February Phenology

Written by Phenology Team
    Sunday, 10 February 2013
February Phenology

Water. Simply put: it sustains life. Humans can live without it for only three days before perishing. Its unique properties allow an insect to walk on top of it and a pelican to dive through it. It drives weather and moderates local conditions (cooler by the lake).

Because water is so integrated in earth's systems, it makes a great phenological tool, particularly in winter when it takes the form of snow and ice as you will see in this month's phenology blog entries:

Washington Park - Ice!

One of water's unique properties is that when it freezes it becomes less dense, which is why in a pond water freezes from the top down. This allows fish, amphibians and other critters to survive a harsh winter underwater and allows humans to partake in such crucial activities is ice skating and ice fishing.

Ice fishing at Washington Park Lagoon

A great way to study phenology is to do what our Young Scientists do: find and observe a body of water. Record temperature, water level, and ice cover and thickness weekly and graph it over time. Soon you can predict changes from year to year and note patterns over time.

Menomonee Valley - Snow!

Who doesn't love a fluffy blanket of snow in the winter? Before answering, consider that snow cover may mean life or death for some of our wildlife. Some warm-blooded mammals and birds take advantage of the insulating properties of snow by denning or roosting in it.

IMG 2758

Another phenology observation that is easy to track is snow depth. It's as simple as carrying a yardstick. Make a simple graph of snow depth in your yard by date. Then get ready to tell your grandkids, "when I was your age the snow was up to my...."

Riverside Park – Tracks!

Riverside Park Trail MapFebruary snow creates ideal conditions for looking for animal tracks in an urban forest like Riverside Park. We have ideal conditions to track three specific animals. Use our trails map to find the trails metioned below (or pick one up at our reception desk).

Look near the "Elfin Woods Trail" for Cottontail Rabbit tracks:

Rabbit Track Line

Search within the water-drop shaped "Olmsted Promenade" for Gray Squirrel tracks:

Squirrel Track Line

Explore the hillside between the "Old Pavilion" and "Chickadee" trails for Raccoon tracks: 

Raccoon Track Line

With continued stewardship we hope to create a richer ecosystem. Maybe next year you’ll be able to count even more tracks! (Enjoy searching for tracks? Look for an upcoming post about tracking like a crime scene investigator!)


The word phenology at its root means "the study of appearances". We often equate it to the appearances of birds, bugs, or blooms, especially in spring. Water is always around but sometimes "appears" to us as snow, ice, floods or storms. Understanding the importance of these events to the natural world is a great way to get started in phenology. If you need help or would like to explore other areas of phenology, please contact any member of the phenology team. We'd love to hear from you!

 This is one of our monthly phenology posts. To learn more about phenology, be sure to read this post.

Phenology Team

Phenology Team

The Phenology Team is made up of representatives from the Center’s three branches: Matt Flower, Environmental Educator, Tim Vargo, Manager of Research and Citizen Science, and Lainet Garcia-Rivera, Community Program Coordinator. Each month they provide guidance on which phenological events to look for, and how you can follow the changes of nature’s calendar!

Copyright © 2021 The Urban Ecology Center