In the era of eBird, it’s easy to log your bird sightings into the ether, but what if seeing birds conjures more creative initiative in you than an online tally? What if writing or drawing what you see is part of your birding practice?
I tossed the question out to my birding friends recently and got back a reassuring–tho’ admittedly unscientific–60 percent “Yes!” of the twelve or so people who responded. “Yes!” to scribbling down birds seen from the yard, during a trip, either as part of an existing journal or separately in a notebook for a birding life list.
“I’ve kept a life list journal since I started birding and still use it, though for everyday birding and nature observations I use a small Moleskine® journal,” says Lauren Braden, founder of the travel website Northwest Trip Finder (where she shares birding tips). “I treasure my notes, especially those from the days when I first started birding,” she says.
Adam Sedgely, Director of Web Strategy for Conservation International (and former Seattle Audubon staff member) has stacks of Rite in the Rain® notebooks, his choice for documenting his 20-plus years of birding travel. “The content runs the gamut: fun phrases to remember, places to visit, notes (on photos) I’ve taken and, of course, species lists — using the four-letter bird band codes,” he says. “Though (the codes), mixed with my handwriting, means the lists are discernible to only a handful of people in the world!”
For some, a journal is more than a place to write. Wildlife artist Liz Clayton Fuller uses a Moleskine® watercolor journal to sketch and note what she sees in the field. “The combination of sketching, painting, and note-taking leaves me with a holistic view of what happened that day,” she says. “When I look back through my sketchbook I’m transported back to the moments of that day.” Such documenting of a personal experience is incalculably valuable to obsessive chroniclers like birders.
Contents SO valuable, some are willing to risk bodily harm for a journal’s recovery. “I technically pulled a knife on some teenagers in Barcelona who’d pickpocketed my notebook,” says Sedgely. “I had my yellow Rite in the Rain® notebook in my back pocket.” After getting hip checked by them, he realized his journal was gone.
“I approached them–smile on my face–but unclipped my pocket knife and held on to it to prevent its theft as I approached the group. Before I could open my mouth, I heard someone in the group, who’d seen my stealth maneuver, yell, ‘he’s got a knife!’” Sedgely says the next few seconds were a blur, but in the chaos of the moment the yellow journal suddenly appeared above him, and he grabbed it.
However you choose to count your birds (and your luck, in Sedgely’s case), consider what kind of journal will best suit your practice. Below are five journals–including one for kids–that range in style, content, purpose and size, for any birder wanting an analog catalog of their birding experience.
BirdNote Journal: A Birdwatcher’s Companion from the Popular Public Radio Show
Brand new on the market (released this month by local publisher Sasquatch) the BirdNote journal is the only one among the selection here to contain tips and strategies for better birding. It also contains elegant illustrations by Emily Poole, who illustrated the companion BirdNote book and notecards. The journal is a “bird log” for listing whatever you see, with extra pages for sketching, and essays for inspiration interspersed throughout. Ideal for a beginner or casual birder who is confident of common birds (or doesn’t mind carrying a field guide in addition to this journal), and likes a pretty package to write more than just the birds seen. Purchase online or at the Seattle Audubon Nature Shop.
Rite in the Rain® All Weather Birders Journal
This distinct slim spiral bound journal with its yellow cover is ideal for Pacific Northwest birding in real time rain and damp in the field. Low on embellishment (except for the American Birding Association (ABA) Birding Ethics and a summary of bird body terms in the inside covers) the pages contain date, location and weather cells, but are otherwise blank. The journal has no checklist so is meant to be used until filled, versus as a life list journal. Purchase online or at the Seattle Audubon Nature Shop.
Sibley Birder’s Life List and Field Diary
Reputedly the “serious birder’s journal,” David Allen Sibley’s namesake journal does set a standard for certain format: Spiral bound to lay flat for use in the field, it’s meant to be a life-long birding journal, with a check list of North American species as well as pages for individual birds and the details surrounding your seeing them (weather, time, location, etc). Alongside the species pages is space to free write, but there is no accompanying “how to” text or artwork (lost opportunity!) to inspire this journal as something other than data collection. Purchase online or at the Seattle Audubon Nature Shop.
Bird Brainiacs Activity Journal and Log Book for Young Birders (ages 8 and up)
Another Cornell publication and one that as an adult I would love using! Printed on sturdy (and bird friendly) Forest Stewardship Council paper and spiral bound for easy use, the first half of the book asks questions to induce birding fervor in a kid, with prompts like, “Which bird would you rather be?” and “How well do you know your state for birds?” The activities stay within the book itself (not requiring other supplies) as the book is intended as collection of bird inspired memories. To that end, the second half of the book is the birding log, with the usual weather/location/time details, along with step-by-step “how to draw” instructions accompanied with a page to try. Cornell’s book trains a child’s eye to bird, then inspires them to get out and document it, all in a beautiful package. Purchase online or at the Seattle Audubon Nature Shop.