I was a primary school teacher for 35 years until I retired in 2004. Sometimes I think I should have been a statistician – or been employed in some kind of job keeping lists, figures and records. I love things like that. So it is no surprise to say that databases are heaven on earth for me. Another of my passions is watching birds. Blend the two together and I’m ecstatic. Like a hungry pelican in a fish pond.
Whenever I venture out on birding walks or drives I take my binoculars. Next – I pop a pen and small notebook in my pocket. In this notebook I record the date, place, time and list the species of bird seen or heard, often with the number seen (usually an estimate). Over the last thirty years I’ve been through dozens of those little spiral bound notebooks 11 cm x 8 cm in size – just right for popping into one’s shirt pocket. I still have most of these little books. (I actually started with a series of notebooks about twice that size – but they were too uncomfortable in my hip pocket when I sat down.)
Bird Record Books
A few years into my birding life I purchased a series of exercise books, similar to those used in classrooms. These I ruled up into columns: date, place, species name, number seen and notes about the sighting. As I started submitting records for the Atlas of Australian Birds in the late 1970s I added two extra columns: latitude and longitude. This pandered naturally to another hobby – collecting maps. (This was before GPS units). I meticulously and very neatly transferred all my rough, untidy field notes into these new books.
In the late 1980s I entered the computer world and quickly learned to develop a very useful proforma which eased the record keeping task. It looked much neater too. Now the sheets were being kept in ring folders. They now take pride of place on a bookshelf. The number of folders is quickly increasing, taking up even more shelf space. One major drawback – finding individual records relied entirely on my memory, not the most reliable retrieval system going. Enter – the database.
In the mid 1990s I purchased BirdInfo, a bird watching dedicated database programme. My passion for record keeping reached fever pitch. Out came all those old notebooks and exercise books and into the computer went all my records. Sure – it was tedious. Sure – I nearly developed RSI. Sure – it was a lot of work transferring over 20,000 records, each one requiring about six keystrokes. But the benefits were amazing. For example, I could call up a list of birds seen in October 1976 in Blogsville. Or, I could tell in seconds and with a few deft touches of the keyboard the first time that I saw a Pixellated Boatbilled Fairy-Ducklette (I just made that up – there is no such creature – not on my list anyway.)
I love the complexities of outcomes from databases. The statistical outpouring from a database can keep me happy for hours. Matching that with my passion for keeping records and birds and well – I’m in pleasureland. Yes- I’m easily pleased. But it’s not for everyone. Some birders are happy with just a few simple lists. That’s fine. You can even buy printed lists of species names where all you have to do is tick the appropriate boxes. That’s fine too. Some birders only want to look at and enjoy the vast array of beautiful birds out there. That’s very commendable – there should be more like them. Keep it simple and easy seems to make them happy. But not for me.
UPDATE: The webpage for BirdInfo is no longer available. The above link sends you to a page with Simon Bennett’s email address. I’m not sure if he is still selling the programme or not because a recent phone call from a fellow birder says he doesn’t answer emails sent to him. Sorry I can’t help you more on this matter. There are other birding databases available, so do your research.