Take Good Notes!

It is said that we learn more from our failures than our successes.

I have been a taker of detailed field notes in journals ever since the mid-1970s when the habit was ingrained in me during several Field Ecology classes at the University of California at Irvine. (My eternal gratitude and thanks to Profs. Dick MacMillen, Pete Atsatt, and Phil Rundell). As an avid "Lister" in my birdwatching endeavors, I have also kept relatively detailed records nearly everywhere I've traveled, locally, statewide, out-of-state, and internationally. My 80+ volumes of field journals are also supplemented with field checklists, small spiral notebooks, and my yearly/monthly/weekly "Minders" calendars that I have kept since the 1970s for meetings, appointments, travel notes, important dates, etc. As I slog through the current task of scanning thousands of old slides and uploading usable images to iNaturalist, I have benefitted greatly from all these records of my travels. I really couldn't accomplish these additions to the iNaturalist database without those supporting records.

That's the success of my note-taking system. But I'm not here to dwell on that. It has been a failure of those normally reliable habits that is driving me crazy at the moment and prompting me to post this preachy journal entry. The complicated documentation of this failure of note-taking is on display in this observation of a Glossy Snake, photographed somewhere at some point in 1979:

The short version of the story is that I have great images of the Glossy Snake but virtually no details in my journals about when/where the animal was photographed. The slides have an erroneous (late) date stamp of "Jan 80". They were probably developed from a roll of film that languished in a camera for months. I was pretty sure the observation was a first-hand record; I have Glossy Snake checked off for my Life List on several of my old Peterson Field Guides. But as of this writing, I'm still struggling with trying to sleuth out when/where the animal was documented. The story will continue in the comments and details of the above observation. But the bottom line is:


Don't rely entirely on the modern conveniences of date-time stamps and GPS locations for digital images. Sometimes those are wrong, so it is always smart to have back-up hard copy notes.

This is probably a very difficult, even baffling "ask" of younger generations who are completely comfortable with the aforesaid technology. But forewarned is forearmed. Just sayin' ...

הועלה ב-ינואר 25, 2024 06:31 אחה"צ על ידי gcwarbler gcwarbler


As always, your words are especially valuable, Chuck.

I'd also like to comment on the 'personal notes' on observations. To me, this adds a 'human dimension' of the observer/data collector. When I worked in the BRIT herbarium, I especially enjoyed looking at the specimens that had not just information about location of the plant or the associated species, but also a bit about the location or the date. Sometimes it was a "really challenging terrain filled with snakes and thorns!" but it was also poignant to see introspective into a specimen collected on September 11, 2001. Sure, this may not be relevant to the actual specimen, but it united me (as a filer of the specimen in the herbarium) to a fellow human collecting that data out in the field.

One other bit of information -- it's hard to know exactly what kind of information may be relevant to future questions! When I was out making plant collections, I was sometimes so narrowly focused on just the plants that I wouldn't really aware of the pollinators or herbivores of the plant. I was narrowly focused on plants and not the entire ecosystem. Gosh, do I wish wish wish I could go back in time and take better notes of this information (and include photos, of course!) and upload it to iNat. With the 'modern technology' of iNat, I'm finding myself so much more aware of the entire ecosystem.

You're always inspiring to me, Chuck. :)

פורסם על-ידי sambiology לפני 5 חודשים

As many times as I try to remind myself to take better notes, I never seem to be able to follow through, and many of the notes I do take are done in such haste, that I often can only read about half of them when I refer to them later.

פורסם על-ידי rymcdaniel לפני 5 חודשים

I can relate, Chuck! I have come across similar instances in my own data as I slog through my old photos. I have not even started on my slide/print photos yet, some of which I will probably never be able to pin to exact time or place. I have this issue with some of my older digital photos too (we forget that 20 years ago that even the cutting edge digital cameras did not have GPS!). Which is unfortunate as I had some nifty sightings back then! I think there is a natural progression in note-taking. I started off coarse-scale and vague, just life lists or maybe state lists, but with gentle, repeated urging from some more experienced naturalists over time I started becoming more precise - recording numbers, exact dates and locations, etc. I am glad I listened to those cranky old naturalists who I thought were a little too persistent and badgering at the time. :-) Today's technology does help with GPS and the ability to upload into eBird or iNaturalist (assuming the GPS is turned on or working that day - it isn't always - and that you upload in a timely manner, not sitting on your photos for years as the memory fades). If you are starting off now, I think it is a lot easier to record a lot of these data for posterity. There are just so many citizen science databases, forums, etc. that did not exist back in the day, and with more people out and about and more connected, it is sometimes easier to crosscheck your data. With that said, I can probably do better with narrative and general natural history observations. I am good with the stats like how many, when, and where, and if something piques my interest I will make a few notes, but there is a lot of life history info that is slipping through my fingers. I may have never been a master at it, but the art of taking field notes certainly seems to be fading with all the technology - the photo or it didn't happen phenomenon. But what happens when the photo is not sufficient or doesn't provide context or tell the full story?

פורסם על-ידי rkostecke לפני 5 חודשים

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