Packing for a Birding Workshop

I just got confirmation a few weeks ago that I, along with nine others, will be attending the inaugural Young Ornithologists’ Workshop at the Beaverhill Bird Observatory (BBO) in Tofield, Alberta in early August.

In contrast to my Long Point Bird Observatory workshop (2012) and internship near LPBO at The Tip (2013) in Ontario, I’ll be driving to Beaverhill (which is about 90 minutes away), so I’ll be packing a little differently; here’s my packing post from 2013. Since I’ll be a Team Leader at BBO as well as a participant, I thought a packing post might be helpful for some of the young birders and anyone else who might be attending a similar birding or naturalist workshop, especially those who might not have camping experience or who might be looking for new camping gadgets and gear.

My first piece of advice is to pack light, but pack smart. There’s nothing more frustrating than overpacking and then having to haul everything, especially the unnecessary items, around. Especially if the trip is short, keep your packing list to a minimum.

Clothing

Don’t bring your best clothes. Bring things that can get dirty and possibly even ripped or torn (think thorns, branches, and maybe barbed wire fences) and think layers, no matter what the season. In Alberta, even in the summer the early mornings and evenings can be cool, and extra layers are also helpful against mosquitoes and ticks. Polyester and other fast-drying tops and bottoms (including underwear and socks) are great if you need to wash anything. I’m also going to bring my microfiber towel that absorbs a lot of water but dries quickly; my mother found it on Amazon.ca. AT BBO, there’s the possibility of going on the water and maybe swimming during the workshop, so don’t forget to bring a swimsuit.

Bring some warmer layers just in case — a fleece top, heavier socks, a winter hat, a neck gaiter, and a light pair of gloves. Inexpensive nitrile garden gloves are good; they’re waterproof and give you a good grip for binoculars and cameras. My mother swears by the selection, quality, and price at Peavey Mart/Main Street Hardware stores.

For rain gear, I’ve had a women’s L.L. Bean Trail Model rain jacket for the past few years. It’s made from waterproof TEK2.5 ripstop nylon with a ceramic coating and is both waterproof and breathable, which is nice when you’re in it for hours at a time. It’s also light enough to wear in the summer. It has a hood, packs down to nothing, and there are versions for women, men, and kids. Everyone in my family has one and finds them very useful on the farm. The exchange rate with the U.S. is a little better now, and while the price of L.L. Bean items can be high for Canadians without a sale, they don’t charge additional shipping fees. (Full disclosure — L.L. Bean is a recent sponsor of my segment on Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds radio show, but all of the L.L. Bean items I own were bought by my mother long before the sponsorship began.)

I like wearing baseball caps for rain and sun and have a variety from the Long Point Bird Observatory and Cornell Lab of Ornithology; besides the protection they offer, their sale supports bird conservation organizations. However, especially if you have shorter hair, ball caps don’t provide a lot of shade protection for ears or the back of the neck, so you might want a hat with more coverage.

Bonus points if your shoes or boots are waterproof or water resistant, especially if you’ll be spending any time in the mud. In addition to a pair of lightweight, waterproof hiking boots, especially if you’re travelling by vehicle, I’d recommend tossing a pair of rubber boots in the trunk, just in case. The boots I wear almost year-round, except in the coldest winter weather, are women’s Ropers, which are leather with a forged steel shank and double-stitched seams; you can buy them at UFA farm supply stores in Alberta, or at Lammle’s western wear. They’re not waterproof though, and they can be heavy, so I ‘ve been considering a new pair of Keen hiking boots. And I will put in a plug for Smartwool or Thorlo socks.

As for bottoms, I usually wear jeans instead of shorts because of ticks, mosquitoes, thorns, and the possibility of barbed wire. However, since my 4H NWT trip last summer, I’ve become a fan of MEC ripstop nylon convertible pants — they’re light, breathable, easy to wash and fast to dry, convert to shorts when needed, fit well, and very comfortable. And lighter than jeans. You can find them made by different companies, including (I believe) Columbia, which you can find at sporting goods stores, such as Cabela’s, Bass Pro, and Sport Chek.

Bedding

Temperatures in Alberta are cool at night even in the summer, so bring a sleeping bag that is rated for a pretty low temperature. Sleeping on the ground can be uncomfortable, so an air mattress or a sleeping pad makes for more restful sleep. For the NWT trip last summer, I was going to take a pad but at the last minute borrowed an old air mattress from my aunt and uncle. The mattress inflated with a pump which wasn’t that much work, but the self-inflating mattresses others had were better — lighter and much less to carry. My mother just bought a lower priced MEC reactor sleeping pad for my brothers and me to use this summer, and it seems pretty comfortable. Don’t forget a pillow and maybe a small extra blanket (preferably fleece/microfibre in case it gets wet).

Toiletries/Personal Items:

I’m not going to mention much here because everyone has particular preferences. I have fair skin and burn if I’m not careful, so sunscreen is imperative. And bug spray! Of course, soap and shampoo (and possibly conditioner), but if water access is limited, dry shampoo works very well; brands I’ve found that work well and can be found easily are Batiste, Not Your Mother’s, and Aveeno dry shampoos. Baby wipes can also come in handy for a variety of uses when water is in short supply; and a washcloth or two for when water is available (microfiber rather than cotton, so it dries quickly — if you can’t find them in the bath department, look in the household cleaning section.) Less is definitely more when it comes to toiletries. Also, try to avoid any highly scented products to help keep the mosquitoes away. Water bottles are a necessity and if you aren’t flying, bring a few extras and fill them at home before you leave.

Since we’ll be camping for a week, bring a small amount of any medicine/first aid items you’d like to have on hand: bandaids, Advil or Tylenol, Vitamin C for a sore throat, Tums, antibacterial ointment like Polysporin, tweezers for tick removal, antihistamine tablets (like Benadryl) in case of allergic reactions to plants or insects, and so on.

Camping Tech:

This will be my first time camping with a phone, and since we’ll have limited electricity, I’m bringing a car charger, our Eton BoostTurbine Portable Charger with a hand crank, and a solar charger.

At Long Point we woke before sunrise to set up the mist nests and in retrospect, a headlight instead of just a flashlight would have been very helpful. My youngest brother swears by headlamps for chores in the winter; he has a Fenix HP 300 as well as a Boruit (5000 lumens). The Boruit is fairly inexpensive and available from Amazon.ca. Decide how much light you need or want, and how much you’re willing to spend.

I would also recommend at least a pocket knife, or a Swiss Army knife, Leatherman, or similar multi-tool.

A small backpack for day trips is useful, especially if you’ve packed everything else in a larger pack.

Birding:

Binoculars are a must, but if you don’t have a pair, ask around and you may be able to borrow some from a friend or acquaintance. If you’re searching for any items, consider posting to your local birding listserv as many members are willing to help young birders.

If you have a spotting scope, it can be a great piece of equipment to bring. While it can be bulky, the views of far-off birds are all worth the weight. If you don’t have a scope, though, don’t worry. Most bird observatories have one and will lend it out to the young birders attending the workshop or camp.

Notebooks are an easy way to keep track of your notes, observations, and sketches — I learned at Long Point that if it isn’t written down, it doesn’t count! Bring pens, pencils (small Ikea pencils are great!), coloured pencils, a pencil sharpener (or penknife), erasers, and notebooks. BBO will supply notebooks (Long Point did as well), but if you like Rite-In-The-Rain notebooks, you can find them at Peavey Marts in Alberta.

Decide before you start to pack if you really want to carry your camera around everywhere, and whether you’re going to take lots of photographs or just the occasional snap. This will affect what you pack. If you are bringing anything that needs batteries, bring extra batteries and/or make sure that your batteries are fully charged before leaving home. Also bring enough, or extra, empty SD (memory) cards. You might also want to bring a new clean plastic bag for your camera and/or scope in case you’re out all day in the rain.

This might sound counter-intuitive for a stay at a bird observatory, but I suggest not bringing a field guide, since they’re usually heavy and most observatories have a shelf of field guides available to use. You might also want to consider some field guide/birding apps, which you can download to your mobile device before you get to the workshop. I recommend the eBird Mobile app (free iTunes and Google Play), Birdseye North American (free), Merlin Bird ID (free), Bird Codes (free), and the Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America ($19.99). For more about birding apps and birding with your phone, here’s a post I wrote earlier this month.

Miscellaneous:

I’d also suggest a variety of plastic bags, from smaller Ziploc bags for toiletries to larger garbage bags (the clear kind are good for scopes) for your backpack, scope, sleeping bag, and delicate electronics that should be kept dry.

Some stores my family and I like where we’ve had good luck finding sturdy and waterproof clothing and equipment, for birding, camping, farm chores, and country living:

MEC (Canada)

Peavey Mart/Main Street Hardware (Canada)

L.L. Bean (US)

Cabela’s (Canada)

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If I’ve missed anything, or you’ve found something to be very useful for birding/nature camps or workshops, please leave a comment below.

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A Yellow Warbler we banded at LPBO ,and I imagine that we’ll be banding many of them at BBO too!

Smartphone Birding

In the past few years, smartphones have made big gains into birding since one small device can now be used to share information, take photos, record songs, and supplement or even replace printed field guides. There are so many birding apps and products available now that I thought it might be helpful to share some favourites.

Many of the major field guide publishers have created app versions of their books. While I’m always on the hunt for free or inexpensive apps, good birding ID apps can can get expensive, though they are well worth the price considering that you’re getting a whole field guide that takes up virtually no space, and weighs only as much as your phone. You get text as well as search functions, range maps, illustrations, and multiple songs and calls in the palm of your hand. There are also great apps, often free, not specifically meant for birders but which can be very useful in the field and handy to have.

A good list of bird apps can be found hereand there are some more in this past post here. Although the Collin’s Bird Guide app covers European birds, it’s my absolute favourite. I even use it for looking up species that can be found in North America. It’s well designed, with comprehensive information, and the functions and features are top-notch.

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A good North American equivalent is the Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America. The app hasn’t been updated since last May, so hopefully a new version is in the pipeline with updated taxonomy, new species, and some of the changes from the second edition of the printed book.

The BirdsEye app helps find nearby birds by showing you which ones have been reported to eBirdand also shows birding hotspots from all over the world. This was the app I used most during my Banff trip in January, because it helped me to find lots of new species and excellent birding locations.

Great to pair with the BirdsEye app is the eBird Mobile app, available for free at both the App and Google Play stores. The eBird Mobile app lets you submit your birding checklists from the field in an easy format.

Raptor ID app was just released in February by HawkWatch International and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The app covers 34 species of North American diurnal raptors with almost 1,000 photos, videos, range maps, links to interactive seasonal eBird maps, and vocalizations for each species.

The Merlin Bird ID app by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is the perfect app for young or beginning birders who are looking for an interactive way to ID birds. Users answer five questions about the bird in question, and then the Merlin app provides a list of possible matches. The app includes songs and calls, as well as multiple photos for each species covering 400 species across North America. The app is at the App and Google Play stores for free.

I like tracking my movements when birding to note the distance and length I bird. I’ve found that exercise apps are the best for this, and the two I use the most are MapMyRun and Strava.

For counting gulls at landfills or Snow Buntings in a field on your Christmas Bird Count circle, a tallying app can make counting a breeze. There are various apps available for iOS and Android devices. The one I use is called Tally Counter.

Orienteering apps are very useful for birding, especially if you want to know the latitude and longitude for adding to your eBird checklists or field notes. The free Coordinates Lite app is good for plotting both. If you need more in an orienteering app, try Spyglass, which has a high-tech viewfinder, milspec compass, gyrocompass, tactical GPS, speedometer, sniper’s rangefinder, and inclinometer among other things. For birding, use the apps to determine your distance from a bird or to find the precise location of a rare bird.

When I’m away from my laptop, I use the Inoreader app to keep up to date with the birding blogs I follow. Some other RSS apps are Feedly, Flipboard, and Bloglovin’ which are free and available for Apple and Android devices.

I don’t do much blogging through my phone, but I have the WordPress app downloaded for the times I’m away from my laptop. Blogger also has an app. I’ve found the WordPress app bit wonky but it’s good in a pinch.

Smartphones are perfect for recording bird calls for identification purposes and submitting sound recordings to databases like Xeno-Canto. You can use your phone’s default recorder, but for better quality recordings the RØDE REC app is $8.49 at the App store. For capturing high-quality sounds, try an external compact mic.

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A Clark’s Nutcracker photo I posted on my Instagram account

For birders interested in pairing optics and smartphones, digiscoping is an ever-growing activity. I’ve written an introductory post about this photography technique and the photo editing apps you can use to help improve your photos.

With a phone, social media platforms are always at hand making it easy to stay up to date with rare bird alerts, Facebook bird groups/pages, and birding Twitter accounts. Instagram is also a great app for sharing bird photos and seeing what others are posting. I post some bird photos to my general Instagram account and some of my favourite birding IGs are kojobirder, lovingfornature, petersownbirds, nickparaykoimages, and phoneskopebirding to name a few. You don’t need an Instagram account or a smartphone to follow someone’s account.

If you have any apps to recommend, please let me know in the comments.

A Crash Course in Digiscoping

I started digiscoping several years ago with my Swarovski scope, point and shoot Canon camera, and a homemade adapter. Now that I have an iPhone, I’ve been using it for digiscoping both handheld and with adapters. With some practice, determination, and a little luck you can get some really great photos.

My homemade adapter,IMG_4467_2

Digiscoping is a photography technique using a camera with a spotting scope or binoculars to take pictures. The word “digiscoping” is a combination of “digital camera” and ”spotting scope”. Digiscoping started out with DSLR cameras, but advances in smartphone cameras and sensors have made digiscoping incredibly easy with a camera that many have with us all the time. So often, the best camera is the one that is closest to hand.

For handheld digiscoping, extend the eyecup on the scope to provide some “relief” for the phone; this helps focus the camera and also prevents scratching the scope’s lens. Hold the camera back until you see the point of light through the scope, then slowly move the phone down until the bird or whatever you’re photographing comes into focus on the camera. Once you have the phone in position, zoom in a little and tap the screen to focus.

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A Snowy Owl digiscoped with my Swarovski scope, 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and Phone Skope adapter

Using a digiscoping adapter eliminates the whole process of aligning both camera and scope and makes it much easier to keep the phone in place for an extended period of time. Many companies make adapters for their scopes, including Swarovski, Kowa, Opticron, and Meopta. And PhoneSkope makes adapters for almost every make and model of phone and scope. Viking Optical, NovaGrade, SnapZoom, and Carson Optical make universal adapters which are great for digiscopers who have various phones or scopes, or who bird with others who want to get digiscoped photos. Universal adapters, however, do require adjustments in the field.

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A Black-capped Chickadee digiscoped with my Swarovski scope, 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and Phone Skope adapter.

Vignetting is the dark circle around your view through a scope or binoculars. In digiscoping, vignetting can be eliminated by increasing the magnification on the scope or camera until you no longer see the dark edges. It can also be edited out in iPhoto or Photoshop or whatever you use to crop images.

Smartphones are particularly good for taking photos in low light, but the quality of your optics still has a big impact on your photos. A scope with good light-gathering ability is optimal for photos taken at dusk or on an overcast day. Try to have the sun at your back when digiscoping as this will ensure good light on the subject. Backlit photos can be very nice as well, so try both types of lighting.

Practice using your camera’s exposure adjustments. If you tap where the image is brightest, the iPhone will self-adjust to the correct exposure. If you are photographing a subject that’s a little too dark or too bright and the camera doesn’t accurately guess the exposure, use the slider to make adjustments by dragging your finger up and down the screen. You can lock the exposure by holding your finger until you see “AF/AE Lock”.

While the iPhone camera works well, if you want more control over your camera and photos, try the Manual, and ProCamera, and Camera+ apps.

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A Black-capped Chickadee digiscoped with my Swarovski scope, 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and Viking Optical Universal adapter

Camera shake is a terrible problem for many of us. Anything that shakes your setup will greatly increase the risk of blurry, or unfocused photos. Many people don’t realize that the headphones that come with the iPhone (the volume buttons) can act as a remote shutter release. This is a great technique to use if you want to reduce contact with the phone. There are also remote shutter releases that can control your iPhone camera via Bluetooth or use voice commands to take photos with Android devices.

If your photos need some help, try photo editing apps. Upload photos to apps like PicTapGo, SnapSeed, or Hipstamatic to make minor adjustments. These apps can fix and enhance contrast, exposure, and sharpness quickly and easily. Instagram can also turn a lesser quality photo into something great with a filter and some editing. For videos, hold your phone horizontally to take video as most uploading sites, such as YouTube and Vimeo, are designed for horizontal clips.

I would love to see your digiscoped photos, so please link to yours in the comments below!

Holiday Gifts for Birders

The holiday shopping season seems to have arrived, and it’s time to start thinking about what to get the birder in your life. Here are some of my picks for this year, based on what I’ve received myself and what I’d like to get!

SNOWtoque

I’m a women’s size small, so finding bird-related clothing that fits me well used to be a challenge, until Paul Riss at PRBY Apparel in Ontario started designing very artful, well-designed, clothing in a range of sizes, not just unisex. My favourite birding pieces are the Snowy Owl toque (which my mother got me last year  for Christmas) and the Gray Catbird t-shirt. If you’re looking for some cool birding apparel, head over to the PRBY Apparel website.

 

One of my favourite yearly gifts are birding/bird photography calendars. My mother usually gets 12312373_10100370719862427_1951080304_n me a calendar by David Sibley, but this year I’ve ordered one from Calgary photographer, Daniel Arndt. Daniel writes at the Birds Calgary blog and is an amazing photographer. If you’re interested in a calendar and in supporting a local birder, visit Daniel’s Facebook page or email him at birdscalgary AT gmail DOT com to place an order.

Owlguide

 

In October, the Peterson Reference Guide Series released a new guide by Scott Weidensaul, covering all 39 species of owls in North America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The Peterson Guide to Owls is an extremely comprehensive guide with 340 colour photos of every species. It features information about ID, habitat, calls, nesting, behaviour, and very accurate range maps. This new book was one of my first holiday presents this year, thanks to Ray Brown!

Speaking of Ray, his radio show Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds got me hooked on Droll Yankees bird feeders. This past spring and summer I put out a Droll Yankees Hummingbird Window Feeder which attaches to the glass with suction cups. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds visited the feeder all through the summer and seemed to prefer that feeder over the one in front of the house. This would make a perfect gift for anyone who’d like the chance to learn more about birds and birding, and it’s great for kids.

kingfisher Artist Louise De Masi has some really lovely and accurate watercolours and acrylic bird prints and paintings in her Etsy shop. She’s an Australian artist and while many of her pieces of Australian birds, a number feature North American and European birds as well. This European Kingfisher is one of my favourites as it reminds me of the ones I saw in France earlier this year.

For birders wanting a “compact” and more portable version of The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, check out the Warbler Guide app which has all the information from the book plus more. The app is a terrific for birders who love warblers. You can purchase it at the App Store, or give a gift card for the iTunes Store or Google Play.

Albertabirdfeeding

For my Alberta readers, the new Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide by Alberta biologist Myrna Pearman has just been published. The book has been updated and revised since the first edition was published in 1991. The new guide covers feeding birds in all seasons, how to deal with unwanted visitors at your station, bird feeding myths, and much more. The guide is geared for Alberta, but much of the information is useful for anywhere in the country and the Northern U.S. (Full disclosure: I have a photograph in the book and will be receiving a copy from Myrna as compensation.)

Cornelllab

 

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has developed a new pocket-size waterfowl ID series, centred on picking out patterns of white and dark in common waterfowl and duck-like birds in North America. The three laminated foldout ID guides — The Basics, Dabbling & Diving Ducks, Sea Ducks & Others — focus on identifying waterfowl based on the overall shape of the bird and where the patches of white are located. The foldouts are $7.95 U.S. each, but if you purchase all three, shipping is free from The Cornell Lab’s Store, Wild Birds Unlimited at Sapsucker Woods.

WarblerscolouringColouring books for adults are all the rage now, and Ontario birder and artist Sarah Rupert has created two colouring books — Warblers and Owls. Each book has 20 pages to colour, and features 21 species of wood warblers and Great Gray, Snowy, and Eastern Screech Owls. You can find her colouring books and other works of art at her Etsy store.

Gift memberships to Bird Studies Canada, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the American Birding Associationyour local naturalist society, or any other birding/nature group make for a great gift. With all of these groups, you’ll join a community of like-minded people, receive various publications and exclusive member information, and you’ll also be supporting a good cause.

 

Swans and Digiscoping

Our yearling heifers have been on pasture 45 minutes away from our farm since June. Every couple of days, we check on them to make sure none has crawled through the fence or needs medical help. I checked them on Saturday and enjoyed driving around the countryside on a beautiful fall day. I brought along my scope, Canon SX50 HS camera, new Viking Optical Universal digiscoping adapter and new Phone Skope Bluetooth Shutter release.

The heifers are well trained and expect treats, so they all came running toward me as soon as they saw the truck. I gave them their hay which they all enjoyed.

The herd is a mix of crossbreeds including Shorthorn, Black Angus, and Speckle Park,FullSizeRender-3FullSizeRender-4 FullSizeRender-2

Birds were few and far between, but on the way back from the pasture I finally found something to photograph/digiscope. A large group of Tundra Swans were feeding and preening on a slough (pond) north of our farm.

I used my Canon camera for these photos, but the wind picked up and it was tough to keep everything stable.

There were over 100 Tundra Swans on the slough and even though they were on the far side I was able to get some decent photos,IMG_9868 IMG_9874 IMG_9877

I hauled out my scope, iPhone, Viking Optical Universal adapter, and Phone Skope Bluetooth Shutter release to digiscope some shots of the swans.

The Bluetooth shutter came in the mail from Phone Skope on Friday and this was my first chance to test it out. The shutter release removes all contact with the phone to prevent shake and blurry photos. It’s very handy and an excellent tool for digiscoping.

Getting the correct exposure on white birds can be tricky, especially on water. These photos are a little overexposed and there’s also a bit of chromatic aberration outlining the swans. I took photos of the swans three different ways with the iPhone’s camera, with the Pro Camera app, and with the Manual app, playing around with the exposure and other settings.

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Viking Optical Universal adapter, Phone Skope Bluetooth Shutter, Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and the Manual app

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Viking Optical Universal adapter, Phone Skope Bluetooth Shutter, Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and the iPhone’s camera

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Viking Optical Universal adapter, Phone Skope Bluetooth Shutter, Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and the Pro Camera app

I drove to another slough, where there were only 10 swans, some Mallards, Northern Pintails, and this muskrat house, which is at least three feet tall,IMG_9880Though there were fewer swans, these were a little more co-operative as they were closer to the shore,

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They weren’t too concerned by my presence and were busy preening and spreading their wings. This is one of my favourite shots from the afternoon,IMG_9906  IMG_9915

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Viking Optical Universal adapter, Phone Skope Bluetooth Shutter, Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and the iPhone’s camera

Review: eBird Mobile App

New birding apps are coming out all the time. One app that looks new, eBird Mobile App, is in fact the Birdseye Log (or BirdLog) with a facelift.

Back in 2012, David Bell’s company, Birds In The Hand, released the BirdLog app. The app was the first and only app to send your birding checklists directly to your eBird account. The Birdseye Log app became so popular that the Cornell Lab and Mr. Bell reached an agreement last year to move the app’s management and development to the eBird team at Cornell.

The revised app, now called eBird Mobile App, can be used worldwide and is available for free on the app store. eBird Mobile sends information directly from your iOS device to your eBird account on the eBird website.
At the moment, the app is available only for iOS devices with the 7.0 update or later. The Android version is in the development stages and should be available soon.I downloaded the eBird Mobile app couple of weeks ago and enjoy it very much, so I thought I should write a review.
The home screen is very clean, fresh, and easy to understand. The first thing you do is tap the start button.

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When you’re ready to pick a location, the app pulls up your established eBird locations or hotspots based on your device’s location, using GPS. You can also create a new location if you’re in a new birding spot. Offline checklists are helpful if there isn’t cell reception.

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Here, I’m choosing a location from the map. If you decide to change your birding location, all you have to do is tap on any of the pin-points,

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After choosing your location, it’s time to set your date and time. Your start time will default to the current day and time, but you can easily change the day or even year if you like. Just scroll down the days, hours, or minutes to set your exact time.

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Once you’ve picked your location and entered the start time, you can record the species you see. The species are listed alphabetically or taxonomically (set your preference in the settings). You can spell out the species name or search by four-letter banding code. For example, the Snow Bunting’s code is SNBU and Black-billed Magpie is BBMA.

Every time you enter a count for a species, the app keeps track and adds to whatever you already have. For example, if  enter “5 BCCH” (Black-capped Chickadees) in the search bar, I then have five Black-capped Chickadees in my checklist. If I see four more later on my walk, I can enter 4 BCCH and then the checklist total will be nine.

Now say I miscounted the chickadees. All I have to do is enter negative numbers and that will subtract the extra birds and give a new corrected total.

You can also add species by tapping on the left-hand side of the bird’s name. You can increase the number of species seen, one tap at a time. This works well if you see only a few birds. However it’s not very practical when entering 1,000 Snow Geese or more. In this case, tap on the right side and you can enter the numbers by keyboard. With this function, you can also add comments to that particular species.

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At the end of your birding, enter the protocol information for your checklist — how long it took, how the observation was made (Travelling, Stationary, or Incidental) along with distance traveled, number of observers in the birding party, and if you’re listing all the birds you saw.

The app keeps track of how long you’ve been birding, but unfortunately not your walking distance (there are other apps that can keep track of that). If you have any extra notes about your checklist, you can add them to the comment box.

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All your checklists, including In Progress and Accepted can be found in the My Checklist part of the app (found on the home screen). You can delete inaccurate or test lists by swiping right to left on the right side of the checklist to show the delete button.

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If you submit a checklist and then decide you want to go back to edit it, the app sends you to the eBird website. This is my only quibble with the app. It would certainly be easier if one could edit the checklist in the app; however, it isn’t a big problem. If I do have to edit, I usually wait to do so on my laptop.

Play around with the app and you’ll quickly get the hang of it. Submitting a checklist from the field requires a cell connection, so if you have only WiFi you’ll be unable to enter checklists.

Since I have my new phone with me all the time now, the app makes it very convenient for submitting sightings to eBird. Just last week, I was horseback riding and saw a Rough-legged Hawk flying over our pasture — my first for the fall season. I was able to enter my sighting right from the field. The app is so easy to navigate that you can even use it on the back of a moving horse!

Overall, the app is wonderful and I highly recommend that birders download it on their phones. It’s free, easy to use, and you are contributing to the knowledge of bird distribution and abundance across the world.

You can find the app at the iTunes store here.

Review: The Collins Bird Guide App

Preparing last fall for my family’s trip to Europe last month, I researched field guides, websites, and apps that might be helpful for birding in France and Germany. I planned to take my iPad and iPod, but not my laptop.

I knew I was going to take my paperback copy of Birds of Europe (second edition) published by Princeton University Press, but a few days before we left I came across The Collins Bird Guide app which I though might be useful to use with my iPad. 

Thanks to Touchpress, publisher of the Collins Bird Guide app, I was able to get a review copy downloaded onto my iPad before our departure. I spent the flight to France learning the features of the app, and because I enjoyed it so much and found it so helpful for my trip, I thought I’d share my opinions and a little about how to use the app in this post.

The Collins Bird Guide app is based on the book, The Collins Bird Guide by Lars Svensson, Killian Mullarney, and Dan Zetterström, which is considered the standard European field guide.

The app is very easy to navigate through its three-tier structure which includes over 700 species and more than 3,500 excellent illustrations. The first tier, which is the home page, shows a list of all the families or species groupings included in the app — you can organize the list taxonomically or alphabetically with the app’s settings. The home page also has an introduction at the top of the screen on how to use the app with references to the maps, plumages, terminology, and more. At any point, you can move between the tiers by tapping on the “house” or “bird” icons at the bottom of the screen. Both the family groupings and the species accounts are on a continuous scroll, so it’s easy to keep scrolling through the app.

Here is the home page with all the family groupings:

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Click on a family group — this takes you to the second tier of the app. A list will open with all the species in that family which you can scroll through. Tapping on the family name above the illustrations exposes information about that family. For woodpeckers, the entry reads:

All but the aberrant Wryneck specialists in climbing and excavating nest holes in vertical tree trunks. Anatomical adaptations include strong feet and mobile toes (species with four toes have two directed backwards) and sharp claws, stiff tail-feathers which serve as support on vertical surfaces, also powerful awl- or chisel-shaped bill and “shock-absorbant” brain-case. Food includes wood-boring insects; have a greatly elongated tongue base for scouring and emptying deep insect burrows. Most species use drumming as a “song” (both sexes drum). Only the Wryneck is a long-distance migrant, others largely residents.

Here is the woodpecker family group:

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From the family page, touch a specific species and it will open to the third-tier — the species account. The species account includes multiple illustrations of the bird in different plumages, general information on the bird, range maps, the species conservation status, and audio recordings.

Here is the European Green Woodpecker species account:

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The illustrations are very good and the text is quite informative — the developers have taken all the text and illustrations from the body of the book and converted them to a digital format. To get the illustrations in full-screen, tap once. If you like, tap the screen again to remove the text and symbols. You can also pinch-to-zoom to enlarge the illustrations to see close-up details.

One of my favourite app features is the comparison function. This was useful with so many new-to-me species to identify. There are two ways to compare species. The first is accessible on the right hand side above the species text. For example, below you can see the comparisons for Eurasian Nuthatch include Algerian Nuthatch, (Western) Rock Nuthatch, and Eastern Rock Nuthatch.

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Here is where the comparison buttons are located (in red):

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The other comparison button is accessible at the bottom left of the app’s screen. Tapping on this allows you to create a customized side-by-side comparison of any species. You can do side-by-side comparisons of up to 12 species, but I found personally that two species is the best way to compare as the illustrations are still fairly large and the text is easy to read.

A majority of species in the guide come with multiple audio recordings. Songbirds have songs and calls included, while less vocal species — such as waterfowl, shorebirds, and game birds — usually are accompanied by a single recording.

There’s a search function that allows you to try to identify a species by selecting from a series of attributes including location and season, habitat, shape, size, plumage colour, family, bill colour, and more. The app then provides a list of species that fit that criteria.

Here I’m searching for species that frequent the highlighted map area:

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The app includes the option to keep a life list and to create any others lists. The lists I kept/created were my Life List, Year List, France List, and Germany List.

Tapping on the checkmark next to the species text will add that bird to your Life List (and there’s also an option to share your Lifer on social media). Then, tapping on the list icon next to the checkmark lets you add that species to any other lists you’ve created, or add a new list.  To view your lists, go to the search bar where they’ll appear under “My Lists”. The lists are arranged in the three tiers, just like the rest of the app.

One suggestion I have for any future app updates is for the app to total the number of species on each list and to let users add a date for when they see a particular bird.

This is the family groups page from my Germany List. I saw a species in each of the families that’s highlighted:

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Play around with the app and you’ll quickly get the hang of the layout and flow. The Collins Bird Guide app is excellent with an easy-to-use interface and intuitive design — of the seven bird identification apps I’ve tried (The Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America, Audubon Birds Pro, and Peterson Birds, to name a few), this one is easily the best, and it would be wonderful if there were a comparable app for North American Birds. I highly recommend this app to any birders living in or travelling to Europe — it’s terrific!

The app is compatible with the iPhone and iPad; and I’ve read that the developers are working on a version for Android. The app is $17.99 (US), $20.99 (CAN), or £13.49 on iTunes

Thank you very much to Touchpress for providing me with a review copy.