Do you ever give yourself nature journaling homework? In this live episode of the Nature Journal Show, Marley shows us how to use birding homework to make us better nature journalers. Follow along! You will need: your nature journal, a writing utensil of your choice, a bird guide book, and your computer.
“Whether you’re in the field learning or at home learning – the nature journal is the perfect place to make your learning so much easier, your work so much better, and improve your memory so much more.”
Marley comes prepared with an agenda:
- First, he sets up his page so his information stays organized.
- Second, he uses the bird guide to draw quick sketches of the birds he wants to study. Marley’s tools of choice: Pilot Futayaku gray and black brush pen (his favorite!). Tombow brush pen in pale gray. Pentel waterbrush size large. John Muir Laws’s custom watercolor palette.
- Third, he reads the descriptions in the bird guide and adds notes to his journal. Here, Marley references the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America.
- Fourth, he listens to the birds’ songs on Dendroica and creates a sonogram of what he hears.
Why do homework this way?
Why not simply read about the birds in the guides or on a website? What purpose does it serve to write all of this down when it’s not even your own field notes? Marley has an answer for this: by writing down the information and interpreting it into your own way of thinking, you remember it better. This is not busywork – you are training your brain to remember these details so they will serve you when you are out in the field.
Marley notes that it’s important to write down your sources for this information: “Think of it as your metadata!” It is OK to copy from the book as long as you are not selling your work – but you should always credit your sources. That way, if you need to revisit or modify the information, or if someone else wants to study it too, you know where it originally came from.
A few extra tips
- When you’re doing your birding homework, don’t worry about making your drawings perfect. This is practice, and getting hung up on perfection might make it harder for you to complete the exercises.
- Some birds, such as sparrows, have different dialects depending on where they are from. For example, a white-crowned sparrow from your area might sound very different from a white-crowned sparrow who lives somewhere else, so try to find a song sample that’s from your region. If you can’t, try listening to multiple song samples from different areas and seeing where the similarities in them fall.
- Use “it reminds me of” when you are listening to bird songs. You can liken a particular note of the song to an instrument, or even to words. Many birders hear phrases inside the songs that help them to remember their rhythm and cadence.
- Listen to the song more than once. Really slow down, and use the spectrogram to help you “see” the song.
- Drink coffee.
Now that you’ve done your birding homework, go out into the field and try to use what you’ve learned! You can always go back and add notes when you’ve learned something new, or do more birding homework to further improve your skills. Interspersing homework with field study might just be the way to go. Don’t forget your binoculars!
To meet another nature journaler who is also a birder, check out Marley’s interview with Christina Baal.
If you are totally new to nature journaling, you can get started here with how to nature journal in 10 steps.