What is Phenology?
Phenology is the study of cycles in relation to biological occurrences. Phenology studies seasons, biological events, weather patterns, habitat changes, and any other shifts in nature through the passage of time. Anyone can practice phenology! It begs questions like: “Why do I hear more birds chirping in May than in April?”, “What time of year do deer have their fawns?”, or “Why does the shoreline of Kinni look a little different than it did last year?”. Phenology reports are important to protecting our natural resources because they allow us to notice changes and compare or contrast them to the past.
July sits in the very midst of the summer season. It is characterized by high temperatures, long days, and increased humidity. Bodies of water begin to warm up, making them more enjoyable to recreate in. Walking paths are surrounded by beautiful blooming wildflowers and the skies are full of color as songbirds go whizzing by. Crops are growing, bear and deer are roaming about, and mosquitoes have hatched and are on the prowl. July is a month full of beauty and in this month’s report, we will explore phenology through the senses: sound, sight, and taste.
July Sounds – Birdsong Fills the Air:
Quaking Aspen can be heard all around as their broad, round leaves create a unique sound when rustling in the wind. If you find yourself in a forest with Quaking Aspen, close your eyes and enjoy the sound of their leaves mimicking the rushing of rain. You may hear the loud and proud ‘chiro’ of the Northern Cardinal or the dominate squawking of the Blue Jay. You could hear the snapping of a twig as a red fox wanders through the forest looking for its prey. The buzzing of bees is all around and the hum of cicadas only increase as the temperatures rise.
The house finch has a birdsong that is various, complex, and can be long in nature. Listening to house finches call to each other is like listening to two friends catch up over the phone; their song is constant and dynamic. The house finch call is different for males and females. Males sing a ‘territory song’ that ends in a high-pitched, dramatic note, while female songs can last up to two minutes and often take place from their nests. House finches’ songs are most commonly identified by their ‘warbling’ which includes multiples notes strung together in a continuous kind of loop.
“House Finches hiding before going after the berries”: Picture taken and provided by Mark Ritzinger
July Sights – Moving Through the Rainbow:
Red can be seen throughout the watershed, whether it is the fuzzy seeds of the Staghorn Sumac tree, or bright highbush cranberries. Monarch butterflies flash orange as they continue hatching since the first migration a few months ago. You do not have to look hard to see the Yellow Rocketcress that stands tall in wooded understories, and Black-eyed Susan’s scatter the footpaths of Kelly Creek Preserve. Green comes is many shades, whether it is the dark pine needles of the White Pine or the lighter, softer green of a Weeping Willow. What could be more blue than the Kinnickinnic River as the clear sky is reflected onto its winding waters? The Indigo Bunting comes and goes in a flash as it scavenges for insects before making its way back to the nest. Violet comes in the form of beautiful wildflowers such as Wild Bergamot and Spiderwort.
Upper Left picture – Spiderwort at Kelly Creek
Lower Left Picture – Black-eyed Susan’s at Kelly Creek
Upper Right Picture – Monarch Butterfly – Mark Ritzinger
Lower Right Picture- Indigo Bunting – Mark Ritzinger
July Taste – The Sweetness of Summer:
Blackcap raspberries can be found in several places throughout the watershed and provide a sweet treat to those passing by. These berries are most commonly found in fields and open forests and are native to North America. The fruit is ripe July through August, making now the perfect time to enjoy their sweetness. The berries have a sweet and slightly tart taste to them, and are great in jams, jellies, and pies. The plant attracts wildlife such as robins, jays, sparrows, chipmunks, squirrels, and racoons. The leaves are eaten by rabbits and deer, while the flowers prove useful for several pollinator species.
Staghorn Sumac is a plant that grows long, red, fuzzy seed clusters. Sumac is a native tree or shrub that is part of the cashew family. The seed clusters can be eaten raw or can be dried and made into a powder for seasoning. The seeds are said to have a sour, tangy taste, almost like a lemon. Sumac is commonly used in baked goods, in lemonades, and in hummus. Staghorn Sumac is a plant that self-seeds and often resorts to root suckering. The bright, red clusters are hard to miss amongst a wooded area, almost broadcasting its sour seeds.
Left Picture – Blackcap Raspberry at Kelly Creek
Right Picture – Stagborn Sumac Seeds
Always make sure that you have properly identified a wild edible before consuming. Click the link below for more details on rules, regulations, and safety tips for foraging in Wisconsin.
My name is Jane Taylor, and I write phenology reports for the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls in 2021 with a degree in Environmental Conservation. I have been passionate about the outdoors from a young age, and as I have grown up, I have realized more and more just how important it is to protect our natural resources. I live near the Twin Cities and when I am not writing phenology reports for the KRLT, I am working as an Interpretive Naturalist at a park in Shakopee, Minnesota. I love to spend as much time as possible outdoors; my favorite outdoor activities include birding, camping, and spending time at the lake.
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