Noticing the Changes, Big and Small

By Sarah Rogers

It’s March! Do not be fooled by the blah, sometimes uninspiring scene when you glance out the window. The cold and gray, the mushy ground, the dead grass, the muted color palate. Some of the most magical changes nature has to offer are taking place right under your nose at this time of year –  but you need to pay attention, or you’ll miss them entirely! 

For those who love a challenge to notice little details, March turns out to be the best time of year for tracking small changes in nature day by day. Here are two of our family’s favorite ways to document the changes, and get excited about the coming of spring:

#1 Count birds through Project FeederWatch!

This super easy citizen science project through Cornell Lab of Ornithology gives you an excuse to admire the birds at your feeder while turning your observations into useful data at the same time! It’s extremely simple – you just tally the different birds you see (identification posters are provided) and enter your data online. Cornell combines your counts with other data submitted from participants all around the US and Canada, and is able to track the populations of birds across the continent and reveal long-term trends. March is one of the most exciting months to keep tallies because you’ll start noticing new species arriving – already this March our family has tallied the first song sparrow, first fox sparrow, first grackle and first red-winged blackbird of the season, after months of the recording mostly the same winter birds. 

#2 Use a 5-year Nature Journal.

This encourages you to jot down your nature observations throughout the year – for example “1st chipmunk of the season!”, or “daffodils in full bloom now”, or “surprise snow last night”. What’s special about the visual layout of a 5-year journal is that it lets you easily compare this year’s observations to previous years. In our journal, for example, I can see that we recorded “1st Song Sparrow of the year!” within a day either side of March 13th for the past four years in a row! And our first hummingbird reliably comes within a few days of May 5th. It’s surprised me how very consistent these events can be year to year, though the norms are shifting in response to a changing climate.


If you’re up for sharing your nature journal observations as part of a citizen science program, consider contributing to Signs of the Seasons: A New England Phenology Program through UMaine Cooperative Extension. You choose which specific indicator species you want to monitor (choose from their list – dandelions, robins, red maples, monarchs…). It’s a fun and easy entry point for kids. Your data will be used by scientists to monitor how local backyard species are responding to the changing climate in New England.

Whatever you do, get out there and notice the changes, big and small, happening during this special time of early spring!