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The Phenology of Nature

by Jim McGinity A juvenile Red-headed Wood-pecker has been entertaining students and Riverside Park visitors throughout the fall and winter. It was first seen in November and seems to be sticking around in the same area. With the mild winter and abundant mast (acorn) crop, this bird will most likely survive the winter right in Riverside Park. Redheaded woodpeckers are locally uncommon and their range has been steadily declining in recent years. Over the last several years, this type of wood-pecker has been seen briefly in migration but this is the first time in recent years that one has stuck around during the winter. Phenology is the study of natural phenomena that recur periodically and their relation to climate and changes in season. This information, collected over a number of years, becomes a valuable source of information to geographers and climatologists. For most of us, we notice phenology every season. Examples include when the buds break, first measurable snow fall, arrival/departure dates of certain migratory birds, and when the first spring peeper (frog) is heard calling. It is fun to be looking for these types of phenomena. They mark the changing of the seasons and allow us to be in sync with the natural world. If you are interested in seeing the woodpecker you will find it by starting in Riverside Park behind Riverside University High School, crossing the green footbridge over the Oak Leaf Bike Trail, and following the cement trail to the right toward the river until you reach the overlook. The best time seems to be late morning in the grove of large red oaks in the center of the circular path. Look for a bird with white belly, black wings with a distinct white secondaries and a light brown head. Or you can join our Thursday morning bird walk at 9 a.m. which meets at the Center. The Urban Ecology Center is interested in gathering phenology observations in the Riverwest and Eastside communities. We have started collecting observations and dates of interesting natural “happenings” in Riverside Park and surrounding area. Share your observations by contributing to this community-wide, phenology database. You can e-mail, call or drop them off at the center. The Center is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. You can contact the Urban Ecology Center at 964-8505 or e-mail
by Jim McGinity