Try a bird journal

It’s fun­ – and revealing – to keep track of the yearly comings and goings of the bird populations.

Migration periods always bring new birds.
Migration periods always bring new birds.
Sherrie Versluis Feathered Friends
Sherrie Versluis
Feathered Friends

Many birders tend to never forget some of their most rare or exciting sightings. A special visit from a beautiful bird may not be forgotten, but what about the details, like what time of the year, what was the weather like, where exactly was it? During spring and fall migrations there are always new birds to be seen, some expected and some rare. It is always interesting each season to compare dates of the arrivals of the wild birds that are passing through. Are they earlier? later? and what are the populations like? This is a good reason to keep a bird journal: it’s a great way to reference the activity in your own yard or at the cottage.

She wishes she’d started sooner

I have been birding for many years but never really started journaling till about 10 years ago. Do I ever wish I had been doing this a lot longer! It is really quite fascinating when I look back at my records some seasons and see the differences.

Most notably in some cases it is the lack of and declining numbers of many species. That side of it is always a reminder of how great a concern songbird populations are becoming each year. What I do love is the unusual sightings I have had at my own feeders, like indigo buntings, the threatened red-headed woodpecker, Eastern towhee, and the very exciting and rare, red-bellied woodpecker I had for almost the entire winter of 2011. I am eager to add a Northern cardinal to my list one day!

Here are some tips and thoughts that might guide you in beginning your own birding journal.

You can purchase actual birding journals but any journal-type book will do. Look for one that has good quality linen paper, which is more durable and will last for many years. The Lang Company in particular makes excellent quality, hardcover, linen paper journals. They always have beautiful, decorative nature scenes on the cover, making them a great choice.

There are also bird checklists available. They have all bird species listed where you can check them off when you see them and write a date. These are good when you just want to scan the birds you’ve seen, but I prefer a journal where you have room to record more info with details.

For example, I remember in May, 2004, we had a horrible snowstorm in Winnipeg. This is the prime month for the arrival of South American migratory birds, and most were here already. It was a devastating time for birders who witnessed many species struggling to survive. I recall walking my dog and finding mounds of dead warblers under spruce trees; most had perished through the night.

The interesting thing was the activity at birdfeeders! People were seeing birds they didn’t know we had here. The orioles, tanagers, and warblers in particular were frantic at feeders. I had some species of warblers coming to my feeders that I have never again seen at my feeding station.

Grape jelly for the oriolesWhen I look back at these records I can clearly see the events in my head and remember how exciting it was, yet also the urgency we felt to have the weather improve so that no more birds would die. I also recorded how much food I went through during that period, a reminder looking back that it was really a shocking time. I went through 22 jars of grape jelly alone for the orioles and warblers…in four days!

One fun part of journaling is comparing dates each season. There have been years when the arrival dates of some birds were exactly the same as the dates in the previous year, an interesting occurrence. In spring anticipation of the birds’ arrival is so high that I like to check my previous dates to remind me what to expect and when.

It’s funny how many exclamation points I seem to put on my first sighting of flocks of geese. In fact, there are a lot of exclamation points in my spring recordings!

See for yourself. Pick up a journal and start your own records this year. You will enjoy being able to compare your own records as the years go by.

Sherrie Versluis owns The Preferred Perch Wild Birds and Specialty Gifts store in St. Vital.

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