While I’ve been interested in nature journaling for years, I’ve struggled to develop a good journaling habit. I am lucky enough to live on a lake, which seems like an ideal place to observe nature. But in fact, most of the birds and animals I see are so far away it’s hard to make out details, even with binoculars. Cold weather and poor health have made it hard to get outside where I might get a better look. Then two pieces of advice changed everything for me.
One was from a Jack Muir Laws lecture about leveling up your nature journaling. He suggested giving yourself a project, picking a subject and then going broad or deep. An example of broad would be to document all the birds that show up at our lake. Deep would be to pick one species and learn as much about it as I could.
I immediately thought of the bald eagles that have been visiting the lake this winter. We’ve been watching them from our windows, marveling at their size and beauty. But I was still stuck. What could I possibly record about the eagles that would be useful? They were so far away!
The answer turned out to be a simple one, and it came from another video. In Doodling Diagrams, Amy Schleser gives great examples of ways to use simple diagrams to record information visually, especially when we can’t make a detailed sketch.
There’s a tree we can see from the kitchen window that eagles perch on daily. I realized I could make diagrams of where the birds sat when they were in that tree. I could do a bald eagle project after all.
I started with quick doodles of the bald eagles perched in the Point Tree, showing how many were there, and their relative positions. After a few days, I started doing more: trying to record individual markings (immature bald eagles go through several different plumages), making maps of eagles on the ice, drawing eagles when they got close enough for a good look.
The more I watched, the more I needed to record. I’m still making the same simple diagrams of the Point Tree, but I also make diagrams for other trees that I’ve identified as popular perches and do daily head counts. My theories of what the eagles are doing and why keep changing as I learn more.
I still don’t nature journal every day, but I’m much more consistent in my efforts. My project has given me something to look forward to every morning and it’s increased my awareness of what’s going on with the eagles as well as all the other birds that visit the lake. Best of all, it’s got me pondering life and looking at the world with wonder.
What are your nature journal projects? Do you use diagrams? What suggestions have helped you to increase your nature journaling?