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The Autumnal Equinox and Fall Begins

Red MapleTree (Acer rubrum) leaf. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Red MapleTree (Acer rubrum) leaf. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Red MapleTree (Acer rubrum) leaf. Photo by Donna L. Long.
The autumnal equinox starts the fall season. It occurs on September 22 or 23 each year. The “fall” is my favorite time of the year. The crisp cool air and brilliant colors of the leaves urges me outside with camera in hand. This season is called “fall” because leaves turn colors and “fall” from the trees.
EarthOrbit_solstices_equinoxes
The Earth’s orbit with solstices and equinoxes. Graphic by Nasa.gov.

The Two Equinoxes

There are two equinoxes a year. One in spring and the other in autumn.The spring (or vernal) equinox happens on March 19, 20, or 21.
The seasons are reversed in the northern and southern hemispheres of the planet. When the northern hemisphere experiences autumn, the southern hemisphere is experiencing spring.
On the equinoxes, the sun is directly above the Earth’s equator. Day and night are of equal length all over the planet. The world receives twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness. The term equinox comes from the Latin and means “equal night”.
Illustration shows the relative positions and timing of solstice, equinox and seasons in relation to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. N=north hemisphere, S=southern hemisphere. Credit: Colivine, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Equinoxes and the Seasons

The equinoxes signal that changes in length of daylight, temperature, and weather are about to happen.
The seasons are caused by the changing position of the Earth in relation to the Sun. The Earth receives different amounts of sunlight during the year due to the tilt of the Earth.
The Earth is like a spinning gyroscope and always points in the same general direction. The Earth is tilted on a 23.5° degree angle and the sun shines on the planet in a particular way. The north pole is generally tilted toward the north star and the south pole tilts toward the constellation of Octans.
Autumn leaves of Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) vine.
Autumn leaves of Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) vine.

Autumn: Cooler Days and Short Nights

The nights begin to cool around August 15th, as the northern region of Earth tilts away from the direct rays of the Sun. The air and ground begin to cool.
It takes a few weeks for the weather to change after the beginning of a new season. During autumn, there are alternating warm and cool days and cooler nights for several weeks.
The Autumnal Equinox begins the cold months. During the colder months, the North Pole is at its greatest tilt away from the sun. The northern hemisphere has colder temperatures, short days and long nights.
On the day of the Autumnal Equinox, the Sun is positioned directly over the equator.  After this day, the northern hemisphere begins to tilts away from the sun. The weather becomes colder and the hours of daylight become shorter. This culminates in the shortest day and the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice on December 22 or 23. Then the days grow longer until the Summer Solstice.
The Circle of Life continues.

Autumn in the Natural World

Autumn in the Natural World makes complex processes easy to understand, to the wonders of the autumn season. In easy to understand language the essential natural processes of the changing colors of leaves, why trees shed leaves, and how a pond can still freeze and still support life are explained. Learn the key star constellation which signals the end of summer and the growing season. Learn why the moon’s of autumn loom so large in the night sky.

Available in pdf and paperback starting at $5.99

Buy Direct from the author

 

 

 

 

 

 

collage of orange tree leaves
Autumn collage of orange tree leaves

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Nature Almanac for March 2022

Male Cardinal in winter
Male Cardinal in winter
Male Cardinal in winter

Here in Philadelphia…March 2022

The Great Backyard Bird Count

I participated in the Count from the comfort of my own home. It was bitter cold outside and I couldn’t stand going outside for more than a few minutes. Why stand outside for fifteen minutes to count the birds at my feeders when I could just as well be warm in the house?

On a side note: This past Wednesday had a high temperature of was 60°F. The next day the high was 40°F.

To prepare for the count I filled up the feeders the night before. I counted in the mornings when there was plenty of activity.

I counted mostly House Sparrows, European Starlings, one Northern Robin, and a Northern Cardinal.

Starlings

Starlings now also gather in a tree on the next street over. The new tree they gather in is so tall I can see it from my bedroom window.

At least twenty Starlings still perch in the remaining Catalpa tree outside my bedroom window. There are at least thirty in the tree in the next street over. Their beaks are already changed colors for the spring breeding season. The yellow beaks reflect the morning Sun. Their beaks are dark black in winter.

A male American Robin with the orange-red breast. The male has a black head, the female a gray head. Photo by Donna L. Long.
A male American Robin with the orange-red breast. The male has a black head, the female a gray head. Photo by Donna L. Long.

The Robins Are Back from the Woodlands

In the Philadelphia area the Robins winter in the woodlands. I see Robins gathered in small flocks, here and there. I saw about eight beside the road, puffed up and and squatting on the ground. I was driving and couldn’t tell if they were males or females. I have noticed in the past that if I see a small flock it is usually all female or all male. The colors of rusty-red breast and slate gray back and dark gray heads were so viivd, I think the birds were males.

I think the males emerge from the woods before the female,s to claim or reclaim nesting territory. The male and female Robins look very much alike but males have a dark, dark gray almost black head. Females have heads a more uniform gray like the feathers on their backs.

The Snowdrops are in Bloom

The Snowdrops are back in full force in my garden. They started blooming about February 1st. They are a little past their peak and beginning to wane. Once the Snowdrops begin to bloom I know to start the seeds for the early spring kitchen garden. I’ve started mustard greens, chard, parsley, shallots, and Blue Salvia. Phenology at work. Snowdrops = start the seeds for mid March planting.

Male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), in my garden
Male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), in my garden

Did You Know?

Most winter resident birds don’t change their plumage colors? These birds remain the same colors and patterns for the entire year. The colors may brighten like the red of the male Northern Cardinal. The beaks of Starlings change from dark black during winter to bright yellow with the arrival of breeding season.

Most birds replace their plumage at least once a year.Year round resident birds grow new feathers, but the feathers are the similar colors and patterns as before. They replace their feathers after the nesting season is over.

Resource: Birds in Winter: Surviving the Most Challenging Season by Roger F. Pasquier on Amazon.com.

(I may earn a commission for Amazon purchases using the links. This does not affect the price you pay.)

snowdrops_Galanthus nivalis
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in my garden in spring.

The Nature Almanac for March 2022

Season Dates – Spring Equinox March 20th at 11:33 a.m. EDT

See also: Spring Starts from the Ground Up

Why Are the First Spring Flowers Often White or Yellow?

What to Observe, Draw, and Photograph Right Now

In the Sky This Month, March 2022:

  • New Worm Moon – March 2nd
  • First Quarter Worm Moon – March 10th
  • Full Worm Moon – March 18th
  • Last Quarter Worm Moon – March 25th

This month’s Moon is called the Worm Moon. It is when worm-like insect larvae emerge from their winter hibernation and diapause. The larvae emerge from beneath tree bark or deep in the soil among  other places.

  • New moon always rises near sunrise
  • First Quarter near noon
  • Full Moon always rises near sunset
  • Winter Full Moons are high in the sky
  • Last Quarter near midnight
  • Moonrise occurs about 50 minutes later each day

“March 24th to 26th look for a triangle in the sky formed by Mars on the right, Saturn on the left, and Venus on top. On the 28th the waning crescent Moon will dangle below the triangles remnant. Venus is brighter than the others, Saturn is brighter than Mars.” (2022 Old Farmer’s Almanac)

Venus will appear as a bright morning star in March.

Citizen Science Events to Participate In – March 2022

That’s it for this issue of the almanac. Look for the April issue at the end of March.

My Nature Journal for March 2022

Nature Almanac for April 2022

Nature Journal for April 2022

Nature Almanac February 2022

 

Peace,

Donna's signature

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Seasons: Earth’s Natural Rhythms Explained

Sunset at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. USFWS/public domain.
Sunset at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. USFWS/public domain.
Sunset at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. USFWS/public domain.

Seasons, Equinoxes, Solstices, and Cross-Quarter Days Explained

For humans, the seasons mark the rhythms of the Earth and the passage of time. Seasons can relate to climate, weather, agriculture, or events that happen each year.

Astronomical seasons are marked by the positions of the Sun. Climate seasons are periods of hot or cold, like summer and winter. Weather seasons can refer to the dry, rainy, or hurricanes. Agriculture seasons include the growing, harvest, and resting times.

An astronomer will say spring begins on the spring equinox which falls on or around March 21. While a meteorologist will say spring beings on March 1. On the other hand, a person who follows closely follows the rhythms of the Earth will say February 1.

We use different methods of marking the natural rhythms of the Earth. There are many human beings who feel disconnected to the Earth, the scientific seasons may contribute to that uneasy state.

Because what we tell ourselves in our heads is not what we actually experience. There is a subtle confusion that we may not be aware we have. In this post, I hope to clear up some of this confusion.

The Astronomical Seasons

We notice that the astronomical and meteorological definition of the seasons is different. Astronomers focus on the position of the Sun during solstices and the equinoxes. Meteorologists and climatologists focus on climate and the temperature cycle.

The astronomical seasons are not the result of the distance of the Earth. They are the result of the tilt and rotation of the Earth. During the equinoxes, the Sun is directly over the equator.

Watch this video to see how the Sun’s light affects the seasons.

 

The solstices and the equinoxes are astronomical days that use astronomy, namely the sun, as the reference for the change in seasons.

seasons_ earth
The Earth on the solstices and equinoxes. Photo by Nasa.gov.

In the photograph above:

Upper left Earth  12/21/2010 – the Winter Solstice

Upper right Earth: 03/20/2011 – the Spring Equinox

Lower left Earth: 6/21/2011 – the Summer Solstice

Lower right Earth: 09/20/2011 – Autumnal Equinox

EarthOrbit_seasons_solstices_equinoxes
The Earth’s orbit with solstices and equinoxes. Graphic by Nasa.gov.

 

How Long is Each Astronomical Season?

The Earth doesn’t travel in a perfect circle. If the trip around was in a perfect circle, the seasons would almost be equal.

Our trip around the Sun has an elliptical shape. With an ellipse, an oval shape, one side is longer than another.

So, on our trip around the Sun, we are closer to the Sun in some spots, and farther away in others. When we are close to the Sun, the Earth speeds up in its trip around the Sun. When we are farther from the Sun, we slow down.

As a result, the seasons are not of equal length.

Astronomical Seasons Length of Season
Spring 92 days, 19 hours
Summer 93 days, 15 hours
Autumn/ Fall 89 days, 20 hours
Winter 89 days, 0 hours

And remember, it is not the warmth or closeness to the Sun which makes our seasons. But the Earth’s tilt toward or away from the Sun makes the seasons. The tilt is more important than distance.

Dates of the U.S. Solstices and Equinoxes 2018 – 2025 at weather.gov.

The Meteorological and Climatological Seasons

The meteorological and climatological seasons are based on weather and local annual temperatures.
These seasons divide the year into quarters which each season consisting of three months each. The four climate seasons are spring, summer, autumn (fall), and winter.

  • Meteorological spring is counted as of March, April, and May with May 1st marking the beginning of spring.
  • Meteorological summer includes June, July, and August with June 1st marking the beginning of summer.
  • Meteorological autumn includes September, October, and November with September 1st marking the beginning of Autumn or Fall.
  • Meteorological winter includes December, January, and February with December 1st marking the beginning of winter.
Length of Meteorological Seasons The number of days is always the same.
Spring 92 days
Summer 92 days
Autumn/Fall 91 days
Winter 90 days

 

The National Weather Service prefers the Meteorological seasons to the astronomical seasons for these reasons:

  • easier to make exact seasonal comparisons
  • a simpler way to define the seasons
  • every fourth winter there is an extra day to account for leap day.
  • the number in each season is always the same except for leap years/days
  • a more accurate reflection of the seasons
  • the 90 coldest and 90 hottest days of the year fall closer to the Meteorological
  • seasons than to the astronomical seasons.

More information can be found at https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/news/meteorological-versus-astronomical-seasons (NOAA.gov)

 

Solstices and Equinoxes are the Midpoints of the Seasons

The graph below illustrates what I always say on this blog, the solstices and the equinoxes are the high points or midpoints of the seasons.

May 1 is the beginning of summer. Once you reach, the Summer solstice, the slide to the autumn begins. In my mind summer is half over. Autumn in my way of seeing begins around August 1.

Consequently, we can see this same thinking in the agricultural cross-quarter days. As the agricultural cross-quarter days illustrate, what happens on the ground (Earth) is different than what happens in Space.

solstice_equinox_graph
The rise and fall of the seasons.

Earth’s Seasons and Agricultural Calendar

Most of the Earth experiences four climate seasons – spring, summer, autumn, and winter. These seasons have early, mid- and late phases. The onset and duration of each phase depend on the locale.

Indigenous peoples use the Earth’s natural rhythms to keep track of the seasons. Each area uses temperature, daylight length, animal and plant behaviors. Probably every indigenous society across the Earth has hunter-gatherer-gardener based festivals.

For example, the East Asian Lunisolar calendars use both astronomical and phenological events to define the year. There are 24 periods tracked by this calendar. Even though the calendar originated in the northern China Plain, many East Asian peoples use it. Consequently, the calendar spread to Korea, Vietnam, and Japan.

Learn more about the lunisolar calendar on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_term

Likewise, its use is similar to the use of the Celtic Calendar by peoples in countries with large populations of Northern and Celtic-heritage peoples. I use the Celtic Calendar of Seasonal Days on this blog.

The Celtic Agricultural Calendar has eight festival days

  • Summer Solstice
  • Winter Solstice
  • Spring Equinox
  • Autumnal Equinox
  • Imbolc (spring begins – February 1)
  • Beltane (summer begins – May 1)
  • Lammas/Lughnasadh (autumn begins – August 1)
  • All Hollow’s Eve (winter begins November 1)

Given the climate and elevation of my local area, the local seasons match the cross-quarter days closely. I use this calendar and the local Algonquin Indian Moons to mark the seasons. 

Furthermore, I like agricultural calendars because they focus on Earth-based rhythms, which works for a gardener like me. When I refer to the seasons on this blog, it the agricultural-phenological events I am using. Learn how to create your own seasonal round here.

This page at Archeoastronomy.com has good information. http://www.archaeoastronomy.com/seasons.html

 

Agricultural Seasons Approximate date/Northern
Hemisphere
Approximate date/Southern
Hemisphere
US/Celtic Holidays and Festivals
Beginning of Spring February 1 August 1 Groundhog Day/ Imbolc
Spring Equinox March 21, or 22 September 21 or 22 Spring Equinox
Beginning of Summer May 1 November 1 May Day/Beltane
Summer Solstice June 21 or 22 December 21 or 22 Summer Solstice – Mid-Summer
Beginning of Fall (Autumn) August 1 February 1 First Fruits/Harvest Begins/Lughnasadh
Autumnal Equinox September 21 or 22 March 20 or 21 Autumnal Equinox/
Beginning of Winter November 1 May 1 All Hollow’s Eve/Harvest’s End
Winter Solstice December 21 or 22 June 21 or 22 Winter Solstice/MidWinter/Yule/

 

Making Your Own Solstice and Equinox Calendar

Why not try to mark the position of the Sun during the equinoxes and solstices by making note of where the Sun rises and sets. Use an object which doesn’t move like a hill, mountain of a distant ridge. Mark where the Sun rises and sets by using boulders, rock formations, etc. You can also draw the landmark and Sun positions on a piece of paper (or a cave wall). Stonehenge is a good example of recording the solstices and equinoxes.

Make Your Own Seasonal Round

A seasonal round is a calendar that uses natural events and phenology to mark the passage of time. I have instruction on creating a seasonal round here and here.

Seasonal Celebrations

Express your gratitude for the gifts of creation by saying the Words Before All Else on the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days.

The Takeaway

The astronomical seasonal dates and the meteorological dates always have seemed artificial to me. I understand why scientists use them, they simplify things for scientific calculations. But I try not to rely on the “scientific” seasons because what I actually experience is very different.

Also, the flow of the seasons from one to another is more subtle than a hard line. Furthermore, the scientific seasons leave out the richness of the change of Earth’s rhythms. 

The richness of the Chinese Lunisolar calendar demonstrates the depth with which we humans can know and understand the land we live in.

Since we understand where the various season calendar came form, we can be confident in following more natural rhythms. Above all, trust your experience.

For More Information

For more information on the seasons in your area, visit http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/seasons.html (outside website).

I buy The Old Farmer’s Almanac every year for the dates of natural events, solstices, equinox, meteor showers, comets, etc.

Celtic Calendar of Seasonal Festivals

Nature Almanac for Nature Journal Keepers

I would love to know what these days are called in various cultures. If you know, please share in the comments below. And how do you mark the seasons and celebrate?

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This Ancient Calendar Marks 72 Seasons — YES! Magazine

Groundhog or Woodchuck_Marmot monax bearing teeth
A Groundhog or Woodchuck (Marmot monax). Photo by Donna L. Long.
A Groundhog or Woodchuck (Marmot monax). Photo by Donna L. Long.

This article in YES! magazine discusses a smartphone app based on an Ancient Japanese calendar that has 72 seasons.

We know there are far more subtle seasonal changes than the standardized four. I personally always think of about twelve. Each season to me has a beginning, middle (highpoint), and end. I have mentioned this numerous times.

Read this article and see, it’s not just me.

via This Ancient Calendar Marks 72 Seasons by Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz — YES! Magazine

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Colorado Potato Beetles and How to Predict Garden Pest Infestations

Colorado Potato Beetle laying orange eggs on stressed tomato plants
Colorado Potato Beetle laying orange eggs on stressed tomato plants.
Colorado Potato Beetle laying orange eggs on stressed tomato plants.

Sometimes there seems to be a disconnect. We forget that garden pests in one context are insects for nature or scientific study in another. This brings me to the Colorado Potato Beetle. This indigenous insect is just as fascinating as a ladybug or Solider beetle.

If it were named the Colorado Striped Beetle we would find it fascinating. I think it’s the word ‘potato’ that throws me off. And the fact it eats my food crops puts it in another class of being, the garden pest.

The Colorado Potato Beetle is originally from the midwest and western areas of North America. They have migrated eastward. When the Europeans started growing the American potato the beetle went along. The beetle is a serious pest in Europe. The main hostplant of the larvae are planted in the nightshade family. This includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and others.

Colorado Potato Beetle laying orange eggs on stressed tomato plants
Colorado Potato Beetle laying orange eggs on stressed tomato plants. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Since humans place a high value on those crops, heavy amounts of pesticides have been used to kill the beetles. The beetles that survived the bombardment of chemicals through a physical characteristic or for something other reason, reproduced. These beetles passed whatever genes or physical attributes that enabled them to survive the chemicals, onto their offspring. Now the chemicals used to kill Colorado Potato Beetles years ago have little or no effect on the current population. So, my organic, pesticide-free, remove- each-insect-by-hand techniques are the best method to protect my crops from an infestation.

The Colorado Potato Beetle overwinters near the site of the past summer’s infestation. It emerges in the spring, finds a mate, and lays eggs underneath the leaves of nightshade hostplants. The lovely orange eggs, hatch and the larvae begin to devour the host plant. The larvae grow and reach the stage when they must pupae into adults. The larvae drop to the ground and for two weeks, change into the striped backed beetle we see in our fields and gardens. The adults emerge or overwinter in the ground until the following late spring when they emerge, mate, and lay eggs. The cycle begins again.

The leaves of a plant are where you will spot the beetle. The small holes eaten on the interior of an infested plant are made by the larvae. The large holes along the edge of the leaves are made by the adult beetles. If left untreated, all the leaves of the plant will be eaten. The plant will not have the food making factories that are the leaves.

I noticed the beetle on plants that were already stressed. There were several eggplants and tomatoes I hadn’t planted in the ground yet. The plants were stressed from drying out, too much sun, too small a pot, and perhaps little nutrients left in the small containers. These stressed plants, not the thriving ones already planted, hosted several beetles.

5 June 2019 Donna's Nature Journal
5 June 2019 Donna’s Nature Journal

I need to watch out for the Colorado Potato Beetle next year. That is where phenology comes in. I used my indicator plant, the Shadbush tree growing in my backyard, as a natural guide. When I first spotted the Colorado Potato Beetle, the Shadbush berries were dark, ripe, and the birds had started to eat. I also noticed strange growths on the shadbush berries. The growths looked like galls infecting the fruit. The Catawba tree across the back drive was dropping the last of its’ blossoms. And the Red mulberry tree near my community garden plot, berries were turning from green to red.

5 June 2019 Donna's Nature Journal
5 June 2019 Donna’s Nature Journal

Now I know when to check my young crops for the mating adults and bright orange eggs of the beetle in question. And that is what phenology is: observing the life stages of the plants and animals when a natural event happens.

Observation and Studying the Colorado Beetle

After observing the Colorado Potato Beetle, several questions come to mind.

  • Is there a connection between a stressed plant and the Colorado Potato Beetle choosing that stressed plant?
  • Does a stressed plant give off a chemical signature?
  • Does the female beetle go by taste, scent, touch or sight? We know female insects use sensors in their feet to identify a suitable host plant, but is plant health part of the choice?
  • How long after mating does the female lay her eggs?
  • How long does it take for the eggs to hatch? How long is each stage of development?
  • How long does an adult beetle live?
  • How long does a beetle live after emerging in the spring?

I doubt I’ll study the beetle to find these answers, but others might. I bet agricultural scientists already have the answers to these questions. But, then again maybe not.

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The Celtic Festivals – Earth-based Seasonal Events

pumpkin harvest in autumn. Photo by Donna L. Long
pumpkin harvest in autumn. Photo by Donna L. Long
pumpkin harvest in autumn. Photo by Donna L. Long

I follow the Celtic agricultural festival days because they focus on Earth-based rhythms. It works for a gardener like me. We humans use a mishmash of ways to mark the cycle of seasons and the passage of days. We use solar, lunar, astronomical, meteorological and climatological reference points.  I have a post when clears up the confusion between astronomical and meteorological seasonal calendars,

Along with solstices and equinoxes, the Celtic festivals make up the agricultural year.

  • Imbolc – the beginning of spring
  • May Day – the beginning of summer
  • Lammas – the beginning of autumn
  • Samhain – the end of the harvest
Agricultural Seasons Approximate date/Northern
Hemisphere
Approximate date/Southern
Hemisphere
US/Celtic Holidays and Festivals
Beginning of Spring February 1 August 1 Groundhog Day/ Imbolc
Spring Equinox March 21, or 22 September 21 or 22 Spring Equinox
Beginning of Summer May 1 November 1 May Day/Beltane
Summer Solstice June 21 or 22 December 21 or 22 Summer Solstice – Mid-Summer
Beginning of Fall (Autumn) August 1 February 1 First Fruits/Harvest Begins/Lughnasadh
Autumnal Equinox September 21 or 22 March 20 or 21 Autumnal Equinox/
Beginning of Winter November 1 May 1 All Hollow’s Eve/Harvest’s End
Winter Solstice December 21 or 22 June 21 or 22 Winter Solstice/MidWinter/Yule/

 

Imbolc Celtic Festival – The Beginning of Spring

Imbolc is a Celtic festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is celebrated on 1 or 2 February (or 12 February, according to the Old Calendar) in the northern hemisphere and 1 August in the southern hemisphere. These dates fall about halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.

Imbolc is usually celebrated when the first stirrings of spring are felt, or on the full moon that falls closest to this time.

The holiday was, and for many still is, a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring.

Celebrations often involved hearth fires, special foods (butter, milk, and bannocks, for example), divination or watching for omens, candles or a bonfire if the weather permits.

Imbolc is traditionally a time of weather prognostication and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens. This is a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day.

  • Related to: Candlemas, Groundhog Day
  • Observed by: Gaels (Irish, Scottish, and Manx people), Neopagans (Celtic Reconstructionists, Neo-Druids and Wiccans)

Dates:

  • 
February 1 or 2 in the northern hemisphere
  • 
August 1st the southern hemisphere

More about Imbolc – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imbolc

Imbolc and the First Signs of Spring 

Spring Equinox

Day and night are equal lengths, at about twelve hours each. The Earth does not point toward or away from the sun. On this date, the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west.

Dates:

  • March 20 or 21 in Northern hemisphere
  • September 20 or 21 in Southern hemisphere

Beltane Celtic Festival -The Beginning of Summer

Beltane is a cross-quarter day, marking the midpoint in the Sun’s progress between the spring equinox and summer solstice. It is the traditional first day of summer in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man.

Beltane marked the beginning of summer and was linked to similar festivals held elsewhere in Europe.

The date for this midpoint varies from year to year between May 5th or May 7th.

The practice of decking the May Bush/Dos Bhealtaine with flowers, ribbons, garlands and colored eggshells is found among the Gaelic diaspora, most notably in Newfoundland, and in some Easter traditions on the East Coast of the United States. Celebrations included lighting bonfires, making ‘May boughs’ or ‘May bushes’, dancing, singing, feasting.

  • Also called: Irish: (Lá) Bealtaine, Scottish Gaelic: (Là) Bealltainn, in Manx : (Laa) Boaltinn/Boaldyn
  • Related to: May Day, Calan Mai, Walpurgis Night
  • Observed by: Gaels, Irish people, Scottish people, Manx people, Neopagans

Dates:

  • May 1 in the northern hemisphere
  • October 31 in the southern hemisphere

More about Beltane – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beltane

 

Summer Solstice

This solstice signals the mid-point of the summer. The sun has reached the highest point in the sky and today is the longest day of the year. It also has the shortest night.

After today, the days grow shorter, until the Winter Solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year.

Date:

  • June 21 or 22 in the Northern hemisphere
  • December 21 or 22 in the Southern hemisphere

When is Hurricane Season? 

The Summer Nature Journal 

My first harvest from the new garden plot.
My first harvest from the new garden plot.

Lughnasadh Celtic Festival – The Beginning of the Harvest

Lughnasadh is a cross-quarter harvest festival halfway between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox. This traditional Gaelic holiday celebrated on August 1st in the northern hemisphere and February 1st in the southern hemisphere.

Celtic Reconstructionists who follow Gaelic traditions tend to celebrate Lughnasadh at the time of first fruits, or on the full moon that falls closest to this time. In the Northeastern United States, this is often the time of the blueberry harvest, while in the Pacific Northwest the blackberries are often the festival fruit.

In Gaelic Ireland, Lughnasadh was a favored time for handfastings — trial marriages that would generally last a year and a day, with the option of ending the contract before the new year, or later formalizing it as a more permanent marriage. Festival celebrations included Offering of First Fruits, Bonfires, Feasting, and Handfasting.

  • Also called: Lúnasa (Modern Irish), Lùnastal (Scottish Gaelic), Luanistyn (Manx Gaelic); Lammas (England); Calan Awst (Wales)
  • Observed by: Historically: Gaels
Today: Irish people, Scottish people, Celtic neo-pagans

Dates:

  • August 1 in the Northern hemisphere
  • February 1 in the Southern hemisphere

More on Lughnasadh – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lughnasadh

The Autumn Nature Journal 

 

Autumn Equinox

The term equinox comes from the Latin and means “equal night”. On the equinoxes, the Sun is directly above the Earth’s equator. Day and night are of equal length all over the planet. The world receives twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness. 

On this date, the Sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west. It is a good day to place a landmark at the exact spot of sunrise and setting to mark the east and west directions. 

The season is called, “Fall” in areas where leaves “fall” from the trees.
After this day, the northern hemisphere begins to tilts away from the Sun.

Dates:

  • September 20 or 21 in the Northern hemisphere
  • March 20 or 21 in the Southern hemisphere

The Autumnal Equinox begins the cold months. During the colder months, the North Pole is at its greatest tilt away from the Sun. Nature in Autumn: An Overview

Using the Pleiades as a Natural Calendar (with video)

Harvest Moon in night sky (iStock photo)

 

Harvest Moon in the night sky (iStock photo)

Samhain Celtic Festival – The End of the Harvest

The medieval Gaelic festival of Samhain marked the end of the harvest, the end of the “lighter half” of the year and beginning of the “darker half”. It was celebrated over the course of several days. It had some elements of a Festival of the Dead.

Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. People and their livestock would often walk between two bonfires as a cleansing ritual. The bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames. The festival includes celebrations include bonfires, guising (disguising oneself in fancy dress), divination, apple bobbing, and feasting.

The date of Samhain was associated with the Roman Catholic All Saints’ Day (and later All Souls’ Day) from at least the 8th century. And both the secular Gaelic and the Catholic liturgical festival have influenced the secular customs now connected with Halloween.

Three Correct Samhain Pronunciations

  • How to pronounce Samhain in Irish Gaelic: Sow-in
  • How to pronounce Samhain in Welsh: Sow-een
  • How to pronounce Samhain in Scottish Gaelic: Sav-en
  • Observed by: Historically: Gaels; Today: some Irish people, Scottish people, and Celtic neopagans
  • Also called: Samhain (Scottish Gaelic), Sauin (Manx Gaelic), Oíche Shamhna (Irish)

Dates:

  • October 31st in the northern hemisphere
  • April 30th in the southern hemisphere 

More on Samhain – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samhain (Wikipedia)

The moon in a winter sky.
The moon in a winter sky. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Winter Solstice

The Earth is at its maximum tilt away from the Sun. Astronomically, it is the shortest night and longest day of the year. At the Earth’s poles, there is continuous darkness.

Celebrations: feasting, singing, spending time with community, family, and friends.
Other names: Saturnalia (Ancient Rome), Yule, the Longest Night and by other names in other cultures.

Dates:

  • December 20 -22nd in the Northern hemisphere
  • June 20 -21 in the Southern hemisphere

More information on the Winter Solstice is found here. (Wikipedia)

Other winter celebrations: Hanukkah. Kwanzaa, Bodhi Days (Japan), Pancha Ganapati (india)

More Information on Natural Calendars

Seasons Calculator http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/seasons.html

Equinoxes, Solstices and Cross-Quarter Days http://www.archaeoastronomy.com/seasons.html

Circumpolar Stars in the Night Sky

Using the Pleiades as a Natural Calendar

 

 

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Imbolc and the First Signs of Spring

snowdrops
snowdrops_Galanthus nivalis
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in my garden. Spring and imbolc begins 

Imbolc is a Celtic festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly celebrated on 1 or 2 February (or 12 February, according to the Old Calendar) in the northern hemisphere and 1 August in the southern hemisphere. These dates fall halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.

Imbolc is usually celebrated when the first stirrings of spring are felt, or on the full moon that falls closest to this time.

Imbolc Traditions

The holiday was, and for many still is, a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring.

Celebrations often involved hearth fires, special foods (butter, milk, and bannocks, for example), divination or watching for omens, candles or a bonfire if the weather permits.

Weather Prognostication

Imbolc is traditionally a time of weather prognostication, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens is perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day.

Imbolc Dates

1 February, northern hemisphere
1 August, southern hemisphere
Related to: Candlemas, Groundhog Day

Observed by: Gaels (Irish, Scottish and Manx people), Neopagans (Celtic Reconstructionists, Neo-Druids and Wiccans)

More Natural Calendar Information

Algonquin American Indian Moon Names (with video)

Using the Pleiades as a Natural Calendar (with video)

Phenology is Deep Ecology

What signs of spring have sprung in your neighborhood?

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Collecting Phenology Data

Fringed Bleedingheart (Dicentra eximia) in my garden. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Fringed Bleedingheart (Dicentra eximia) in my garden. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Fringed Bleeding-heart (Dicentra eximia) in my garden. Photo by Donna L. Long.

 

Collecting phenology data helps us to understand the ways of the land we live in. This seasonal information probably fills the pages of your nature journal. All you may need to do is to look at your past nature journal pages in new ways.

When you look over your nature journal, ask yourself these questions.

  • What plants bloomed at the same time?
  • What temperature highs and lows did you record?
  • When the first migrating birds returned, what was in bloom?
  • What was the temperature like when you spotted the season’s first bumble bee?

How to Collect Phenology

Begin by thinking about the animals and plants you notice, anyway.  With me it’s always cardinals, robins and the fruiting of mulberry shrubs. Select subjects of interest and set up a routine for collecting and comparing your observations. The best observations are made from the same location year after year.

Limiting what you collect information on is probably a good idea. Too many things to observe and fatigue and frustration may stop you from observing all together.

Choosing Indicator Plants

Most people choose and indicator plant. An indicator plant is observed throughout the seasons. When it blooms (sets seeds, the leaves change color, etc.) the observer notes what other events are happening at the same time.

Good indicator plants don’t move, such as a tree that stays in one place year after year. The citizen science project Budburst.org has information on choosing plants to observe for their project. The information maybe helpful to you.

The Shadbush in my backyard is my indicator plant. When it blooms in spring (in April) I know shad fish are reentering the Schuylkill River and it is a good time to go fishing. The blooms let me know in about 14 days, the time a spring frost can happen is over. The Pleiades reappear in the sky around this time also.

 

Weather and Climate

Phenological events, which are easily observed such as buds opening or plants leafing out, can be matched with weather conditions and with other, less easily observed events like the hatching of insect eggs.

Temperature – the daily highs and lows

  • The amount of moisture in the atmosphere – rain, snow, fog, dew, etc.
  • The day length

Record:

  • Last snow or last frost of Spring
  • First snow or first frost of Fall
  • Date a local lake or pond freezes in the Fall or opens in the Spring
  • Date of the first mosquito bite of the season
  • Anything else of interest to you

Collecting Plant Phenology

Plants used for phenological observations are called “indicator plants.” Good indicator plants need to be common to a wide geographical area, hardy, easy to recognize, and easy to grow. They should have short, well-defined bloom periods, with blooms and fruits recognizable from a distance.

  • Bud opening
  • First leaf
  • First flower
  • 50% bloom
  • 90% bloom – full bloom
  • Petal fall
  • Leaf drop
  • Seeding
  • Color changes
  • Animals

Track first appearance

  • migration
  • courtship
  • breeding
  • flocking
  • hibernation, if the animal hibernates

For specific animals:

  • Amphibians (frogs & toads) – first singing, egg laying, life stages
  • Birds – migration, courting rituals or nesting dates
  • Insects – dates of appearance/emergence or life stage cycles
  • Mammals – dates of hibernation, courting rituals, birth of young

After a year of two of tracking such changes, you should have some very useful information. This data can be used for vegetable and flower gardening planting, harvesting and pest management. This is great information to put in a nature journal or to scribble on a calendar.

Or join a citizen science project and hone your data collecting skills.

Citizen Science

Project Budburst.org 

 

More Related Posts

Phenology is Deep Ecology

Using the Pleiades as a Natural Calendar (with video)

The Grinnell System: An Overview 

Catalog for the Ginnell System

Basic Information Keeping a Nature Journal

Citizen Science and Nature Journal Keeping

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Phenology is Deep Ecology

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in my garden. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Phenology involves tracking data in your nature journal over time. Phenology (fi-now-o-gee) is observing the relationship between climate and the life cycles of plants and animals.

It teaches you how to predict Earthways or nature’s cycles. These events often depend on seasonal changes involving the temperature of air or soil.

What is Phenology?

Here is a quote from a college-level science textbook.

“Phenology which is derived from the GReek word “phaino”, meaning to show or to appear, is the study of periodic biological events in the animal and plant world as is influenced by the environmental, especially temperature changes driven by weather and climate.”

“Sprouting and flowering of plants in the spring, color changes of leaves in the fall, bird migration and nesting, insect hatches, and animal hibernating are all examples of phenological events”.

p.3 “Introduction” in Phenology: An Integrative Environmental Science edited by Mark D. Swartz. Dordrecht: Kluuver Academic Publishers, 2003. Note: the quote is form a precious edition. An revised edition is linked to on Amazon.com. This link is an Amazon.com affiliate links. I may earn a commission for Amazon purchases using the links. This does not affect the price you pay.

 

Large Milkweed Bugs on Milkweed
Large Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus). Photo by Donna L. Long.

Botany observation notes the timing of flower emergence, the sequence of bloom, fruiting, and leaf drop in autumn. Butterfly, bird, and bee activities are also the subjects of observation and study.

Once you understand the basics of collecting phenology data, tracking plant and animal life cycles in your nature journal is easy.

It is these kinds of seasonal observations that filled Henry David Thoreau’s later nature journals. Scientists are using Thoreau’s journals and other similar seasonal knowledge to help predict climate change.

 

Bee visiting Northern Blazing Star
Bee visiting Northern Blazing Star. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Using the Information

You can also use this phenology information in your own daily life. You can sync your activities with the seasons by…

  • Coordinating when to plant or harvest crops
  • Predicting the emergence or arrival of animals, insects and bird migration
  • Alerting you when insect pests will emerge and when to pick them off food crops
  • Designing orchards and the planting and ripening of fruit crops
  • Designing backyard habitats for food, shelter, and places to raise young

One day I read about how some Plains Indians peoples would plant their crops of corn (maize) and travel many miles away for hunting or other activities. People of the migrating band could tell when their corn was ready to be harvested hundreds of miles away back home. They knew this by what was blooming or what activity was happening where they were.

This goes way past simply identifying and observing to truly knowing and understanding the land that you live in. This is deep traditional environmental knowledge (TEK).

See Collecting Phenology Data

Spring woodland flower at Temple University Ambler
Spring woodland flower at Temple University Ambler

Phenology and Science

Your phenology observations and data can also help scientific study. Some scientific projects have citizen science projects for people to take part in.

There are scientific organizations around the world that track phenological change. The USA National Phenology Network has good information on indicator plants. Nature Watch is a Canadian site that has information on watching frogs, ice, plants, and worms. And the ATTRA Phenology Web Links Page gives basic information on indicator plants, citizen science projects, and other resources.

Nature Journal Phenology will take you that deep level of understanding that best naturalists have.

More on Phenology

Project Budburst – a citizen science project focused on observing the timing of a seasonal phenomenon.
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Winter Solstice Arrives

A Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) eats peanuts at a feeder in Fort Washington State Park. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Eastern White Pine tree (Pinus strobus) - pine cones
Eastern White Pine tree (Pinus strobus) – pine cones

The Winter Solstice arrives this, Sunday the 22nd. I love and old-fashion Solstice celebration. With strong cider, even stronger ale and fearing table groaning with food.

I imagine Winter Solstice celebrations a time for prayer and gratitude. A time of reflection as the year turns toward growing daylight and anticipation of spring. Solemn processions of fiery torches held high against the dark night sky. And holy people offering prayers and burning incense.

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Lughnasadh – The Harvest Begins

leaf

Lughnasadh (loo-nuh-suh) – is the Celtic festival of the beginning of the harvest. It gives thanks to the forces of the Earth for a bountiful harvest.  Originally, it is celebrated from sunset on July 31 to sunset on August 1. It is the halfway mark between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox, therefore it is often called a cross-quarter day.

Lughnasadh has always been a time for large outdoor festivals celebrating the harmony and successful partnership between humans and the Earth. During Lughnasadh people would come together at fairs, festivals and large trading markets where horses, skills and handicrafts would be bought, traded and sold. Athletic games and contests were held and men would show off their strength. It is also the time of handfastings, the trial marriages that would last until the next year’s Lughnasadh. If the pairing was successful the couple stayed together, if not a simple ceremony formally dissolved their relationship.

All this merry-making would take place on hilltops and mountains.

There is a play and film entitled, Dancing at Lughnasa by Irish writer Brian Friel. The film stars Meryl Strep.

I acknowledge these days to keep me ground.  These equinoxes, solstices and cross-quarter days are part of the seasonal round, the cycle of life.

Food is gathered and put-by for the long winter ahead. I harvest food from my kitchen garden and buy food from farmer’s markets.

Fresh green corn is preserved as corn salsa, frozen corn, and plain old canned corn.

Beans and Squash are picked. Berries and grapes are ready for gathering. Blueberry or blackberries are ripe and often the food theme for festivals at this time.

Walnuts, beechnuts, acorns and sunflower seeds will be ready toward the end of August.

Birds are beginning to migrate southward.

On Lughnasadh, like to search for the first leaf on a tree to turn crimson or gold.

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Summer Solstice (Midsummer's Day)

The Sun burns bright in Space.
The Sun burns bright in Space.
The Sun burns bright in Space. Photo courtesy Dover Publications.

Today is the Summer Solstice. It arrives at 7:09 p.m. This solstice’s signals the mid-point of the summer. The sun has reached the highest point in the sky and today is the longest day of the year. After today, the days grow shorter, until the Winter Solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year.