Denali Dispatch

It is our pleasure to present Denali Dispatch, a journal of the goings-on at Camp Denali.


Written by members of our staff, Denali Dispatch is an opportunity to peek into life in Denali: notable events, wildlife sightings, conservation topics, recipes from our kitchen, and insights into the guest experience at Camp Denali. Denali Dispatch will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.

The Value of Nature Observation

March 21, 2023

by Robina Moyer (Program Manager at Camp Denali)

As I sit down to write, the northeast is being pummeled by a March nor’easter leading to inevitable reminiscing about past storms and how much worse winters used to be. Growing up in Upstate New York, I certainly recall winters being snowier, but after returning to the area after nearly a decade out west, I have found myself wondering if winters really were more intense or if childhood memories have grown slushy with time. While long term temperature trends and snowfall data are useful, I’ve become increasingly interested in phenology, “the study of annual events in nature that are influenced by seasonal changes such as climate and weather” (Aldo Leopold Foundation) as a way to document shifting patterns. Phenology appeals to me because it is rooted in the events that many of us, especially in northern latitudes, already notice – the first American Robin in the yard, the first pasqueflower, or a particular favorite at Camp Denali – the first Sandhill Cranes flying overhead.

Phenology can be used to analyze long-term datasets across a broad geographic region, but it can also be hyper-local and focus on your own backyard, making it a particularly accessible and meaningful tool for citizen scientists all over the world. Tracking the dates that certain birds return, flowers bloom, or insects appear can be a great way to encourage children to observe and document the natural world. In my experience, when spending time outside, children inevitably observe things that adults overlook. Beginning a phenology calendar is an excellent way for different generations to spend time together outside and learn from each other. These observations can also be a tangible starting point for someone who is otherwise adverse to having a conversation about climate change.  

Keeping track of the phenology of multiple species can reveal important connections with potential ecosystem-wide impacts. For example, researchers in Glacier National Park have been examining the timing of huckleberry plant development and the emergence of the bee species which pollinate them. If the timing of these species’ annual development changes on a different schedule, a phenological mismatch may occur, leading to less productive huckleberry plants and a diminished food source for wildlife. One can easily imagine similar scenarios playing out in the Arctic and sub-Arctic as changing precipitation patterns have the potential to impact the life cycle of myriad plant and insect species.

For years, Camp Denali has kept notes on when the first wood frogs are heard in Nugget Pond and when the first Sandhill Cranes pass overhead. Over the coming season, we plan to compile those notes and be able to share long term trends, as well as start keeping track of the phenology of other species around Camp. Our hope is that this information can add another layer to the long tradition of land stewardship at Camp Denali. And maybe, keeping track of these seasonal events will also make it easier to have an informed conversation as to whether winter really did used to be longer, or just felt that way.

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