The Daily Bucket is a place to catch your casual observations of the natural world and turn them into a valuable resource. Whether it's the first flowers of spring or that odd bug in your basement, don't be afraid to toss your thoughts into the bucket. Check here for a more complete description.
Update: Oops, I misscheduled the publishing time for this so have changed it to a Backyard Science diary. enhydra eutris has today's bucket up.
Seattle. October 14, 2011.
Not much in the way of daily sightings today, but I've been thinking about the tools we use to construct the observations we report here. I suspect each of us has our favorites - whether binoculars, cameras, references, or any of the miscellaneous things that make the job easier.
Think of this as a brainstorming session. What are your tools? Mine are on the other side of the orange frass.
On bird count days I pack up a Mexican shopping bag with bincocs, camera, notebook, pencil, one bird ID book, one insect ID book, water, snacks, and whatever extra clothing I think I'll need for the day. The daily walks in the forest are far lighter, with camera, leash, poop bags and Bill-the-Dog.
For years I used my father's binocs. His support was so important to me when I was a scrawny kid who would come home with pockets full of leaves and fossils and dead bugs. Looking through his binoculars after he died was a comfort. You've probably never heard of the brand - Manon 7x50, made in Japan around 1960. They weighed at least five pounds after a couple of hours in the field, but the optics were so clean. I left them on the back porch overnight in a raging storm. They weren't salvageable, so I put up a note on the local birding list asking for binocular recommendations. When I checked back there were 14 replies, 12 of them suggesting the Nikon Monarch 8x42. I bought a pair the next day. It took a while to get used to the narrower view, but they're lightweight, quick to focus and have a sweet ability to come in close for insects and other such things. I like them.
Canon Powershot S5IS, again bought new and a replacement for a used Nikon Coolpix, now demised, that we found on Craigslist when we finally went digital. I really loved the Nikon. It fit in my pocket and took amazing pictures without me having to think much about it. The Canon is much bulkier and doesn't have quite the clarity or simplicity I enjoyed with the Nikon, but it works for now.
-Notebook and pencil-
For years I used dime store pocket notebooks. They filled the need but ran out of pages fairly quickly. I discovered Moleskin notebooks when I won a gift certificate to a local bookstore. Now I splurge every 14 months or so on a new one, always grid lined. The one I'm using now spent some time on the street when I drove off with it on top of the car late one afternoon. It survived a little bent and with tire tracks on some of the pages. The guy who returned it refused a reward. I owe him more than he will ever know.
Pencil snob here. I have to use a mechanical drafting pencil, 0.5mm hard lead. It has a clip that fits perfectly over a dozen pages of my notebook.
-Field Guides in the field-
Ken Kauffman. Field Guide to Birds of North America. Houghton Mifflin, 2000. I have shelves of bird guides, some dating back to the early 1900's, but Kauffman is easy to carry and has photos rather than drawings. It's a good first look when I see a new bird or am confused by an old one.
Peter Haggard and Judy Haggard. Insects of the Pacific Northwest. Timber Press, 2006. I bought this earlier in the summer when I realized that I wanted to know more about the insects here. In using it I've found it limited, but it has enough information to get me started when confronted with so much that is new.
Once home, I use a lot of references, some made of dead trees and some on line.
For birds, my first go-to book is David Allen Sibley. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Knopf, 2000. Its strength is the comprehensive overview of different plumages, seasonal and developmental. If I want more I turn to a reference that was published before the advent of inexpensive color printing, Ralph Hoffmann. Birds of the Pacific States. Houghton Mifflin, 1927. Some of the species have been split or clumped since then, but Hoffmann's detailed accounts on behavior are still right on.
I'm fortunate to have access to Cornell's The Birds of North America Online through work. We're talking pages and pages of detailed, science journal level information per species here. Heaven for a bird geek. Unfortunately, it's a subscription site and the subscription is really pricey. They offer a comprehensive layman's version, All About Birds, that includes text, images, video and sound files.
For local information I go to BirdWeb: Seattle Audubon's Guide to the Birds of Washington State, especially when I'm curious about breeding ranges or migration patterns.
My insect bible is online, Bugguide. You should bookmark it if you haven't already. It offers many photos and detailed descriptions of life history, range and behavior. There's also a place where you can upload photos for ID, though you need to sign up for an account before you can do so.
I don't have to search for many of the conspicuous plant IDs nowadays, but have one great resource when I need info on plants that are less appreciated. Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Lone Pine. 1994. Trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, ferns, mosses, lichens. Even local grasses and sedges. All are covered in great detail with photos and text.
Your turn. What are your tools and/or what's happening where you are? I'll be around this morning and later this afternoon.
(I didn't link to online retailers for the books I've recommended, but suggest you look at Powells Books or your local independent bookseller if you're interested in buying any of them.)