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. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Trying To Find Birds In Forests Filled With Trees

According to Wikepedia there are over 30 state forests in Connecticut. I'm intrigued by what species of birds might exists within these state forests. A forest is defined as a dense growth of trees, plants, and underbrush covering a large area. It's not easy to see birds in a dense growth of trees. I played the waiting game with this Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. I heard it making it's squeaky noises for quite a while before it finally came near the edge of the state forest road where I could see it.
I found these Rough-winged Swallows nesting in a drain pipe in a reservoir near a state forest. There were no trees obstructing my view here.
Many forests have bodies of water such as lakes or reservoirs within their boundaries. I spotted this Osprey flying over the Portland Reservoir.
 It's sometimes easier to find birds near streams especially on a hot summer day. I found a lot of Louisianna Waterthrushes near streams this Spring. 
I appreciate birds like this Palm Warbler. If they're around they're usually not hard to find, not even in a forest.
When I'm in a forest, I spend most of my time on the main roads. You can cover more ground that way and it give you a better viewing area. Birding by horse and buggy might not be a bad way to go.
There are often power lines running though or near state forests. Those are great places to find Prairie Warblers and Blue-winged Warblers like this one.
. The trees in this particular section of Cockaponset Forest were tall and and not as dense as other areas in the forest. I believe some selective cutting must have been done here. It also had some smaller shrubs and vegetation. It turned out to be a productive spot where I found nesting Hooded Warblers , Chestnut-sided Warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Black & White Warbler, and Pileated Woodpecker.

  There are a ton of birds in some of these forests because I can hear them but it's a lot more fun when you can actually see them. Searching  areas near water, forest roads and areas where trees have been selectively cut seems to be the key. I'm guessing its going to take a few years before I've visited all 32 of the state's forests.
click to play
 Eastern Towhee performing the drink-your-tea song.