By Dessi Sieburth

My field notes from the 2015 ABA Young Birder contest about the White-Faced Ibis at Peck Road Water Conservation Park in Los Angeles CountyMy field notes from the 2015 ABA Young Birder contest about the White-Faced Ibis at Peck Road Water Conservation Park in Los Angeles County

A field notebook is a powerful birding tool. It is a small notebook where you write down your experiences while birding, including sketches of a bird, its field marks, and its behaviors. You also write down location, date, and time of the observation. Field notes are done in the field while you observe the bird. Today, we use technology to do all these things, and phones and cameras are replacing the field notebook. However, having a field notebook can be more helpful than using technology when birding. For example, sketching a bird can be better than taking a photo because with a drawing, you can capture the behavior of a bird, which you might not be able to do in a photo. When taking a photo, the lighting might not be sufficient to show all the field marks, or parts of the bird might be hidden by branches. You can also record a lot more data in a field notebook, including detailed information about the weather, like the temperature and how cloudy and windy it was at the time of the observation. In my field notebook, I include interesting behaviors, the habitat, and how I can tell the bird apart from similar species. Finally, I include a list of the other species at the birding location. If I use a photo in my notebook, I make sure to include additional information.

My field sketch of American Avocet at the Los Angeles River (from the 2015 ABA Young Birder contest)
My field sketch of American Avocet at the Los Angeles River (from the 2015 ABA Young Birder contest)

I have been drawing birds since I was 8 years old, and I started using a field notebook when I was ten years old. First, I sketched more common birds in my neighborhood. Then at age 12, I participated in the 2015 American Birding Association Young Birder of the Year contest and became more serious about my field notes. For the contest, I participated in the field notebook category. I spent many hours sketching birds and making detailed notes about their behavior. Field notes are also important for documentation of rare birds. In 2013, an Arctic loon was reported at Bonelli Regional Park in Los Angeles. Instead of taking photos, I sketched this bird and wrote down information about behavior, weather and the field marks. I sent the sketch to Guy McCaskie, who is on the California Bird Records Committee, for documentation. I also bring my notebook when I go birding on trips outside California. I wrote notes from my birding trips to Alaska, Arizona, and Texas in my journal. Those notes are summaries of what happened during the day and they are not field notes, as I wrote them at the end of the day. They are still useful to me as I can go back later and read about my trip. My sketches and notes have helped me become a much better birder as I pay close attention to every detail of the bird.

My Field sketch of Marbled Godwit at Ballona Creek in Playa del Rey (from the 2015 ABA Young Birder contest)
My Field sketch of Marbled Godwit at Ballona Creek in Playa del Rey (from the 2015 ABA Young Birder contest)

Example of a journal entry (my Alaska trip in 2015). A journal is different from a field notebook.
Example of a journal entry (my Alaska trip in 2015). A journal is different from a field notebook.

Fields notes of the endangered Tricolored Blackbird at Legg Lake and Eurasian Green-winged Teal at San Gabriel Coastal Spreading Grounds, both in LA County. I added the photo for the Eurasian Green-winged Teal.
Fields notes of the endangered Tricolored Blackbird at Legg Lake and Eurasian Green-winged Teal at San Gabriel Coastal Spreading Grounds, both in LA County. I added the photo for the Eurasian Green-winged Teal.

I sent this field sketch of the Arctic Loon, which is a rare bird in LA County, to Guy McCaskie
I sent this field sketch of the Arctic Loon, which is a rare bird in LA County, to Guy McCaskie

TPL_LAAS_ADDITIONAL_INFORMATION