Why Keep a Journal?
Scientists, naturalists, and wildlife enthusiasts keep journals to help them remember what they have seen. Many things may happen when you are out in the wild. The purpose of the journal is to record your observations for later reading. If you do a good job, you may discover exciting patterns emerging. These patterns are what usually lead to new discoveries about the world around us.
Selecting a Journal
I have found that small, unlined sketchbooks with a hard cover work best. The journal should be small enough to fit in a daypack, but large enough you can draw pictures and comfortably write in it.
Many people write in two journals at a time. I carry a journal with me in my backpack that I can jot down quick notes and illustrations while I’m out in the field. This journal tends to get dirty and a bit beat up. I write fast since I expect to be the only one reading my backpack journal.
I keep a second, nicer journal at home. After my outing into the wild, I transfer all of my notes from my backpack journal into my nice journal at home. Good journals may be found at: large bookstores, art stores, or museums.
What do I write in a Journal?
This is the fun part. What you actually write in your journal depends on what you are interested in.
You might like reptiles or other animals, plants, rocks, weather, or even the stars in the night sky. Any of these are great topics for you to write in your journal.
If you are interested in what certain animals eat, you may sit for long periods of time watching a particular animal and recording what it eats. You may draw pictures of the food items or even press leaves from the plants they are eating in the pages of your journal. You may be interested in the different animals seen during a hike. In this case it is more important writing down information you can use later to identify the animals.
You may be surprised what you have already forgotten by the time you have gotten home. The key to a good journal is in the details. Not only write in detail about what you are interested in, but also the time of day, the temperature, the weather, and specifics about the habitat that day. Insignificant details jotted down at the time may be the essential clue to an answer you have been searching for.
You also may include information you learn about animals or nature while visiting a zoo or nature center. A trip to the zoo is a great way to see lots of animals from all over the world and a trip to a nature center is a great way to see animals from your own neighborhood!
You may have a question about an animal or other subject that you could find the answer to in a book at the library. After you have found your answer, include it in your journal along with the bookss title and author.
Don’t feel that you have to stick to objective observations. Include a funny thing that happened, your feelings or your thoughts, maybe even write a poem or a song. The most interesting reading later on tend to be the author’s reaction. The next great scientific find may start with your thoughts!
So, you are no Leonardo or Picasso, fear not! Check out the book The Voyage of Beagle by Charles Darwin. You may agree that many of the pictures in his journal were not great works of art. They weren’t meant to be. Most drawings are used as reminders on how something looked. Drawings are essential, especially when you need to remember exactly what color the stripes were, or how long the tail was.
Don’t forget to illustrate landscapes and habitats. Include sections of trail maps, and draw your own maps. Pictures may also be used to describe animal behavior and movements.
Photographs are also helpful. I take my digital camera with me on outings. Print small pictures on photo paper and glue them directly to journal pages. Use picture safe glue or archive safe photo tape (found in the scrapbook aisle in your local arts and crafts store).