I've just risen from my computer, walked across the room to my library, and taken out an old, black, vinyl-covered, three-inch-thick, three-ringed binder from way back in my school days. It must contain a thousand pages of loose-leaf binder paper of the kind highschool students use. Groups of pages are separated by stiff boards with colorful plastic tabs attached. The green tab reads "ferns," the yellow one "insects," and the blue one "RR weeds." This latter topic reflects a special interest I had years ago when I lived in St. Louis and loved to walk along railroad tracks looking for exotic weeds.
I randomly open the notebook, find myself in the red-tabbed "birds" section, and now I type what's on that page so you can see:
My first sensation upon looking over this list is that it's really neat knowing exactly where I was on Easter Sunday morning way back on April 18th, 1976. I was visiting my parents on the farm in Kentucky. I can visualize that early morning, perhaps even before my parents presented my Easter basket -- a tradition continued far into my adulthood. I entered my old Volkswagen Beetle and drove to Cypress Creek a couple of miles away. If I think hard, maybe imagining more than remembering, I can even recall that early-spring morning, the fresh, pale green leaves unfurling on trees, the odor of moist earth from still-unplowed soybean fields along the creek...
In short, this sheet of paper is a souvenir of a time past. It evokes memories of a life and way of being that exist no more. It feels good to remember those Easter baskets, and driving in the old Volkswagen down the gravel road to Cypress Creek, as the cold air gushed through the rusted-out spot below my feet... And it's even good to see which birds I saw that day.
To tell the truth, the list itself isn't a very spectacular one. Not a single species on it can be considered rare or out of the ordinary. These are exactly the birds to be expected along a bushy, weedy creek bank in mid April, in my part of Kentucky.
However, it's also true that what I now know very largely results from my having compiled hundreds of lists similar to this one. In 1976, I was just learning which migrants arrived first. Once I'd amassed several years of lists, gradually the impressions began dawning: Yes, Black-throated Green and Hooded Warblers, and Yellowthroats, they're the "early birds," the migrating species arriving first during spring migration. If today I'd read that on that Easter Sunday I'd seen a Blue-winged Warbler -- which now I know to be a late arriver -- I'd be sure I'd made a misidentification back in 1976.
In other words, my nature study notes have always been, and continue to be, a real "tool" I use as my insights into nature keep growing, evolving, and branching into new fields of interest. It can be the same way for you.
Now I continue thumbing through my notebooks' bird section. I remind myself that by no means have my birding experiences been limited to weedy creek banks near my childhood home. Many of my lists are souvenirs of exotic places. I've birded in over forty countries, and I have lists from them all.
Ah, here's the list from the time I saw my first Chaffinch, spotted downtown near the University of Santiago de Compestela, Spain, back in 1980, during a visit with my friend Sergio. And here's a good sighting of the Gray-collard Becard, seen in southern Mexico near a town with the jaw-breaking name of Ocozocoautla, and here's the wild peacock seen next to that Hindu temple, in India, in 1996...
Therefore, for me, there are three main reasons for keeping nature study notes:
Of course, nowadays I keep my notes on the computer (and back them up fastidiously!) You might be interested in the computer-friendly ideas for organizing your notes on our Note Organization Page.
When you get some solid identifications of plants and animals in your Notebook, be sure to consider posting your IDs at the wonderful iNaturalist.Org website.