To find new things, take the path you took yesterday.
– John Burroughs
I talk a lot about nature. As a naturalist, my job is often to introduce participants to the seasonal discoveries they may not be wired to notice or have the time to slow down and recognize. Walking through habitats everyday and recording my observations helps to take notice of what is happening in the natural world. Phenology is the study of the timing of these natural events. The word comes from a Greek word that means “coming into view”. Events like the first openings of leaf and flower buds and the first calls of frogs and toads are all considered phonological events. The timing of these events varies in different locations due to the climate differences.
Different factors affect an areas climate, including temperature, amount of precipitation, and day length at different latitude and altitude.
The occurrence of observed phenomenon may alter slightly from year to year, but is predictable.
If you hike, paddle, hunt, go birding or enjoy nature photography being in touch with the changing seasons brings eager anticipation for the delightful celebrations nature puts forward. Try keeping your own phenology journal to be ready for each special moment in your neck of the woods.
Tips: Check the dates of your digital photographs to record past observations! Add these notes to your calendar so you can plan when and where you want to be far in advance.
Try Sharing your Citizen Science Observations at
Here is a general list of some of my New Jersey nature observations.
Let me know in the comments what seasonal discoveries you look forward to seeing.
- Black Bear cubs (usually two) are born in late January through February weighing around one pound.
- Great horned owls incubate eggs late January through February.
- Red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks begin to court and lay eggs.
- Animal tracks are easy to discover after a light snowfall.
- Eastern Tiger Salamanders begin breeding in vernal pools in southern New Jersey.
- Long-tailed salamanders mate in underground tunnels near freshwater springs. The female will secure her clutch of approximately 90 eggs to stones or wood within the water.
- Screech Owl Courtship is taking place, nestlings take 28 days and they fledge at dusk.
- Great Horned Owl nestlings are feeding and on branches.
- Red maple trees flower.
- White-tailed deer bucks are dropping their antlers.
- Late-Feb: Bald Eagles begin laying eggs. Clutches consist of one or three eggs. Incubation lasts approximately 36 days.
- Early – Amphibian Migration to Vernal Pools, look and listen for for calling frogs like spring peepers and wood frogs as well as eggs in pools.
- Woodcock Watch (prenuptial flight) is taking place.
- Skunk cabbage is emerging in wetlands.
- Bald Eagle chicks begin to hatch. Hatching will continue throughout March and April depending on when the eggs were laid.
- Barred owls begin their mating rituals and can be heard calling throughout their wetland territory. Have you heard the “who cooks for you, who cooks for you allll” song of the barred owl?
- Note: March 20-21: Equal Day and Night.
- Look for Morel Mushrooms after a spring rain under mature tulip trees.
- Wood ducks incubate their eggs.
- Jack-in the Pulpit begins to grow.
- Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads are ready for foraging.
- Wild Leeks are almost at their peak for harvest.
- Migratory song birds peak in early May.
- Animal Babies: woodchucks and ducks mid-late May.
- Rose Breasted Grosbeak and Oriole will eat half orange at this time.
- Cinnamon ferns are open and covered in a cinnamon colored cotton like material used by hummingbirds for their nests.
- White-tailed deer fawns are born (usually twins) late-May-early-June.
- Gray Tree Frogs calling in swamplands.
- Hummingbirds are visiting feeders and red/orange tube flowers.
- Green frogs are calling (listen for clucks like a banjo string being plucked) and laying eggs.
- Sedum is blooming on roof gardens.
- Snapping turtles are laying eggs as far as a mile from their water source and wood ducks laying second clutch.
- Note: June 21-22 is longest daylight period.
- Milkweed is attracting Monarch butterflies (look for eggs or caterpillars often on the bottom on the leaves).
- Mid-July Nesting Orioles.
- Daylilies in bloom.
- Goldfinches are latest nesting bird.
- Kingfishers, Herons and egrets active in wetland ditches because swamp is dry.
- White-tailed deer bucks antlers are in velvet.
- Marsh Mallow is blooming in swamplands.
- Early August – Goldenrod blooms.
- Late August – Peak of Humming Bird Fall Migration.
- Passerine Migration begins.
- The last generation of Monarchs are on their way down south.
- Note: September 21, 22 offers equal day and night.
- Hawk Migration (Visit a Hawk Watch!).
- Deer Rut begins in NJ.
- Wild fruit such as pawpaw, devils walking stick, wild grapes and black gum are abundant.
- Many fruits and vegetables are ripe in NJ farms and gardens.
- Early- November – First Frost (get bulbs underground beforehand).
- Large flocks of robins and blackbirds roost in swamp.
- Animal Tracking: shoot tracks in shade (your own shadow) and open up a stop or two.
- Great Horned Owls are setting up their nesting territories, sometimes in an old crow or hawk nest and will be on eggs in February.
- Note: December 21,22 earth is tilted away from sun so shortest period of daylight.
Finding what you’re looking for! (Focus on New Jersey)
There are many wonderful environmental centers and park conservancies that will help you get closer to nature. Join your local center for a seasonal walk or consider going out with an organization that focuses more closely on a specific topic of interest.
Butterflies: Take an outing with the local chapter of the North American Butterfly Association http://www.naba.org/chapters/nabanj/
Dragonflies and Damselflies: Take an outing with the Jersey Odonate Enthusiasts http://www.njodes.com/
Honeybees: Visit a local chapter of the NJ Beekeeper Association http://njbeekeepers.org/
Mushrooms: Take an outing with the New Jersey Mycological Association http://www.njmyco.org/
Amphibians: Middle of March is the beginning of the amphibian breeding season. Join an amphibian crossing with the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Program. http://www.njaudubon.org/Education/AmphibianIntro.html
Birds: Join an outing led by expert naturalists with New Jersey Audubon http://www.njaudubon.org/
Plants: Join programs offered by the New Jersey Native Plant Society http://www.npsnj.org/
Additional Ideas for Nature Discovery!
- Create a Photo Journal, sketch pad or nature notebook full of your seasonal discoveries
- Five Minute Phenology – explore, discover, observe, record once every day for five minutes.
- Document what is occurring outside your home or schoolyard. Let your own kids or students add their own observations.
- Most Importantly, Share your Discoveries!