Tips for Nature Journaling

I began journaling birds in January 2018. The previous November, I had taken a sketching class with Kieth Hansen and that was when I started drawing birds in the field. For Christmas, to encourage me to draw and observe birds more, my parents bought me The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, a book that shows the reader different techniques that are easy to use when sketching birds, mammals, and landscapes. From that book, I compiled a self-made kit with art supplies and a notebook all stored in a small messenger bag.

This is my entire kit. The journal is a Canson 8.5″x 5.5″.

My kit is made up of colored pencils, a paper blender, a ruler, a compass, and a few different erasers. I chose the Prismacolor pencil brand because of the professional quality of their pencils but they are still affordable. I went to the local art store and picked out about thirty colors of pencils including some essentials like the primary colors in Prismacolor (Process Red #994, True Blue #903, and Canary Yellow #916). The Prismacolor Col-Erase Non-Photo Blue (#20028) is another essential pencil in my kit used for outlining the shape of the bird. It is very light when put on paper so it is not visible when the drawing is finished. It can even be erased if there is a mistake while sketching.

These are all the pencils I use. I sort them by rubber banding the warm colors, cool colors, and the remaining grays, greens, and browns together.

I used this set up for the months preceding April, but when I entered the ABA Young Birder of the Year competition, I needed something different. I needed a way to organize information like the weather and date on my page. My Dad and I brainstormed different ways of displaying the information. We finally decided on having two rows of boxes from the top where the date, time, and weather would be. A species list was down the outer edge of the page and had the species code next to the number of that species. I used numbers instead of tally marks because over twenty of one species could take up lots of room on the list, and tallying one flock of Snow Geese would fill up the entire page.

Notice how the sidebar uses four-letter species code and a number next to it. I counted the birds during the trip and added the list after I stopped birding.

Once the ABA journal came in the mail, I found how often I was supposed to do one. The notebook had eighty pages and I had under six months to complete the book. So, I had to complete three or four pages in a week. The ABA does not require the entire book to be filled, only eight two-page spreads had to be complete, but I wanted to have a filled book by October. This may sound easy, but for me, transitioning from one page a week to one almost every day was a challenge. At the end of the competition, I did not have a complete book, I was a little over halfway when October first came.

When adding notes to my sketches, I try to write new observations I make about the bird or any identifying marks that can help to identify that bird in the future. Habitat and behavior notes are also very helpful if you want to go back to find a certain species. It is also good to include notes about what other bird it acts like or what marks stand out to you the most. If your subject is a rare or uncommon bird, it is vital to take good notes about it. This can help to confirm it or identify it as another bird.

Even though I did not reach my goal during the competition, I feel it has helped me Improve my observation skills and has helped me take relevant field notes. I am still trying to keep up, and hopefully, I can do one more often. Even consistantly journaling common birds can lead to discoveries of changes in their range or distribution. I hope that in the future I can learn to sketch birds more accurately and make my journaling system better so it is easeir to do a page every day.

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