When I started birding four short years ago, I took a tiny notebook with me and wrote down every single thing I noticed about birds. Field marks (I didn't know that's what they were called), behavior, lists of what birds I saw or heard, mammals and flowers (with little stars next to the bird name if it was a lifer), sketches of tail or head shapes, date, weather conditions, time and location. Looking back over these four books (one per year), it is amusing to see how my skills (limited as they are) developed.
I never wrote down in my trusty Peterson field guide (my favorite because it was my first) where and when I saw each lifer, but the notebooks keep those memories alive.
What made me smile recently were the pages from September 17, 2005 *8am, foggy conditions* at Hawk Mountain in the Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania. It was a two hour drive early one morning. I was going alone to meet members of the DVOC for raptor watching at the height of hawk migration. I had just joined DVOC and had not met anyone from the organization or gone on any sponsored field trips. I was shy and nervous and little did I know that raptor migration was one of the hardest ID situations next to gulls.
I got to the parking lot over an hour early (told you I was nervous) and decided to start the hike up to North Lookout myself and meet them on the mountain. Improperly prepared/ outfitted, wearing sneakers instead of hiking boots and certainly not in the best physical shape, I struggled to make the climb. I felt it was a good thing I was alone instead of embarrassing myself in front of more experienced DVOC members.
photo courtesy of www.hawkmountain.org
I made it to North Lookout and was expecting a flat platform with railings, maybe some benches. Ha! Nothing but boulders, steep dropoffs and experienced birders perched all over. I was so intimidated. And scared out of my wits. I knew if I dropped off the face of the earth (a distinct possibility) none of my family or friends knew where I was. I was about to die alone.
I found a relatively flat boulder and perched gingerly. I tried to focus on birds that people were calling out all over: Magnolia warbler, Philadelphia vireo, Cape May warbler, cedar waxwing, rose breasted grosbeak, olive sided flycatcher, chimney swift, merlin....all of these would have been life birds if I could have seen them. When someone would call out a bird, everyone would jump up and swivel to find the bird. The first time I jumped up, I felt myself lose my balance and that was the last time I stood up. My butt got numb from sitting for almost 4 hours, but I was too scared to climb down! Besides, now it was quite crowded on North Lookout. I saw the DVOC group arrive, but I was so thoroughly cowed that I kept to myself and did not join them.
On a clump of trees in front of me, I noticed small bright yellow birds with black caps and wings. I looked frantically through my field guide, but couldn't find an id. I gathered my nerve and asked the woman sitting next to me (birders are truly friendly) and she told me they were American goldfinches. Wow! My first goldfinch and I thought they were gorgeous. I stared at them for 30 minutes. They were the only birds I truly saw on that trip. I wrote down every bird that others called out, but I only saw the goldfinches and waxwings.
I eventually climbed down the mountain and drove home. Enamored of birding, embarrassed by my shyness (I have certainly gotten over that!) and addicted to my notebooks where I write down everything I see.
Do you use notebooks in the field?