a conservationist who kept detailed records of plants and animals near his home in Wisconsin. Find out more about Leopold and phenology from Climate Wisconsin, which notes that “The Leopolds made phenology a family affair, with all the kids joining in the fun of being the first one to observe a certain bird on the wing or a new bloom!”

General Information:

  • We have listed many Sycamore preserves as “Shared Sites,” which means that people who join our group can report data for those preserves. We pre-selected certain plant and animal species for most of our sites to create a starting point. You can look for the species we have listed and add your own based on what you see.
  • In addition to affiliating with the Sycamore sites, you may also add your own private sites, such as your yard.
  • Visiting your site(s) at least once a week is good, but you may want to go more often when things are changing quickly.
  • Nature’s Notebook recommends marking your site, such as with surveyor’s tape, but for Sycamore Land Trust properties, we ask that you do NOT mark a site. Simply note to yourself natural landmarks such as a boulder or trail junction.

Getting Started:tracking seasonsal changes screenshot

  • Step-by-step instructions for creating an account, getting ready to go observe, and recording your data can be found here (make sure to click the tab for “Shared Sites”)
  • When creating your account, be sure to select Sycamore Land Trust under Land Trusts in the “Partner Organizations” box. When you create an account for the first time and affiliate with Sycamore Land Trust, your link to our group is effective immediately. However, if you already have an account and edit it to affiliate with Sycamore Land Trust, it takes 24 hours for the change to take effect.
  • Note: Once you’re logged into Nature’s Notebook, the home page will display a dropbox with “My Sites” and “Sycamore Land Trust.” To see the Sycamore sites, you’ll need to switch using the dropbox.

How to Observe:

  • For plants: Observe the same individual plants each time you visit your site. For example, you should observe the same red maple in your back yard all through the year. If your plant grows in a large mass where it is difficult to distinguish or mark individuals, you can choose to monitor the plant as a “patch.” Note: Currently there are no individual plants identified on the Sycamore properties, so feel free to select your own. We hope to go out and mark specific plants and trees at certain preserves eventually.
  • For animals: 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.
  • Training videos and PowerPoints are available here.

    Tim Griffith helps people spot birds at the Eagle Slough Dedication Ceremony in October 2012. Photo by Patrick Petro.

    You can record your observations of birds, other animals, and plants in Nature’s Notebook. Consider trying it as a family activity! Photo by Patrick Petro.

We look forward to discovering what you see and hear on Sycamore Land Trust preserves! If you have any questions about this phenology initiative, please contact us at 812-336-5382 x100 or