Observations of phenological events have provided indications of the progress of the natural calendar since ancient agricultural times. Many cultures have traditional phenological proverbs and sayings which indicate a time for action: "When the sloe tree is white as a sheet, sow your barley whether it be dry or wet" or attempt to forecast future climate: "If oak's before ash, you're in for a splash. If ash before oak, you're in for a soak". But the indications can be pretty unreliable, as an alternative version of the rhyme shows: "If the oak is out before the ash, 'Twill be a summer of wet and splash; If the ash is out before the oak,'Twill be a summer of fire and smoke." Theoretically, though, these are not mutually exclusive, as one forecasts immediate conditions and one forecasts future conditions.
The North American Bird Phenology Program at USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (PWRC) is in possession of a collection of millions of bird arrival and departure date records for over 870 species across North America, dating between 1880 and 1970. This program, originally started by Wells W. Cooke, involved over 3,000 observers including many notable naturalists of the time. The program ran for 90 years and came to a close in 1970 when other programs starting up at PWRC took precedence. The program was again started in 2009 to digitize the collection of records and now with the help of citizens worldwide, each record is being transcribed into a database which will be publicly accessible for use.
The English naturalists Gilbert White and William Markwick reported the seasonal events of more than 400 plant and animal species, Gilbert White in Selborne, Hampshire and William Markwick in Battle, Sussex over a 25-year period between 1768 and 1793. The data, reported in White's Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne are reported as the earliest and latest dates for each event over 25 years; so annual changes cannot therefore be determined.
In Japan and China the time of blossoming of cherry and peach trees is associated with ancient festivals and some of these dates can be traced back to the eighth century. Such historical records may, in principle, be capable of providing estimates of climate at dates before instrumental records became available. For example, records of the harvest dates of the pinot noir grape in Burgundy have been used in an attempt to reconstruct spring–summer temperatures from 1370 to 2003; the reconstructed values during 1787–2000 have a correlation with Paris instrumental data of about 0.75.