Wildlife note taking

IMG_8716When you’re out in nature, you may stumble upon wildlife tracks and actual species. Here are some tips to record those moments.

Record habitat, time and date. Focus on key characteristics to help in wildlife identification.

For mammals, what are the general markings, facial patterns, size, and appendages such as tail length, shape and color?

For butterflies and moths, what is the wing shape, colors, markings, size, and flight pattern?

For dragonflies/damselflies, what is the overall coloration and differences between thorax and abdomen, color of the eyes and face, patterns on thorax and abdomen, color and markings on wings, and abdomen tip?

For spiders, look at the size, hair on legs or body, markings on abdomen or

cephalothorax or legs, web, eye position on cephalothorax.

For birds, take note of its plumage, obvious markings, tail and wing shape,

bill shape and size (compared to head), markings around throat and eyes, flight pattern and habitat.

For snakes, check out (within a safe distance if possibly poisonous), its general body shape, size, coloration, and patterns.

Scat, otherwise known as poop in the natural world, provides answers to who has been there. Take a photo with something else in the photo for size comparison. Dissect the scat and examines its shape (pellets, logs). You can tell a lot about wildlife by the food they eat.

Tracks in nature also tell us who has been there. Look at trail patterns, width between right/left prints and strides and measurement of tracks. Take a photo with something for size comparison.

When making notes, use descriptive terms and proper terminology for major body parts. Use sketches to enhance note taking. When writing checklists, include all species, even those that are most common.

When you have finished your observations for the day, sit down with your Field Notebook and any other items (maps, field guides, photos, etc.) pertaining to your observations. The journal is where you expand your cursory notes and memory jogs into a coherent account of the day’s observations.

squirrel at Cypress Swamp, Lafayette, Louisiana

Photo by Cheri Soileau

Here are some ways to record your findings:

  1. Name
  2. Date
  3. Weather
  4. Time – start/finish
  5. Forest type
  6. Location, general
  7. Species name
  8. Time of sighting
  9. Detailed description (size, shape, color, markings, etc.)
  10. Number of individuals
  11. Specific location of sighting
  12. Habitat
  13. Substrate
  14. Measurements of sign (scat, tracks, scrapes, trails)
  15. Tracks
  16. Behavior of observed animal
  17. Remarks

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