A New List for a New Year

As we creep closer to the beginning of a New Year it’s time to review our lists of nature sightings for 2009 and ponder the possibilities for 2010. I admit that I’ve been inconsistent in my record keeping over the last couple of years – two young children under three means more emphasis on family. I used to keep a Life List of birds that I’d seen and, with several trips to Central America, eastern Canada, southwestern US, and the interior of BC, I think that I was close to 300 birds but don’t know for sure – I think that my last official tally was around 280. I know that there are more species that I could add to the list since then if I took the time to pour through my field books.

Rock Wren
Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus) - a problem bird for my new Life List. Do I include it because it I found it at Miracle Beach on October 12, 2009 and it was a rare sighting for Vancouver Island? Or do I let it go because I saw it "pre-list?"

So I have a dilemma – I’ve taken an interest in listing again and asked myself if it was really worth digging through the books, checking records and ticking the birds off a list. Back when I started it was a fairly simple process. When I first saw a new bird (or Lifer) I would write the date and location in my guide book. The challenge was keeping an accurate count. Was that Ancient Murrelet number 153 or 154? And, while I’ve already ticked a fair number of North American birds should I make this interesting and start fresh? Who really wants to go digging through old field books for the sake of a bird list? I’ve decided to start from scratch.

The next decision is what type of list to make. Many birders have both a Life List and a Year List. Keeping those lists separate is a challenge as well if you’re doing it on paper. And what about a Backyard Bird List? Since I’m also interested in other aspects of natural history perhaps a Plant Life List or a Dragonfly Life List would be fun to keep as well.

Fortunately there are several on-line solutions to these challenges. Here are a couple of services that I’d recommend. There are, of course, many others and if you use something different please let me know!


iNaturalist LogoiNaturalist.org is a place “where you can record what you see in nature, meet other nature lovers, and learn about the natural world.” This is the only site that I know of that allows you to list your observations of anything in nature – you can create specific lists of taxa like birds, plants, insects, fungi, etc. or just keep an overall Life List. Plus they have a nifty widget that you can use to show your latest observations on your blog page or website – very cool! All observations can pull an image from your linked Flickr account and locations are recorded using a Google Map.


  • Set up your taxa lists before hand if you’re interested in separating out your bird, plant, mushroom, insect, etc. observations into separate lists.
  • You may be able to set up a custom regional list like “BC Plants” by creating a list that isn’t associated with any taxa and then just adding your BC plant observations to it – I’m still playing around with the lists and am not sure if this will work.
  • Use this link to generate the code to create a widget for your blog.


Birdstack LogoI actually saw someone using Birdstack on their blog and I thought that it looked interesting. Birdstack allows you to create bird lists based on a wide range of criteria but probably the most useful to listers is the ability to create a list based on location (i.e. province or state, country, etc.) and/or time frame (i.e. a Year List) or Trip. Birdstack does have a lot of functionality built into it. Everything starts with a bird observation which is entered. Options to add a location and add a trip occur when recording this initial observation. These variables are used when creating a variety of different lists.

Birdstack provides some really cool ways to use your data. Locations can be connected to a Google Map. You can “stack” your list and to generate html code that will create a blog widget that shows your latest observations for that list. Birdstack also provides you the functionality to export your trip lists to a format that can be uploaded to eBird (run by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audobon Society) adding your data to a massive pool of bird observations. I like that fact that I only have to enter a trip once and then export it to eBird. Very cool!


  • The observe first, list later feature of Birdstack seems counter-intuitive but it actually works really well. Take some time to think about setting up your trips and locations. For example, I use a “Backyard” location and then set up weekly observations of birds at our feeders as week long trips. My Backyard Birds list is then based on the Backyard location criteria – it sorts out my weekly entries and just adds the new birds to this list.

BUBO Listing

BUBO ListingBUBO Listing is a world wide bird listing service based in the UK. With BUBO you create lists based on regional areas (i.e. province/state, country, world) and time frames (i.e. year, life). Once you’ve set up your list(s), inputting the data is easy and you can add your observations to multiple lists at the same time.

BUBO is a listing service – you’re just adding birds that are new to the list. A nice feature is that if the bird is already on your list when you type in its name in the data entry box it won’t show up as being available (because it is already on the list). I’m not sure, but I think that if you’re adding birds to multiple lists and one of them has a species recorded but the others don’t BUBO won’t allow you to add the species until the list with the bird already recorded is deselected.

One of the cool features of BUBO is that you can compare your standing against any of the 1100+ current members of BUBO in a variety of lists – totals are updated when you enter your observations. In addition, BUBO also provides a blog widget that creates the html code that allows you to post your latest observations and current totals of up to three lists on your website.


  • If you’ve already set up a provincial list and inputted records into it and then decide to create a country list you can import the existing provincial records into the new list when you set it up.
  • Make sure that you’ve selected all the lists that you want to add your records to when you’re entering your data – it can be confusing to find out which birds weren’t added to a missed list after data entry, especially if your list is long.

So there you have it – three (well four if you count eBird) ways to add some listing fun to your nature outings in the New Year. Get out there and get listing!

And yes, regretfully, the Rock Wren is not yet on my list. Fortunately this gives us a good excuse to plan a road trip to the Okanagan.


  1. Thanks so much for visiting and your extremely kind and thoughtful comments. I much appreciate it. Your bird photo is a marvel. You must use a long lens and much patience!

  2. Thanks Sara. The reality was a little different – this photo was taken with my Nikon 105mm (my longest lens – I really could use a decent telephoto and am still saving up for one) while I was out walking my 2 year old son. I saw the wren at the end of a parking lot at Miracle Beach Provincial Park and was able approach it quite closely to get the photograph. Even so, this image was cropped quite a bit and with the ISO fairly high I thought that it was a little too grainy – your complement is very generous! Thanks again for stopping by – I’ll definitely be visiting your blog again soon.

  3. Absolutely Pamela – if you’re saying what I think you’re saying, that every bird is important whether you’ve seen it before or not. That’s one of the pitfalls of listing: the Turdus migratorius that you’ve seen countless times before becomes just another American Robin. It takes a bit of effort to appreciate every bird whether you’ve listed it or not. However, I’m still not ready to add the Rock Wren to my Life List (currently standing at a mere 68 species) until I see another one. Regardless, I still appreciate the marvel of having seen it out of context in a place it usually shouldn’t be seen.

  4. My goodness, this is serendipity. I was going to e-mail you to ask how you tracked your Life List and now you’ve posted it all. Thank you so much for sharing your wealth of knowledge. I think I’m going to sign up for the iNaturalist service – it looks like a good one-stop recording place.

  5. Hi DB – I like iNaturalist for non-birding listing but it definitely works for birds as well. The Flickr integration is a handy feature and they’ve added the widget creation to the dashboard section of your free account. You could create several different lists that all feed into the master Life Lists so it is really flexible that way. Their support service is excellent (I think it is a Master’s project out of Berkeley). Have fun!

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  8. Not a bad idea Wesley! I’m a little stalled out right now but hoping to pick some “new” birds up this summer when we make a trip to the east coast!

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