24 March, 2019

Preparing your gear for the coming migration.

Spring has definitely sprung. The birds are singing once again and molting into their breeding plumages. Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are looking brighter, American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) are yellow once again, and I no longer need a thick winter coat to watch the birds. This means that I can carry all of the things that I need for my outdoor adventures.

Not everyone needs to carry all of the stuff that I do. I have a backpack that I bought specifically to carry all of my outdoor excursion gear. Not a big hiking backpack, but just a small one that carries the essentials. My camera, a few guides, a notebook or two, just to name a few of the things that I carry on a regular basis.

Before we get too far into the season it’s always a good idea to take stock of your gear. Do some inspections to make sure that everything is still working how it should, noting any wear and tear from the past season. It’s also a good idea to try and get the hang of new equipment that you may have acquired throughout the year before heading out into the field to document all of your findings. It’s frustrating when you have a sighting of a rare species but you haven’t mastered how to line up your camera lens with your binoculars and either miss the shot or get ones that are too blurry to use (speaking from experience).

First you should get used to using your equipment in a controlled environment. Take photos in your house, make sound recordings of you talking to yourself, draw sketches of your dog or from a field guide. Then it’s a good idea to do some light field practice. Feeder birds make great subjects for testing new techniques, plus you never know when a new one might show up so you get to work with the element of surprise as well. After you’ve done this you are ready for the field.

Once you’re in the field it’s important to take good notes, especially for a species that you’re seeing for the first time. Note color patterns, size, stance, behavior, where they are occurring, anything that you think will help you or others identify this plant or animal in the future. Don’t be afraid to make a quick sketch if you feel like it as well. Field sketches don’t have to be the greatest drawings in the world, so just get down some identifying features.

The last and most important step of field notes is to share them. If you know for sure what you’re observing then share your notes with someone who might be unsure when they see it. Share them with an expert when you yourself are unsure and need someone to verify your sighting for you. There’s no shame in asking for help with animal identification. It’s better to know exactly what it is that you may be reporting than to report something rare and start a frenzy.

Sharing my sightings has helped me a lot with my wildlife identification skills. For me, the more that I can positively identify, the more that I am likely to go out and observe. Hopefully these steps that I’ve used for success in the field will help to get you out and exploring the natural world around you as well.

Photos and Links

Rite in the Rain birders journal

External microphone adapter for recording bird sounds

Kansas Field Guides by the Great Plains Nature Center

My pack and the gear that is currently inside

Practice shots of American Robins (Turdus migratorius) in the back yard.

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