Climate chaser with people inside.

Artistic Perspective Moves Phenology Beyond Science

August 30, 2017

A flower blowing in the breeze, a songbird, and yes, Japanese beetles wrecking havoc on your roses. All of these are subtle observations of gardeners and nature lovers throughout Minnesota. But, as an interdisciplinary team of U of M researchers is trying to show, they are also subtle indications of changes to our climate observed through the age-old practice of phenology. 

Over the last several years, Rebecca Montgomery and her lab have been working to engage more members of the public in the gathering of observations and data related to the natural world around us. Originally, this meant setting up a regional partner of the USA-National Phenology Network—the Minnesota Phenology Network (MnPN)—and providing inspiration and training to aspiring phenologists and organizing historical datasets in an effort to leverage the power of citizen scientists.

Between 2013 and the end of 2016, MnPN observers have made 95,460 individual observations. With a special emphasis being placed Minnesota “superstar” species including red maple, monarch butterflies, ruby-throated hummingbirds, common loons, eastern bluebirds, common lilac and tamarack.  These observations have been passed onto the National Phenology Network.

Beyond Science

But, over the last two years, the scoop of the work has broadened and Montgomery is partnering with scientists, artists, researchers and indigenous people on the “Backyard Phenology Project.” With the help of art director Chris Baumler, the new initiative encourages individuals to not only take part as citizen scientists by gathering observations for MnPN, but also for artists to help create a collective public-art project on phenology.

The Backyard Phenology Project includes several pieces to help get the public involved including pocket-sized phenology passports to record observations, partnerships with community groups to develop of site-specific “phenology walks” and a mobile lab in the form of a camp trailer known as the “Climate Chaser.”

By having a mobile lab, the group can reach out to a wider audience by attending a variety of community events. In 2017, they will gather scientific data, audio recorded stories, photography and short videos at events throughout state including the Minnesota State Fair and several outdoor concerts.

Ultimately, Montgomery and her team hope to not only inspire new phenology enthusiasts but to help uncover new ways to experience and appreciate nature whether we are on a trip up north, enjoying a local park, or just taking a break in our own backyard.


Backyard Phenology Team in front of "Climate Chaser."

Rebecca Mongomery and Chris Baumler are leading the "Backyard Phenology Project." The "Climate Chaser," their mobile lab, allows them to interact with groups and individuals at events across the state. 

Phenology notebook.

The citizen science passport provides an opportunity for members of the public to record what they see happening in nature.