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Keeping Records

by Robin Tuck
February 1998

I’m lazy. Well, not really lazy, but I hate writing down something twice when I could be writing it just once.

Since the start of the new year, I’ve been trying to record all the birds I’ve seen each time I’ve been out, thinking that over time I would begin to learn what birds are where at what times.

For example, some birds are here all year long while others move in and out Merrill Webb introduced me to record keeping. He has kept an individual checklist for every birding outing he has taken for almost 30 years. This single fact explains why Merrill is one of the very best birders I know of; he reviews and summarizes these records regularly producing sighting lists by month and year, and by county and lat-a-lon (a method of dividing the state into areas about the same size).

I have wanted to follow Merrill’s lead in record keeping for some time now, which has led me to print and distribute various birding lists, the most recent being a monthly checklist (available from me or Merrill or the Bean Museum Gift Shop). My intent in making all these lists and having contests has been to increase the number of birders recording useful birding statistics so we could learn more about the birds right here, in Utah County and Utah in general.

But I have not had Merrill’s stick-to-itiveness. I have looked at Merrill’s system and have not been willing to follow it.

I wanted something easy, to which Merrill seems to reply, "You can’t have both, easy and the information."

Maybe I can have both. Several years ago Julie and I gave each other Palm Pilots for Christmas (it was a surprise to us and funny to our children). These little computers fit comfortably in a shirt pocket or purse and can store a bunch of information. At first, there was not enough software to allow me to record bird sightings easily enough, but that is no longer the case now, almost.

This last January, I recorded most all of my bird sightings as they occurred in a simple database, saving the bird name, count, location, time and date. The database has capabilities that make entering the count, location, time and date easy, but I still have to write in the bird name (correctly each time). In January, I had 156 bird sightings that I recorded. This is 75 different species with 156 different sightings. Most of the time, if I saw the same bird again the same day, I would not record it again, or change the count. The software does allow the data to be moved into my home computer where I can process it some more.This is not enough to mimic Merrill’s reporting, but it is an important step. I have to write a number of programs to consolidate the information and produce the reports I want, but this is doable and something I know how to do. I’ll let you know how things turn out. Maybe soon, I won’t have to record things twice anymore.