Keeping track of your sightings

Listing is the act of keeping a list of all birds that you have seen. This in its simplest from could be just making a tick next to the bird in the guide, to keeping full lists for each trip.

Most areas of the world have been divided into defined birding areas for which there are well documented and published lists. Field guides also are published along with these areas to ensure that the book contains the possible birds to be found in that area. It is important to note that these are purely manmade borders and many species ranges extend beyond these areas, and some birds are even found globally. But, it is important to know that the lists for areas are tightly controlled, and when a vagrant enters an area, there is usually huge excitement over this rarity, especially if it is a new bird for a region. Adding the bird to the list is based on submissions to that regions Rarity Committee, or similar body, and only on their acceptance of the record, is the new species added.

Please take time to acquaint yourself to your regions Rarity Alert system, as you might one day find a rare vagrant and will need to report it, but at the least you will want to know of these birds to go and look at them yourself. In South Africa it is managed by Trevor Hardacker – South African Rare Bird News

Most people starting out often feel that they do not want to keep a list, and just simply want to look at the birds. If you are keen on this pastime, then I urge you to at a minimum keep a list of the birds you have seen with a date and place. Somewhere along the line you are going to want to keep better records, or just simply want to have a reminder of where and when you first saw a certain bird.

Most field guides today have some form of checklist in the back of the book, with the bird’s name and space for a date and location. I however still prefer to write this information next to the bird on the illustration or description page, as you will see the details when looking up the bird in the book.

I also keep an Excel Spreadsheet with the details, as in this I can keep more information, such as better detail of the location, if I have photographed the bird etc.

Some birders also become listers, who start keeping much more detailed lists of various things. They could be breaking down a region by country (if the regions spans countries) or listing a country by province, state or county. Many listers start keeping records of birds in their garden, birds seen in specific reserves or national park, or detailed lists for each trip, including the numbers of certain species seen. Listing is very much up to the individual, and the level of detail that they want to go into.

One of the listing activities that have an extended benefit is participation in Citizen Science projects. There are quite a number of them across different regions, mostly universities or ornithological institutions. In Southern African, and extending to the rest of Africa is the BirdMap project (Formerly SABAP2) that has been run by the Animal Demography Unit in various stages since the mid 1990’s, tracking bird populations and movement through ordinary birders that submit their trip and sighting lists to the project. The activity of providing data to the BirdMap is colloquially called atlassing

Listing over the years have also become more high-tech. I am not always convinced that it has become easier, as ticking off on a paper list, still seems one of the easiest ways to note your sightings. However with the administration of atlassing, and also having the ability to keep your records automatically in a central place, using mobile technology to capture sightings, things have certainly improved. The most popular one for atlassing in South Africa is Birdlasser  , but there are some others such as G-bird  and Lynx Bird Ticks. There are also apps like Konkoit, with global lists.


Listing is a fun part of bird watching and helps to add structure to your trips and sightings. As a good friend once said to me: ”Listing keeps me happily busy with my passion during the times that I cannot be out birding.”