December 2018

Timing is everything...

Marla Mertz, Marion County Conservation, and Linette Bernard, Feathers and Ink

Looking back over the years as a naturalist, there are three things that come to mind that we automatically focus on. Observation is first and foremost.

Seasonal changes of plants and wildlife becomes quite noticeable. In order to prepare for sharing those observations with the public, it’s important that we become a personal part of those seasonal changes and become aware of the happenings within certain time frames.

In order to properly inform the public with our observations, we also look into our trusty books. Books, you say? Yes! As “older” naturalists, those books are still the gateway to putting more information out and broadening the scope of the subject(s) that we are wanting to learn more about and share with you. Books and libraries should not be considered endangered species. By physically touching those books, they can take you to places, images, and feelings we thought never possible.

Do naturalist’s know everything about the environment and current events? Probably not enough to focus on any individual subject. Throughout the years, naturalists learn quite a bit and know a “little” about a lot, and a “lot” about absolutely nothing. It is an ongoing array of happenings and not enough time in the day to focus on any single natural or current event. This is where the naturalist reaches out to the experts to ask questions, learn from their knowledge and observations, and to get a little more “in-depth” on a subject. There are so many people out there that are local, a part of their natural community, but also have a lifelong desire to devote their lives to more focused subjects. Obviously, we are not necessarily focused! OOOO… look, eagles!

Sorry… where were we going?

All of this work and time is devoted with passion for the education of our natural resources. Some environmental educators have specific talents or have personally involved themselves understanding the focus on a particular species of plant or animal. The passion they feel can make a difference in another’s view on the world around us.

Donning your coat and boots in the winter can bring renewal to day-to-day activities. If you are observant, you will come back with something that you saw or heard that wasn’t just created by a human. Each week, each month, and each season brings newness to our environment. We continue to observe the happenings of our environment mentally or physically. Most naturalists and others grounded by our environment are actually students of phenology or nature’s calendar. Phenology is considered a measurement of life cycle events in all living things, plant or animal. For example; what time of year do you notice a plum tree blossoming? What time of year do you see bald eagles carrying sticks to their nest? What time of year do you see animals preparing for winter or hibernation? What time of year does the great horned owl begin to lay eggs? All of these questions are answered by nature over the months and seasons of the year. The timing of these cycles can assist in noting habitat, seasonal, and climate changes.

Putting a name to the study of seasonal natural rhythm’s and life cycles such as phenology, seems like a daunting task. Here are a few ideas that you could do in your classrooms to create a phenology calendar that challenges your students’ senses and awareness to the out-of-doors. It could be as simple as drawing, color pages, journaling, or anything that may make the classroom excited by the happenings of nature going on right now. They could create a classroom calendar of natural events that they have observed.

Links for more learning:

These educator resources could be adapted to our life in Iowa. This may offer more information on how this could fit into your daily or weekly goals in the classroom or school. Keep it Simple!

This snowy owl was part of the seasonal rhythm in December 2017 when Iowa experienced an irruption of snowy owls.