Thursday, June 21, 2012

Customized Notebooks For Sloppy Birders?

I like to keep a record of what I see while I'm out birdwatching but I've never been satisfied with the notebooks or checklists I've used. I finally decided that my best option would be to design my own field notebook instead of buying one online or at a store.
I started out using simple checklists like this one, that recently I found stuffed under my truck seat. Checklists are convenient because the names of the birds are already printed out. All you have to do is record the species you see in check box. I have a few issues with using these checklists.  I have a few issues with using checklists like this one: 
  1. There are hundreds of species printed on this list but I only see an average of about 40 per outing.
  2. The print is very small and there isn't much room to make extra notes or sketches.
  3. They end up under my truck seat with coffee stains on them instead of being neatly filed away.
I've used notebooks like these to take notes as well. They allow me the freedom to take notes or make sketches but I also have to write in every species I see by hand. That is a tedious chore and my penmanship is not exactly stellar. I was born left handed but for some mysterious reason an elementary school teacher decided I should write with my right hand.
It finally occurred to me that I might be able to design my own customized field  notebook. The first step was to put together a checklist of birds that I see most often and then put them on to an excel spreadsheet (with some help from my cousin-thanks Bob). It was difficult for me to decide which species to leave off the list and how to organize them. The order I used was a mix of  alphabetical, taxonomic, and whatever I felt would work for me. The final step was went to have the notebooks printed up at a print shop. I opted for using spiral binding and a heavier grade of paper. There are cheaper ways of going about this project, like using a 3 ring binder, but cutting costs was not my primary objective.
Each checklist takes up the front and back of a single page. The back of each page also has room for additional species that weren't included on my checklist. On my first outing with this new notebook I had to write in Orchard Oriole. I don't mind writing a few species in by hand, especially birds that I don't see often.
 I decided not to alternate blank pages between the checklists. Instead, I included a separate section in the back in case I decide to make additional notes or drawings which can be referenced back to a particular checklist. The notebook is not perfect but it's better than anything I've used before. The nice part about it is that further adjustments can be made in the future if needed. 

  My final cost was $12 per notebook. A little pricey, but in the end it was well worth it to me. Most birders are probably fine with the system they use now but if you are a disorganized birder like me, a customized notebook might be an option to consider. 


Unknown said...

I love do-it-yourself ingenuity! Well done.

Another alternative for the technically savvy is BirdLog for smartphones which has the added benefit of automatically sending your sightings to eBird. It is actually faster than writing and costs $9.99.

Larry said...

Robert-I considered that option. It would be more efficient but there is something about the old-fashioned process of notetaking that I enjoy.I just didn't want to have to hand write Mourning Dove by hand each time I went out.

My Mind's Eye said...

Mom and I thank you for visiting us today,
Mom is a backyard border. We habe a shaft with 4 feeders on it. I sit on the tablle drooling and dreaming about them!
We like your blog
Madi and mom

Rohrerbot said...

I really like this idea. Birding is so much fun and I've seen people with these paper lists on the trails. I've thought about using this system, but I've got my camera with me and so the focus shifts to finding new species with the lens or the photography bits with birds in flight. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the use of these lists and how you do it.

Josh Fecteau said...

Nice idea. Another idea is to use bird code shorthand.

MODO is a pretty quick way to write Mourning Dove.

You can also type the codes in to eBird to speed up the reporting process.

Dan L. said...

What a great idea ! Personally I tend to just use a piece of folded paper that I keep handy in a front pocket, but this seems like a fairly elegant solution to a pretty common problem for birders. My own Connecticut state list is pretty small (I live in MA) but I'm looking to expand it - do you have any suggestions for particular places to visit in the Constitution State ? I'm especially interested in shorebirds right now. In any case, your sight looks great - I'd like to invite you to check out my site at and if you like what you find there perhaps we could post links to each others sites on our respective websites ? I would also be open to swapping guest posts sometime, if that's of interest.

Feel free to drop me a note at if you'd like to discuss more.

Dan Levenson
New England Nature Notes

Larry said...

Madi and Mom-I enjoyed checking out your blog and glad you like my blog.

Josh-Yes-there is more than one way of going about taking notes. It just depends on your preference. I use e-bird as well but like to jot down thoughts and notes on paper while out in the field, especially when I'm by myself.

Dan L.-I'm sure I'll be adding you to my link list just based on your comment. I suggest purchasing the book-Connecticut Birding Guide.It's full of great places to bird in Connecticut. That being said,Hammonasset is a spot you should visit often.It's free admisssion once the summer season is over.This time of the year you have to pay to get in and would be best off going early on a weekday.There are several great areas listed in the book covering New Haven, Milford Stratford and Bridgeport. We do very well in those areas during Big January.-Good luck on building your list! I'd be interested in swapping posts some time but I'm a bit of a slacker when it comes to blogging.

Sandpiper (Lin) said...

You are so much more organized than me. Good idea!

Thanks for stopping by and leaving your note. Just a little reply here. I see tons of Barn Swallows at Hammonasset and Silver Sands in Milford, but if you go along that first connecting boardwalk to the beach at Silver Sands, look down along the outside rail at the foot planks. Sometimes they perch there. I think they might nest under the boardwalk,too.

Also I see Yellow Crowned Night Herons in both locations (Hammo and Silver), but the ones at Silver seem to come in closer. Good luck! Best wishes, Lin

Larry said...

Lin-I must be looking in the wrong place at the wrong time at Hammo. I saw the YCNH somewhere along the western shoreline but I've never seen any at Hammo.I only go there in the off season-maybe that's why.

Chris said...

Well things are better designed when they are do-it-yourself things... Then they correspond to what you need. How on earth can all birders have the same habit ;-) I'm only scraping the name of the bird I see on a small booklets but, contrary to you, the max number of species I can see on a single spot is maybe around 30 ;-) which is almost half of our breeding species over here ;-)

Kathie Brown said...

Larry, you are so creative! It sounds like you came up with an excellent solution! BTW, do you ever use your left hand to do any tasks or are you totally converted? I am a lefty myself!

Larry said...

Rohrebot-It's all in what you feel like doing-nothing wrong with staying with the camera.

Chris-I'll bet you have a great photo of most of them.60 total species is a managable number of species to keep track of.

Kathie-I do most things lefthanded except write.

Sandpiper (Lin) said...

Larry, As you drive into Hammo, pull over to the first canal before the entry gate and have a close look down the canal that runs through the marsh. I've seen YCN Herons there a bunch of times. We buy the season pass and walk the trails at Hammonasset almost every weekend before heading over to Moodus to take care of my mother. BTW, there are tons of Clapper Rails in the park this year-some with youngsters.

The YCs at Silver Sands have always been on the left side of the boardwalk as I walk to the beach. I've seen both Yel Crn'd and Blk Crn'd there.

Dostoy said...

You take some stunning photos of birds. You really do. So I wanted to let you know that the Nature Conservancy's annual photo contest is now underway. I really think you should submit something.

I did a small post (with link) on my blog. But you can also go directly to their web site.

James said...

Hi – Will you please post a link to your Blog at The Birding Community? Our members will love it.
It's easy just cut and paste the link and it automatically links back to your website… it’s a win win. You can also add Photos and Videos and join Birding discussions if you like.
Email me if you need any help or would like me to do it for you.
The Birding Community:
James Kaufman, Editor
A lot of birders are sharing their Blogs with us.