How do you keep your personal records?

In order to keep a record of what you’ve seen, chances are that you’ll keep some sort of personal file.
The formats might be

  1. Handwritten field notebook - traditional method, seen a lot with museum collections
  2. Spreadsheets - undoubtedly there are lots of these, some designed to Darwin Core standards
  3. Databases - home built using MSAccess or similar
  4. Biological Recording Applications - few in number, these tend to be country-specific such as UK’s Recorder 6 & MapMate
  5. Image management systems - though they can record the basic 4 "W"s (who, when, what & where) they are only suitable for images and data for other purposes is difficult to extract in the form of species occurrences. Example being Photool’s iMatch.

The question is: what non-online system do you use?


When I’m in the field I’ll typically take a lot of notes as I go along on the Notes app on my phone. Once home I’ll then retype everything (plus anything in my head) into a big excel spreadsheet, seems to be a fairly efficient method for me at least


In the field I use my GPS device to create waypoints or my phone to take images. Fortunately my programming skills are good enough to transfer the data stored in the gpx files or coordinates stored in the images’ exif data to my postgresql database automatically without much typing. Via the database’s “postgis” extension I can visualize my data in Qgis.
I would say I am very free to do with my data whatever I want. But it’s a very “raw’” way of handling things.


Welcome to the Forum, @berndhaynold :)


The short answer is “I don’t.” Other than photography I never felt the need to keep track of anything before/besides uploading to iNat. I guess that’s what makes me an identifier much more than an observer.


Regarding keeping my records online: at present I don’t. There are thousands of them on the National Biodiversity Network (a UK collation of species data) that have got there via national recording schemes and there are a few hundred on iRecord. But I don’t routinely put them on the web and it is something I want to do both as an archive and to make them available to others, but I am not sure what would be the best system. Both NBN and iRecord have some good features that the other lacks, and both have some drawbacks that make me want to wait for a better system to come along. But I am aging and a better system might not arrive in time.

What I would like and have asked for at NBN meetings is an online version of Recorder 3. This old database that hardly anyone uses has never been bettered in my opinion. All the investment in the last 20 years seems to have gone into databases that make it easy for naturalists to give their data to government agencies. No one has developed a system that allows the naturalist to use their own data for their own purposes, other than the kind of superficial data manipulation that can be done in a spreadsheet.


spreadsheets can do a lot nowadays and PowerBI is powerfull nowadays.
But due to travell and many equipement i try to get the stuff in the cloud as fast as possible, and after 24hours i delete most stuff offline.

Handwritten field notebook only when all other equipment fails… I have old ones but they are not easily accesible and hard to search in.

Around 2004 with something WAP for a short period and WnPDA since 2005 with Windows Mobile i think, PDA like

I remember DMAP from those days but it was rather expensive (150euro ? 220 euro)

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i switched from paper notebooks (haphazard daycounts) to somewhere in 2012 orso (i don’t remember when they started), i record as i please complete speciescounts of a day or only the specials.
the app obsmapp allows for on the spot gps locating of all my fieldrecords, whether in the Netherlands or anywhere else in the world. currently has 23000 of my records stored (all records worldwide)

In 2018 I started using -as a second recorder…but not in the field - inaturalist websiteto be able to check my Japanese (and now other foreign) records with people that hopefully know more about living organisms in that area than the few dutch admins at that know about other countries’ birds etc.
Then in 2019 I started using a 3rd site (ebird) to have another check for my japanese birdrecords as that website is curated (like
I find the system of that site quite overly complicated and imprecise (i am sorry to say this) but having my birdrecords double/triple checked weighs up to the discomfort
Sofar I have only uploaded my JP birdrecords there, I may want to add the dutch too sometime in the future. But as the are good to excellent at their job there’s no need for a backup check.



I hike each week with Fynbos Ramblers. Then sort my photos for each month for a blog post. I prefer to edit it down to what is interesting, rather than an exhaustive list. Online wins because it is so easy to search - when did I see that where ?


I was strongly influenced by reading Steve Herman’s summary of the Grinnell method of record-keeping and field notes and have been following this format, although a bit less rigorously, for about ten years now.

Briefly, I use a Rite-in-the-Rain field notebook to take notes while I’m out hiking and looking for things in the field, then transcribe my often-scribbled notes from the notebook into a Field Journal that I keep in Microsoft Word, using the format for daily entries described in the book (weather, habitat, route taken, species seen, specimens collected, etc.). I also have separate “Species Accounts” for when I have a more detailed behavior or natural history observation of a particular species (mostly vertebrates for me). It take a bit of work, but makes dealing with my photos much easier later, as everything is placed in context and I can remember where I was and what I did that day… :)

After a little research, I found that Recorder 3 is DOS program from the 90’s! I assume you must be aware of the modern versions of the same software. I have never used it myself (my own requirements seem a lot less sophisticated), but I’m curious to know what you miss most about Recorder 3.

Hand-written field notebooks, in recent years exclusively surveyors hard bound notebooks (level books) made by Elan. They fit well in a back pocket and have archive quality paper. I’ve been keeping field notes since 1977, not always in these particular notebooks, but I can usually pinpoint where and when I saw something. It also helps me learn and remember species, places, habitat, etc.


I observe only by taking photos. At home I dismiss all useless photos, the remaining photos are transferred to my computer. Each species (known or still to be identified) gets an own directory. In a separate log file each species is described with the name of the photo directory, species (genus, family) name(s), place and time of observations, identification when and where and by whom, upload platforms (including my own webpages), and so on. The log file is an ordinary text file which is filled, edited, searched, and so on by using an ordinary but powerful text or program editor.

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My personal records are photos only, which I keep in a harddrive. For arthropods the photo folders are sorted mostly by order, and for vertebrates eg. mammals, reptiles, birds etc. they are sorted by class. The description just includes the ID. Within these folders there is no further organization, I just dump the photos in.

Hey, I’ve found my peeps!

I was in Steve Herman’s ornithology course, and we were trained to use the Grinnell method. I still keep it up. Not sure in what sense you mean “a bit less rigorously;” about the only deviation I do, even twenty years later, is that I do not keep separate species accounts of everything, but only of specific taxa that particularly interest me.

For those who don’t know: the Grinnell method, pioneered by Joseph Grinnell, consists of carrying a small notepad in the field, taking real-time notes on your location, route, and the taxa you encounter and what they are doing. Then, after returning from the field, transcribing those notes into a narrative written in complete sentences, one narrative per field day, on good paper, with permanent ink. Additional sections in the back are “species accounts,” in which descriptions of each encounter with the given species are written. I also include tables of measurements here if I took them. At the end of the year, that year’s pages are bundled into one volume and a new volume is begun for the next year. I found a DIY way of binding my pages, so I do that; other people prefer to keep them in ring binders. In the latter case, you keep a separate ring binder for each year. For those who collect specimens, there is also a “Catalog” page(s) at the very back, where the information needed for proper specimen labels is recorded. (This was probably more important in Grinnell’s time than in ours.)

I come from a generation who can write notes with a pencil faster than type them on a smart phone, although I have used my smart phone if I forget my pencil and notepad.


I have a copy of Recorder 6 that I bought in about 2008 but I should start by saying I have not used it for at least a decade and have not kept up to date with improvements, so if any of my criticisms no longer apply, I would like to hear. That also means I can’t remember all the aspects I don’t like about it.

In the link you provide, you’ll see it says R6 is the “ultimate tool for those entering, collating and exchanging records” - so it is fine for formatting them and passing them on, but makes no claims to being a useful database for holding and interrogating records.

The biggest problem I recall is the species dictionary. In Recorder 3 (good Recorder) there is one species list covering everything from algae to birds. Each species has a code that places it in its taxonomic position. It has its national status (Common, Endangered etc.) and space for a paragraph describing its ecology to which you can add literature references so you build up a bibliography for the species. Every few years an updated species dictionary would be issued and if you didn’t want to wait, there is the option of adding new species yourself.

In Recorder 6 there are dozens of species lists, some covering a taxonomic group, some based on a particular book such as a Red Data Book, some consisting of a particular organisation’s checklist. So if you want to enter a record of the beetle Elmis aenea, you will be offered five species lists from which to select it. And Recorder 6 doesn’t recognise that they are all the same species. But R6 is not consistent. The hoverfly Platycheirus clypeatus has gone through several splits in the last 30 years so the name means different things in different checklists. But Recorder 6 treats them all as equivalent.

Recorder 6 has no equivalent of the species description and bibliography. The most annoying aspect of the R6 species dictionaries is the lack of an overall taxonomic code, so if you want a list of species for a nature reserve, you can’t get it in taxonomic order.

I can’t remember all the other problems. Simple jobs like getting a list of species for a site take a few key strokes in R3 to get a list on the screen, whereas R6 requires you to open what they call Report Wizard. I went on a training course and by the end of the weekend we had all agreed, including the tutor, that it was not fit for purpose. The water beetle recording scheme switched from R3 to R6 and went back to R3.

I am aware that Recorder 3 is difficult to run on modern computers. My laptop is 13 years old and uses Windows 2000. When the laptop packs up, I worry that all the effort of inputting my data will have been a waste of time, hence my wish to transfer to a modern equivalent.


If you need to switch to a more modern computer, you might be able to use a DOS emulator to keep the old software running. I have never used it myself, but DOSBox is a free, open-source project that works on all the main platforms. It seems to be quite popular and well-maintained - probably because many computer enthusiasts use it to run old DOS games. I have no idea whether it would be possible to run something like Recorder 3 on it, but since it’s free, it might be worth giving it a try.

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There are quality emulators for nearly every old OS, and many of them are free. Assuming you’re using Windows or Linux, not sure about MacOS. So if you really like your older programs, you can always find a way. The issue would be the ability to export data out of the emulation in a way it would be readable by other modern computers.

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Mostly notebooks and photos. I still use notes a lot even with tools like eBird make using notebooks obsolete, I still like using them.

Most of the time I need to keep records is when I’m doing tree inventories for work. I used to use a clipboard and paper, and that is still a perfectly valid backup plan. At some point I made an effort to go paperless and can now do it all on my iPhone. The Numbers app is sort of a spreadsheet, but includes the ability to make forms (maybe Excel does that now too?). With the app on my phone and on my MacBook, I use iCloud to keep both synced. This is beneficial in several ways:

  1. Saves paper/trees.
  2. Constant backups as I go. If my phone dies or breaks or gets lost or stolen, the data is already safely copied/synced to the computer at home. Of course, this requires a cellphone network connection with passable signal to work. Working off-line obviously negates this benefit.
  3. No more sitting down with a pile of paper forms at home afterwards doing data entry which saves me time and therefore saves my clients money.
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