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.
- 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]
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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].
- 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.]
- 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.]
- 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.
- 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.]
- 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