Eight Steps to good details
1. Always carry a notebook to write details.
2. Write details immediately. Short-term memory holds specific details for a very short time. Memory may also start to add details that were never seen if left too long.
3. Do any drawings and written notes before consulting with field guides. Observers new to a species will almost reflexively reach for a field guide to make an identification. This method may work for relatively unwary birds and common species. But if a species is genuinely rare, the time you spend looking it up in a reference is time lost from observing the bird and details important to its confirmation might be missed..
4. Describe only what you see. A mistake often made is listing characters other birds have that this bird lacks. Save the elimination of similar species for formal details written later.
5. Don't forget to describe leg colors, bill colors and behavioral details like tail wagging and wing flicking.
6. Where possible, call in other observers.
7. After you've written a complete description, consult a reference. The reference may describe field marks you've missed. If the bird is still around, look for those characters. If it's gone, do not change your description, even if you think you saw the field mark in question.
8. Write a formal description from your notes. At this point, it is appropriate to consider the elimination of similar species. This should be done in a section separate from the formal description of what you saw. When possible attach a photocopy of your original notes to the formal description.
A short course in field sketching
Look! an Elegant Tern! Let's draw.
Look! a Ruff! Let's draw.
Look! a Palm Warbler! Let's draw.
California Rare Bird Reports
Copyrighted Material 1997 by Mike Patterson. All rights reserved. No part of this material (text or images) may be reproduced in any form or by any means without expressed written permission from the author.