Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Spring is headed this way, and you can track it

You can watch as spring progresses via Journey North, an innovative online science program that has been racking up visits and input from thousands of participants in classrooms, schools and homes nationwide.

Spring is headed this way, and you can track it

Robins at a bird bath in Florida. (Photo by Bart Greene)
Robins at a bird bath in Florida. (Photo by Bart Greene)

I’m longing for spring. I look for it with every birdsong I hear, with every blossom of the snowdrops outside my front door, with every slight warming of the breeze I feel on my check.

But no, spring is not here yet.

However, you can watch it coming via Journey North, an innovative online science program that has been racking up visits and input from thousands of participants in classrooms, schools and homes nationwide.

The site maps their observations and reports, gathering data to track spring as it moves north. Observers note the first unfolding of flowers, the first earthworms for robins, the first trills and barks of frogs.

On Feb. 11, Pam Gallagher noticed a flock of robins at the Churchville Nature Center.

Not long before that, Carie Sczlay of the Springside School in Philadelphia posted, “Cannot believe it! We walked past our garden and saw that tulips had emerged!”

And the frogs aren’t far behind.

An observer from Virginia recently reported, “In the marshy areas across the road from my house, many frogs could clearly be heard. The weather was unusually warm for several days leading up to this observation.”

More than that, the site offers plenty of scientific information. Supposedly, it’s for school children, but why should they have all the fun? I found it fascinating.

This week’s robin reported noted that many of the birds seemed to be seeking water. They were visiting birdbaths and garden fountains from New York to Florida.

Robyn Greene, whose husband took the photo accompanying this blog, reports that she's seen several waves of robins come through the Florida area where they now live. (Both used to live in Center City, where they were assistant district attorneys under Arlen Specter.)

Clicking through the site, citizen scientists can learn where robins go in winter and what they eat, how weather affects robin migration, how many calories there are in a worm, what a robin’s nesting behavior shows ... and lots, lots more.

In the tulip section, you can learn how snow affects the plants and how to force a bulb to bloom inside.

The site also follows gray whales, whooping cranes, hummingbirds and monarch butterflies, which should be leaving their wintering grounds in Mexico within the month. Watch them progress north on one of Journey North's interactive maps!

Going strong for more than two decades, the site is the brainchild of Elizabeth Howard of Vermont, who came up with the idea after following a dogsled trek to the North Pole. She figured wildlife migrations have similar drama: On a mission fraught with predators and storms and other perils, will the birds make it? What will affect their progress?

She also figured — and hoped — that people who were curious about one creature might be interested in many creatures, in the whole deal, how it all connects.

Journey North now reaches 980,000 students at 45,000 sites, Howard says. "This is our 19th season and having long-term data is really starting to show its value."

You can start your own exploration of the Journey North by clicking here.

Have a great trip!

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
About this blog

GreenSpace is about environmental issues and green living. Bauers also writes a biweekly GreenSpace column about environmental health issues for the Inquirer’s Sunday “Health” section.

Sandy Bauers is the environment reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she has worked for more than 20 years as a reporter and editor. She lives in northern Chester County with her husband, two cats, a large vegetable garden and a flock of pet chickens.

Reach Sandy at sbauers@phillynews.com.

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
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