Appendix B. Frequently Asked Questions

How to Observe

1. Why should I record my observations when nothing seems to be happening?

Having a full record of your observations and observation dates allows scientists to more confidently estimate the date a phenophase began or ended. This is called “negative” data and is just as important as reporting on the occurrence of a phenophase!

Example: If you first report hearing wood frog calls April 6, and your last visit (when you did not hear them) was April 2, we know that the wood frogs started calling sometime within those four to five days. If you only report the April 6 visit and no previous visit, we only know that the frogs started to call at some point before April 6.

2. What if I missed a phenophase?

  • If you miss the occurrence of a phenophase entirely, and you see evidence that the phenophase did occur, then make a note of this in the comments section of your Nature’s Notebook Enter Observation Data Entry

Example: If your plant flowered while you were away on vacation, and you see dried flowers on the ground below the plant, feel free to note this in the comments section of your data entry form. You can note similar occurrences with animals, for example, if you see chicks in a bird nest, but never saw the eggs.

  • If you are watching for a phenophase and it does not seem to be starting when you expect it would, continue to watch for it and record that it is not occurring. This could mean the phenophase is occurring later or not at all in a given year, and could be very valuable information.

3. Why is it valuable to know that a phenophase did not occur at all in a given year?

Many phenophases do not occur in every year — birds may not breed in a certain area, trees may not flower or fruit, turtles may not lay eggs.

Note: Information about when and where these phenophases did and did not occur is very important to scientists studying these species and the interactions between species and how it all relates to the changing climate.

4. Why should I continue looking for a phenophase even after it has passed?

  • Once a phenophase has ended you should continue to look for signs of it and record whether or not it occurs again. Sometimes phenophases will occur a second or third (or more) time in a season, whether because of rain, pests, or climate change.
  • Many phenophases may occur two or more times in a year. Many birds lay a second clutch of eggs in the summer after the first clutch has fledged. If a frost or pest kills many of the leaves on a tree, it will often have a second flush of new leaves.
  • Also, climate change is altering the timing and frequency of life cycle events, which is extremely important to capture!

Example: As temperatures warm and growing seasons get longer, many species are reproducing more frequently — some birds are having more broods, some plants flower earlier or more often, and insects like butterflies and dragonflies may go through more generations in a single year, or less due to scarcity of food and water.

bird iconAnimals

bird icon5. What if I never see some of the animals I am observing?

  • On most days you will probably not see or hear most of the animals you are observing. You may not see or hear some species all year. Even though it can be frustrating to look for animals that are not there very often, information about when and where a species is and is not is very important to scientists.

Note: Please continue to record that you DO NOT see phenophases for these animal species on each day you observe.

  • In some ways the information about when and where a species is not present is more important than information about where it is, because those observations (called negative data) are more rare.

bird icon6. Can I still report seeing ‘Active individuals/adults’ or ‘Individuals/adults on land/water’ if I also report seeing another more specific phenophase?

Yes. You should report “Yes” for ALL the phenophases you see occurring on a given date. For animals, if you see a specific activity, like nest building, you are also seeing one or more active individuals, and should be reporting “Yes” to both of those phenophases for that species.

leaf iconPlants

leaf icon7. Can I start observing a plant if I am unsure which species it is?

  • Yes. Keep track of observations on a field datasheet and use phenophase definitions for the species you think it is, or for a similar tree, shrub or herbaceous perennial.

Note: Please do not enter your observations online until you have identified the species with reasonable confidence.

  • Once you have identified the plant, please check that the phenophases for that species are consistent with what you had been recording. If they are consistent, enter the data online. If they are not consistent, please do not enter your old observations. Instead start fresh now that you have identified your plant.

leaf icon8. Can I still report ‘Breaking leaf buds’ (trees and shrubs) or ‘Initial growth’ (forbs and grasses) once I see ‘leaves’ or ‘Young leaves’ on the plant?

Yes. You should judge each leaf bud or shoot separately.

  • As long as some buds or shoots on the plant are still breaking or initiating growth and have not yet produced an unfolded leaf, you are seeing ‘Breaking leaf buds’ or ‘Initial growth’.
  • For plants that have more than one bud or shoot, in most cases you will still be seeing ‘Breaking leaf buds’ or ‘Initial growth’ in some buds or shoots for many days after you first begin seeing ‘Leaves’ or ‘Young leaves’ from other buds or shoots.
  • It is also possible to see multiple episodes of leaf bud break or initial growth within a season. This might occur after a period of frost, severe drought, or after a plant is defoliated by insects.
  • However, once ALL the active leaf buds or shoots on the plant have at least one unfolded leaf, you should no longer be reporting ‘Breaking leaf buds’ or ‘Initial growth’.

leaf icon9. How can I judge the proportion of full leaf size while leaves are still increasing in size? This is a little difficult the first year you try it, but gets easier with practice.

  • If you are in doubt, you can use a ruler to measure full size (length and/or width) of a typical leaf during summer of the first year, and then use that measure to better judge the proportion of full leaf size during the period of leaf growth in subsequent years.
  • We are asking observers to note when leaves are less than 25%, 25-49%, 50-74%, 75-94%, and 95% or more of full leaf size in order to create an estimate of the time it takes for leaves to grow to full size.

Note: Including this measure allows scientists to keep track of the length of the “green-up” period, which is an important aspect of a plant’s response to climate change.

leaf icon10. When should I report I no longer see ‘Leaves’?
You should continue to report seeing ‘Leaves’ as long as fresh green or colored leaves/needles remain on the plant.

  • Do not include dried, dead leaves that remain on the plant, such as occur with some species throughout the winter.
  • In some cases, green leaves will remain on the plant in a frozen condition for part or all of the winter. If more than about 5% of the leaves have remained on the plant in this condition, you should continue to report seeing ‘Leaves’ until they fall off or appear wilted.

leaf icon11. How can I tell if mature fruit have dropped from my plant since my last visit?

Evidence of ‘Recent fruit drop’ may include mature fruits on the ground below the plant that were not there on your last visit or fruits missing from the plant which were present on your last visit.

Note: Do not include obviously immature fruits that have dropped before ripening, as might happen in a heavy rain or wind.

leaf icon12. What if the plant I am observing dies?

If an individual dies or is obviously declining in health (when others of the same species around it are still healthy), you should:

  • Select a new individual to observe.

Be sure to note the death in the comments section of your Nature’s Notebook Add or Edit Plants form and add the replacement as a new plant with a different nickname.