Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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This article was just published in the Maryland Ornithological Society’s newsletter, the Maryland Yellowthroat. Perhaps you will find it of interest … or maybe even of some use!


Ten New Year’s Resolutions for the Field Birder

by Phil Davis

Few people really make New Year’s resolutions any more. Well, I can help you fill that huge void in your life! Here is a list of resolutions that you may freely adopt.

Resolved:

  1. To carry a copy of the latest MD/DC Records Committee (MD/DCRC) Maryland and/or DC Review Lists inside my field guide or in my car so that I can check on the review status of any rare or unusual birds that I run across to determine if they are “reviewable” sightings. [The MD Review List is only two pages (one if you print on both sides), and the DC Review List is only one page.] These lists can be found on the MD/DCRC web pages: MD [free PDF] or DC [free PDF]
  2. To carry a list of phone numbers of other local birders into the field, so that if I do find a potentially reviewable bird, I can call either someone to come check it out, or someone who might be near a computer so that they can post a message to the MD Osprey listserver, with directions. Even if you are not sure about an ID, it’s best to get the word out as a “possible.” We have probably missed a number of rare and unusual records because of not judiciously “spreading the word.”
  3. To carry either note paper [with a pen] or a voice dictation recorder [with batteries] into the field to record notes for any reviewable birds on the spot.
  4. To describe the entire bird, from tip to tail, not just key field marks, starting with which family the bird belongs to. The MD/DCRC web page carries documentation guidelines that provide memory joggers. [This two-page checklist is another good reference to throw into your car.] You can find these guidelines here [free PDF] or check out other related links in the “Reporting Sightings” section.
  5. To include in my report how I have eliminated other similar species [for example, Spotted Towhees from Eastern Towhees, Cave Swallows from Cliff Swallows, etc].
  6. To write out or dictate my notes before consulting a field guide, unless I’m still in the field and am on the bird. In that case, I can consult a field guide for key field marks and immediately check for the presence or absence of those field marks. [It's okay to consult a field guide later, to analyze age, sex, plumage, or elimination of other similar species AFTER the basic sighting has been documented; however, in your report draw a line between the observation field notes and any post-sighting analysis, and tell the committee when and where field guide(s) were consulted, including which references were used.]
  7. To prepare a formal report to the MD/DCRC either the evening of the sighting or within a very few days. [Otherwise, the memory fades or terminal procrastination may set in.]
  8. To submit written documentation in electronic format to the MD/DCRC Secretary [either via e-mail or via the MD/DCRC web form], and send images as e-mail attachments.
  9. To provide some basic level of written documentation even if just submitting digital images. At a minimum, provide the date and location. [Even though our committee does accept "photo only" documentation, the voting members still grouse if they don't get some kind of accompanying statement.]
  10. In electronic documentation and attachments, to use file names that convey information, such as observer name (eg, last name and first initial), observation date, species name (or four-letter abbreviation), and a sequence number for multiple images. [Feel free to contact the MD/DCRC Secretary before you submit electronic documentation for the assigned MD/DCRC data-accession number, and you can include that, too.]

Phil is the Secretary of the Maryland/District of Columbia Records Committee