New Signs of the Season Webinar on Historical Maine Phenology

On Aug. 4, 2017, Signs of the Seasons hosted it’s third webinar in it’s summer educational series. The webinar focused on exploring historic Maine phenology and was given by Dr. Caitlin Mcdonough, a post-doctoral researcher at Acadia National Park and the Schoodic Institute. The webinar, Uncovering the Past Through Maine’s Historic Phenology Data, showcases her Acadia National Park phenology research, and details her work to uncover, compile, and analyze phenology resources in an understudied region of northern Maine,  and quantify the flowering and leaf out responses of species and populations in these plant communities. She talks about her historic collaborators — a hunting guide’s journal from mid-twentieth century northern Maine and the 1894 Flora of Mount Desert Island, Maine.

View a video of the webinar by clicking here.

New Webinar Focusing on The State of Maine’s Loons

Signs of the Seasons, in partnership with Maine Audubon, is now offering an informative multimedia webinar on The State of Maine’s Loons. The webinar,  details where loons go in winter, their diet, their current population within Maine, and looks at how they are likely going to be impacted by climate change.   The webinar also explores loon population changes over the last 33 years, research on causes of mortality, and efforts to conserve their lake habitat in Maine. (Recorded July 17, 2017).

Click here to view the webinar.

Signs of the Seasons Offers Rockweed Phenology Webinar

Curious about how your coastal phenology data is being used? Signs of the Seasons is proud to present our 2017 Coastal Research Update webinar (recorded June 20, 2017). 

Collaborating scientist Dr. Jessica Muhlin from Maine Maritime Academy outlines the importance of Ascophyllum nodosum (rockweed) and gives an update on the latest rockweed research and findings.

Click here to view the webinar.

New Study Finds Eastern North American Trees are Moving West in Response to the Effects of Climate Change

Climate change is expected to affect different species in various ways. Scientists expect that animals and plants that are able will shift poleward as the climate heats up. But a new study of eastern North American trees published this week in Science Advances found a slightly unexpected result: trees are moving westward even more than they are moving poleward. The study found that about three-quarters (73%) of tree species common to eastern American forests have shifted their population west since 1980. During the same period 62% of the species studied also moved northward.

The study, one of the first to use empirical data and not models or predictions, analyzed the abundance of 86 tree species/groups across the eastern United States over the last three decades. Scientists found that more deciduous trees (angiosperms-trees that have seeds that are enclosed within fruits) have shifted westward, while conifers (gymnosperms -which have no flowers or fruits and are often configured as cones) have tended to shift poleward. The westward trend was stronger for saplings than adult trees.

The results indicate that changes in changes in precipitation (e.g. drought) may impact vegetation dynamics more than changes in temperature in the near-term. It concluded that if these shifts continue, with the deciduous trees moving westward and conifers moving northward, it will change the composition of forest ecosystems. These changes can have significant ecological consequences including the possibility of extinction of certain evolutionary lineages in some forest communities. They recommend that forest managers consider both temperature and precipitation when making management decisions.

Read the story by visiting The Atlantic.

Read the study in Science Advances.




Signs of the Seasons in the news!

Local news station WABI TV5 stopped by our Signs of the Seasons training last night at the Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden. Click the link to view the story:

Do You Have Phenology Anxiety?

A recent Washington Post story detailed a relatively new anxiety phenomenon: worry that natural occurrences are seriously out of whack due to climate change. Driven by this concern, people are choosing to become citizen scientists, either by joining phenology programs like Signs of the Seasons and Nature’s Notebook or on their own. By recording observations about the onset of certain periodic events citizen scientists can add to oral and written phenology data recorded and passed down through the years by hunters, fishermen, farmers, gardeners, and naturalists.

In the mean time, if you are experiencing phenology anxiety, one recommended remedy is to immerse oneself in the natural beauty of our state and appreciate the dependence of trees, wildflowers, birds and all flora and fauna on the endlessly variable seasons.

Beth Maples in the woods
Beth Maples

Maple Sugar Industry Faces Unpredictability in the Face of Climate Change

Maple syrup has long been a delicious harbinger of spring and important industry, although scientists and maple producers are worried about the future of this temperature-dependent industry. That is because the cycle of cold temperatures at night and warmer temperatures during the day that are best for maple sugar production are less predictable than in years past, and have also resulted in a lower sugar content of the maple syrup. Sugar Bush and Red Maples trees are two of Signs of the Seasons “indicator species” due to the economic and social importance of understanding how their seasons are changing due to climate change.

Warming temperatures have lowered the sugar content of maple syrup, which means more sap is needed to make the product. For example, it used to take New Hampshire producers 25 gallons of sap to make a gallon of pure maple syrup, and now it takes 50 gallons.

Since 2014 the maple sugaring industry has been dealing with large variations in when the length of the season and when it begins. According to a 2016 USDA report on Northeast Maple Syrup production, 2014 saw the first tap on Jan. 10, and the season ended May 1. In 2015, the season ran for less then a month, March 18 to April 13. And in 2016, it ran from Jan. 27 to April 30.

Last year, some northern sugar houses actually had banner years, but overall production has decreased dramatically — from a peak of 4.2 million gallons of syrup produced in New Hampshire in the 1890s to less than 200,000 gallons in recent decades. A graph on the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association website, shows a slow steady decline over the past 60 years before rising slightly again in the past two or three years. In 2014, 112,000 gallons were produced; 154,000 gallons in 2015; and 169,000 gallons in 2016. However, that is far away from the high of 4.2 million gallons one hundred years ago!

The season will run as long as the region experiences a cycle of below-freezing and above-freezing temperatures. This change in temperature results in a change of pressure inside the trees and causes the sap to flow. Sugarers are hopeful that they can adapt to climate changes by adopting new farming techniques.

More information.

See the graph about NH Maple Sugar production (PDF).

Learn more about the phenophases of the red maples (acer rubrum) and sugar maples (acer saccharum).

March is Maple Sugar Month

March is International Maple Month in Canada and the United States! Maple sugaring season begins now, and the states of Maine and New Hampshire are planning celebrations in honor of the industry. The New Hampshire Maple Producers Association’s Maple Weekend will be held March 25 and 26, and Maine Maple Producers Association will hold Maple Sunday on March 26. On these days Sugar Houses in both states will open their doors to the public to share demonstrations of the centuries-old craft of maple sugaring and making syrup. They will offer free samples of fresh syrup, maple candies and confections, coffee, and doughnuts. Many farms will host activities such as games, pancake breakfasts, sugarbush tours, horse-drawn cart rides, and music.

Sugar and Red Maples are the trees that are tapped for sugaring, with sugar maples being preferred. Both of these trees are Signs of the Seasons indicator species, in large part due to their economic importance.

While the tree’s leaves are green during the summer the maples produce starches, which are dormant in the fall until the springtime. Then the sun comes out and warms up the trees. A chemical reaction occurs and starches convert to sugars. Sap begins to flow in the spring when there is an increase in pressure and the sap moves through the tree to feed the branches for new growth. One tap in one sugar maple tree yields 10,000 gallons of sap over the season.

Sap is obtained by drilling a five-sixteenth hole into the white layer under the bark. As sap flows up the tree it leaks out during the warmer days that are above freezing. At night, the ideal for sap production is freezing temperatures, and the sap goes back down the tree for storage.

The season will run as long as the region experiences a cycle of below-freezing and above-freezing temperatures, which change the pressure inside the trees and cause the sap to flow.

Warmer winters can shorten the season, or sometimes even lengthen it, creating fluctuations in production. The temperature dependent nature of the industry makes it extremely susceptible to climate change.

See more information on Maine Maple Sunday.

Information on New Hampshire Maple Weekend.

Monarchs to Begin Migrating from Mexico this Month

One of our important indicator species, the Monarch butterfly, is set to begin their migration to North America from their overwintering roosts in Mexico. Using environmental cues, most will depart Mexico by mid-to late March. Monarchs are unique as they are the only butterfly known to undertake a two-way migration like birds do.

Eastern monarchs butterflies overwinter in 11 or 12 areas in oyamel forests in Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains beginning in October. Because all the migrating monarchs are concentrated in just a few locations during the winter, they are especially vulnerable to human activities that disrupt or destroy their habitat. The Mexican government created a reserve to conserve monarch roosting habitat, but it is also important to conserve entire surrounding watersheds so monarchs can find and access water during the final critical weeks before their spring migration back to the US.

Monarch butterflies are an indicator species for Signs of the Seasons. Learn more about Monarchs and the phenophases we observe here in Maine.

More information about overwintering monarchs and their migration.

2017 Training Dates

2017 Signs of the Seasons Trainings

  1. Gilsland Farm Audubon Center, Falmouth, ME. March 20  – 4:00pm to 6:30pm.
  2. Fields Pond Audubon Center, Holden, ME. April 25 – 4:00pm to 6:30pm.
  3. Hutchinson Center, Belfast, ME. April 3 – 4:00pm to 6:30pm.
  4. Hancock County Cooperative Extension, Ellsworth, ME. Canceled.
  5. Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay, ME. April 27  – 9:30am to 12:30pm.
  6. Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, Wells, ME. May 8 – 10:00am-12:30pm.

Coastal (Rockweed) Signs of the Seasons Trainings

  1. Gundalow Company, Portsmouth, NH.  April 3  – 11:00am to 1:00pm.
  2. Darling Marine Center, Walpole, ME. Two dates: April 10 – 4:30pm to 6:30pm and April 18 – 10am to noon.
  3. Kettle Cove, Cape Elizabeth, ME. May 3 –12noon to 2pm.

Click here to register online.

If you are interested in being notified of future trainings, please fill out the volunteer interest form.