My last post stimulated a range of interesting responses, for which many thanks to one and all. Several good points were raised, and I think it would be helpful to comment on some of them, not in chronological order!
1. A picture paints a thousand words, Dave. If a bird does not stay long enough for a decent photo, it stays too short for a meaningful description of words.
I agree completely that a good photograph provides more information than many words can. And, even as a birder who became a photographer (rather than one who was a photographer first), when I see a bird I think or know is rare I will always reach for my camera first rather than my notebook!
However, if you have seen a rare bird, even if you manage to get dozens of great photos, you'll still need to make some record of the circumstances of the observation IF you intend to submit the record. And, as mentioned in the last post, there are aspects of behaviour, calls, etc, which will be useful to note down which cannot be captured by the camera.
The second point I disagree with. If a bird does not stay long enough for a photo it will still leave an impression on your memory, which, if you have a notebook on hand, you can make a record of. And there may be circumstances when a good photo is impossible, but taking notes is still a viable option.
Lastly, there are still plenty of birders out there who don't own a camera. It is still possible to get a sighting confirmed by others, provided good field notes are taken.
2.It is quite difficult for me to bring along a notebook with me during my regular birding around the neighborhood, did not have a back pack or pockets to put those in, so the solution is often to rush home immediately, briefly glance for the suspected group in Robson's to see if any of them fit the memory.
My biggest problem is not lack of space but lack of efficient memory (I tend to forget to pack my notebook when I go out!). A notebook doesn't have to be large (though see 5ii) and certainly isn't heavy, so I reckon if you can manage to carry a pair of bins around with you, you can certainly carry a notebook and pencil.
Going to a fieldguide before writing down what you have seen is an easily-made but sometimes 'fatal' mistake! It is a much better practice to record everything you remember BEFORE opening the fieldguide. That way you have something concrete to compare with the fieldguide illustrations.
There are several problems with going to a fieldguide before making notes:
i) Seeing a multitude of similar illustrations on a plate will likely confuse your memory of what you actually saw.
ii) When comparing your memory with a fieldguide illustration you end up trying to find the 'best fit' with what you remember ("Well, it definitely had a white rump. I didn't notice any white patch on the wing but it probably did have one ... so it must have been a ____"). From here it's one small step to convincing yourself that you saw things you actually didn't!
iii) Even the best fieldguide doesn't show every plumage or angle.
I am convinced that the majority of mistaken identifications come from this practice of going directly from field observation to fieldguide without making notes.
For this reason I either leave my field guide at home or in the car (usually the former), to take away any temptation to consult it before taking notes.
3. I will record my own imitation of the calls, but often is just to record down the sensation of the call rather than the real pitch for a potential comparison with real calls in the future.
Taking notes on calls is tricky. Songs are even trickier! There are several approaches I use:
i. "Sounds like a ..." Comparing the call or song to that of another known species gives a useful reference point. For example, Malaysian Whistling-thrush call "sounds like Blue Whistling-thrush, but more monosyllabic and harsher at beginning"
ii. Some calls convert into syllables which can be written quite easily. For example, Streaked Wren-babbler has a call which sounds like seee-ooo-eee. More grating calls can be conveyed by using consonants - eg Little Pied Flycatcher makes a soft trrrrt.
iii. For simple songs I often use a series of lines to denote relative note pitch and length.
iv. For more complex songs, I usually go for a verbal description. For example, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo song: A mix of fluty downslurred notes and harsh churring notes. Some calls similar to Black Magpie.
4. Now with HD and an external mic, all the sounds can even be captured for later ID confirmation.
Very true! And as photos are nearly always better than drawings and notes, sound recordings are always better than one's attempts to transcribe them. What I am advocating is not EITHER/OR but BOTH/AND! And in the absence of recordings and/or photos, notes are a whole lot better than nothing!
5. Notes taking is not much of a problem to me but sketch is!!! consider i hate drawing!!! Do hope you can write something like sketch made easy 101.
Lots of people have this problem! I will try to address this issue in my next post, when I have a bit more time. In the meantime, consider the following:
i. A field sketch is not supposed to be a work of art! It is simply the quickest, most efficient way of transferring information from eye to page.
ii. Size matters! It is much easier to draw a large field sketch than a small one! Many people start too small. Finding the right size of field notebook is a balancing act between what's practical and what's comfortable. I would always say - go for as large as you can comfortably take into the field.
iii. The choice of writing implement. A pencil is easier to indicate differences in shade/tone. With a pen you need to use cross-hatching, which take s a bit more skill, especially if you want to distinguish this from streaking!
iv. Practice makes ... better! While not every field sketcher ends up a David Sibley or a Killian Mullarney, I guarantee that you will improve with practice! Part of this is a result of training your brain to retain information longer. The more you sketch the longer you are able to retain the image in your 'mind's eye' and in consequence the more the image you produce with your pencil will resemble the bird you saw.
v. For a good primer on basic field sketching, check this site and for a helpful video, try this.
I hope to include some pictures in my next post!!