Saturday, May 03, 2008

Do you take field notes?

Richard Crossley, author of the tremendously awesome "The Shorebird Guide," was the guest speaker at our annual Urner Ornithological Club dinner last Thursday. His speech was titled "The Past, Present, and Future of Birding." It was partly an autobiography and partly an appeal to the masses to look more closely at the birds and to get kids involved with birding. He showed some scans of field notes that he has taken and regaled the benefits of taking field notes. He remarked that almost all iconic birders take field notes, which in my reading and experience I have found to be true. I'll admit it. I don't and never have. I don't even write down the birds I see. I can absolutely see the benefits of field notes and sketches in helping one become an exceptional birder. It's one of those things that I intend to start doing one day... Do you take field notes? Please share in the comments.


grant mccreary said...

I used to take a small notebook with me in the field. I would at least record the place, time, and birds seen (usually with numbers). However, a few years ago I went birding with a guide in SE Arizona, and he took notes on an old tape recorder. I thought that was an incredible idea (the principle, not the tape part).
So I got a digital voice recorder with a wired remote control/mic. I keep the recorder in my pocket and can clip the mic onto my binocular strap. I record the same info as before, but it's also easy to describe something as I'm watching. I can also record some bird sounds with it (although it generally works, the quality is not great).
The only issue is all the work after the fact. I download the audio files to my computer, and then transcribe them to a notebook. And then I enter those into my listing software. But really, doing it this way only adds one step, and does make it more likely that I will actually keep notes in the field.
This page presents some good reasons for keeping notes, and some hints:

mon@rch said...

I take field notes but mostly during migration time and find that I rarely take any notes during the summer! We all could use improvements with our field notes!

slybird said...

I only rarely take field notes birding my local haunts, and I'm notoriously bad about keeping together lists while in the field too.

I do, however, take extensive notes in new areas, particularly the neotropics. I've been able to piece together tough neotropical ID's after the fact by taking good, extensive notes and forcing myself to carefully examine each bird.

~ Nick

John said...

I generally take some sort of field notes - even if it's just a list of birds I see. However, I don't do it all the time, and I am less likely to do it if I'm out with other birders.

Jennifer Hanson said...

I do take field notes, though I've gotten somewhat worse about it in recent years and I intend to refocus on it. In familiar areas, it's often just a list of species seen (birds, leps, odes) with occasional notes on unusual finds. My most detailed notes (usually with sketches) are for odd birds or Review List birds. When I went to Finland and Norway on a birding tour some years back, I took extensive notes because many of the birds were unfamiliar.

Since getting a digital camera, I find that I use that to "take notes" too, but sketching is more satisfying.

Patrick Belardo said...

Thanks for the insights everyone.

Dave said...

I don't take field notes, but I was thinking today that I should! I thought of having a laptop with an aircard and just typing the notes. Probably would need Photoshop to do the drawing. The problem might be hauling a laptop around in the field, maybe use a PDA

Jochen said...

When I am able to do a lot of birding (not right now, "from behind a newborn's stroller") I always have a note book with me to write down birds and numbers. This also comes in handy whenever I find a rare bird or one I can't initially identify, so I can make extensive notes. It is a must and I couldn't imagine going birding without a note book.
I would NEVER switch to recording devices. I once went on an international bird count with a friend of mine, it was a huge effort of hundreds of observers stretched over the whole German part of the river Rhine, and when I got out my note book, he told me I needn't bother to write down numbers as he'd record our observations and later would do the write-up. It was a long, long and tough winter day out in the field and when we were finally back at the car, he noticed something was wrong with his recorder and all data was LOST !!
On the other hand, I once accidentally dropped my notebook outsinde while it was raining heavily, only noticed it hours later at home, cycled back to the area (still raining), retrieved it from inside a rain puddle and was still able to extract 99% of the data!
Digital technology will never rival a note book!

Anonymous said...

You're NOT an iconic birder???

I don't take field notes, even though I know I should. I rely mostly on memory for stuff like Bird Surveys etc. Hopefully that will change when I get my new custom engraved moleskines that are on order

Larry said...

I do but not consistently. I usually only take notes when I see something new or different.I always have plans to take notes but don't stick with it.