140389aWhile I consider myself to be fairly organized, one thing I have struggled with over the years is keeping a good record of the birds I have seen. Keeping a record of bird species observed should include more information than just where and when you saw it.

Frequently I write about seeing a new “life-bird” – a bird I have never seen before. How do I know when I see a bird whether or not it is new for my life list? How do I keep track of the birds I have already seen over a lifetime of birding?

When I was young, I kept a very hastily written record with very little supporting documentation. As I participated in guided bird walks with the Tucson Audubon Society in the ’70s, I usually recorded the date of the field trip, the location and a list of the birds observed. 

What I don’t know is who I was with, who led the bird walk, whether the bird I saw was an adult or a juvenile or a male or a female, etc. Fast-forward more than 40 years. Keeping a record of the birds you observe is now fairly easy if you are comfortable using a computer. 

Probably the most popular place to record bird sightings is a website called eBird (ebird.org). You can create a personal account on eBird where you can record the bird species you have identified. As you enter your records, you create a list of all of the different birds you have seen in your life – your life list.

I am in the process of learning how to navigate and use eBird to convert all of my old hand-written records into this electronic format. I have really enjoyed the experience of reviewing old records, reliving memories of those magical moments of when I saw each new bird for the first time.

I recently received an email from a customer with the following information: “Total life list: 941. Total number of species seen in 2014: 492. Arizona life list: 313.” How did he have exact figures? He recorded all of his bird sightings in eBird!

The material you input into eBird is organized in a database format so you can filter, sort and organize your birding information in a variety of ways. eBird makes it possible to know exactly how many bird species you saw last month, last year, or over the course of your lifetime. 

Last year my goal was to see birds. This year my goal is to get all of my records updated in eBird, including information from my trips to Africa and Brazil. Once all of this information is in eBird, I will know exactly what my life list is. Right now I have no clue how many birds I have seen – which is rather embarrassing, as I am asked this question frequently! 

This past weekend, while I was in Utah, I went birding and saw a long-tailed duck. This is a species that I have not seen in more than 20 years. If my memory serves me correctly, I think this is only the second time I have ever seen this species. But until I put my data into eBird, I have no idea when I first saw it, or where. The nice thing about getting all of my records into eBird is that I won’t have to rely on my memory! 

This year I am going to get organized. I invite you to join me in getting your birding records up to date in 2015. 

Until next week, Happy Birding!