Last fall, I observed a bald eagle bathing on the lake shore. Later, I walked the beach looking for any prints the eagle might have left. Journaling about bird tracks seemed like an easy task, but it wasn’t until I compared tracks from different birds that I really learned something.

The beach was covered with tracks, mostly from Canada geese. It took some searching, but I found three footprints from a bald eagle.

Bald eagle prints: 2 center bottom, 1 in surf line (see arrow)
2 bald eagle prints, left side (below and to the left of the small gold brown leaf)

After taking photos, I sketched the clearest of the prints. Except for the comments I was making to myself so I could draw accurately, I wasn’t really noticing anything. I took one measurement and thought I was done.

Then I realized that the goose tracks were nearly as large as a bald eagle’s and wondered if there was an easy way to tell them apart. I started sketching one of the webbed footprints, and that’s when it happened.

As I drew, I discovered how dramatically different the two types of tracks were. The geese left a line of clear prints, waddling their way up the beach, toes turned in. The eagle prints were isolated, just two on top of each other, with irregularly shaped impressions with gaps and deep holes where the talons had pierced the sand.

Once I had something to compare them to, I saw the eagle prints more clearly. It was easy to identify and describe their character. For example, I noticed that the two species move very differently on land. Canada geese waddle. Bald eagles hop.

Compare and contrast is a recommended nature journaling strategy, but this was the first time I appreciated why. Instead of observing in a vaccuum, you have something similar to help you identify what details to pay attention to. The differences you notice also make it easier to generate questions.

I’ll definitely use this method again.

Do you compare and contrast in your nature journal? What did you learn?

2 thoughts on “Nature Journaling Bird Tracks: Using Comparison to Improve Observations”

    1. Thanks, but it’s not my idea. There’s a large group of people out there who nature journal (inspired by people like John Muir Laws), also art journalers, junk journalers… The ways people use sketchbooks to journal is endless! I find it really enjoyable.

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