Friday, December 16, 2011

Free Advice from 50 years of Birding

I began birding in the fall of 1960. Do I have any advice for young birders? You betcha! Keep a detailed notebook with dates and precise locations of where you find birds. These days you might want to include numbers of individuals seen, in case you one day contribute records to eBird. Don't just include life birds or new birds for the year, but all the birds you see. I suggest a notebook like the
bound sketchbooks available at many art stores. After 50 years, you may be lucky enough to have equally-sized books across your bookshelf.

I do not have good records for those first birds I listed. At the time, checking the species off on the life list in my Peterson field guide seemed sufficient. Beginning in 1961, I have a date and location for each of my over 2,000 life birds. The one exception is from a month in Spain where I recorded the location of my new birds, but not the date. What was I thinking?? In any case, once I saw a bird, I did not record it again. Later I kept year lists, but without dates or locations. I now regret both practices. I wish checklists came with a place to check birds and a space for location.

For the last 20 years, I have kept daily diaries--either in daily calendar books or in those drawing books. These records vary in their usefulness. For example, if one day I drove from South Dakota to Minnesota, I seldom noted the exact location where I saw a particular species. EBird is going to change my laziness! Furthermore, eBird will also automatically update my county lists. Meanwhile, I am entering my old records into eBird (at least those records for which I have data). A final piece of advice--backup your eBird records onto your hard drive. There is no guarantee that eBird will last for the next 50 years!

Now if I can just remember when I photographed this wind-blown, female Northern Cardinal....

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