TFTT: Baffled by Buffles

The best nature journal you have is the nature journal you have on you.

TFTT: Baffled by Buffles

Tales from the Trail (TFTT) is a series I began in May 14, 2023. You can read more about its origins here.

Our first Bufflehead encounter occurred in late 2021, when my husband and I spied these new-to-us ducks during one of our daily walks. They quickly became our favorite ducks for their comically round heads and beautiful iridescence—and almost as quickly as we discovered them—they disappeared for another year.

In late 2022, we spotted the Buffleheads again. I had just purchased a spotting scope and wanted to try to view them more closely and hopefully, even snag a photo. The next day, I ventured out with my spotting scope to do some Bufflewatching, but they had already left for another year.

We realized shortly thereafter that Buffles might not linger for very long in our area before heading off to their next destination, and we considered ourselves lucky to have glimpsed them at all. This has led to us to keep a watchful eye for their annual return once we near winter and temperatures begin to dip.

This winter, I was nearing Mile 4 of a trail run when I crested a hill and saw what appeared to be a flock of Buffleheads in the distance, but they were too far away for me to be able to confirm with a high degree of confidence. I didn't know what the ducks with the black heads and white cheek stripes were, but they appeared to be floating astride two other ducks with the characteristic white, round heads seen on Buffleheads:

I didn't know what the ducks with the black heads and white cheek stripes were, but it looked like they might be amongst Bufflehead ducks.

Luckily, I had my nature journal handy, and with careful study, I was able to confirm the sighting. This group was comprised of all Buffleheads, at varying stages.

I returned here many more times throughout the winter and early spring to track their stay, glad to have my journal with me, even when I couldn't dwell for more than a few minutes per session.

The more time I spend on the trail capturing life's little vignettes, the more I am reminded of how the best tools we have are the tools we have on us. Because of this little journal's small form factor, I've been able to capture moments I might not have been able to otherwise capture while on a long run simply because I had it with me.

Small sketchbooks are great little companions to stash in a backpack, purse, glovebox, bike bag, your pocket, etc. for quick use. They don't need to replace your main sketchbook if you prefer a larger format, but they're handy to have around for those moments when you want to capture an impromptu nature journaling subject, but don't have your larger sketchbook at-hand.

This small format is also well-suited for life's little moments, as they have just enough space to jot down the big ideas quickly before moving on. They're all you really need to get you noticing, wondering, and engaging with your subject, and they can serve as a valuable resource for identifying species later when you can do a deeper dive and compare notes.

So, give it a try! If you have a little notebook lying around which hasn't seen much use lately, consider adding it (and your favorite writing instrument) to your bag or sticking it in your pocket before heading out on your next errand or walk. You might be surprised how much more interesting the world becomes when you're able to record it on-the-spot.