One frequent theme in “learn how to bird” books is the necessity of taking field notes. The process of taking field notes about the birds that one observes makes the birder a better observer. It can also supply invaluable evidence when an unusual bird is seen and reported to others, such as a Bird Records Committee (BRC). Field notes can be text, pictures, or a combination of the two. As technology has changed recently, more and more birders are choosing to use digital cameras as their preferred documentation device. The processes of photographic documentation and written documentation, however, have different strengths and are not interchangeable.
Two recent posts from BirdFellow that talk about the advantages of traditional forms of documentation are A Lost Art? Writing Descriptions of Rare Birds and Lost Art? Revisited: Alternatives to Taking Notes (though it should be noted that one of these alternatives is field sketching, which I consider to be part of the note-taking process, not separate from it). The decline of traditional note-taking is a frequent topic of discussion among those who review documentation, such as editors for regional birding journals of record, or BRC members.
I’m used to following these discussions in the context of the birding community, so I was surprised and delighted to find this post from the Tooth and Claw blog:
Blogger and journalist Hillary Rosner compares the scientist in the field with the journalist on assignment, a comparison that would never occur to me, but once I read Rosner’s post, it made perfect sense. Not only that, Rosner stresses the importance of note-taking to both the scientist and the journalist. She also talks about the differences between written documentation and photographic documentation. Although this post has nothing to do with birding, it has everything to do with birding documentation practices.