Book Review: “Offshore Sea Life ID Guide: East Coast”

Ever since I learned about pelagic trips, I’ve had them on my wish list. And until I get the chance to see petrels, guillemots, and shearwaters in person, I’ll happily read through my new copy of the Offshore Sea Life ID Guide: East Coast by Steve N.G. Howell, a seabird expert, and Brian L. Sullivan, an eBird project leader.

Offshore-Sea-Life-East-Coast-cover-197x300This new guide, along with the Offshore Sea Life ID Guide: West Coast, was recently published by Princeton University Press. The eastern guide covers 39 bird and 21 mammal species, and the western guide covers 43 birds and 22 mammals. Because the guides is geared toward offshore species, it doesn’t include animals such as loons, Harbour Seals, and sea ducks that you can see just off shore. The Offshore Sea Life ID Guides cover the sealife to be found farther out in the pelagic zone, more than a mile from the shoreline.

I have many ID guides for birds, but none for whales, dolphins, or flying fish, so the new volume gives me extra incentive to study up on the species I don’t know as well. The guide is meant to be a handy resource for on- and off-shore pelagic trips; it’s very thin so it can fit in a larger jacket pocket or take up little space in a backpack.

One of my favourite parts of the book is the Quick Page Finder on the inside cover. The book begins with an introduction of the oceanic environment, followed by an explanation of location abbreviations and a glossary. The species accounts for Marine Mammals come first, followed by Seabirds, Sea Turtles, Flying Fish & Squid, Billfish, Sharks, Seaweeds, and other sea life. The last page includes species codes, scientific names, and the index. The back cover has a map of the east coast, south of Canada to the tip of Florida and as far east as Bermuda.

Here’s the species account for Jellyfish:jellyfish640h

Because views of marine mammals in the wild tend to be brief and limited to tails, dorsal fins, and flippers, the book’s focus is on those key features to help identify whales and dolphins. Of course, you have a better chance with seabirds to see the entire bird, but between a rocking ship and similar plumages, identification can still present challenges. Seabirds are shown in both immature and adult plumages, different colouration morphs, in flight (toward and away), paddling on the surface, and sitting on the water.

There are 120 colour photos in the book and are arranged in Crossley-style composite photos. The photos are digitally compiled to appear as if you are viewing each species from aboard ship.

The species accounts are concise with very large, easy to read font. Common name, banding code, and the time of year the animals are most likely to be seen make up most of the accounts. Flight patterns and wing molt are heavily covered for seabirds. The volume includes page numbers when citing other species in the species account.

The species accounts for Northern Fulmar, Great Shearwater, Cory’s Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater:

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I really like this guide and definitely will bring it with me on my first Atlantic voyage. The Offshore Sea Life ID Guide is a well-designed and highly informative book that would benefit both beginning and advanced birders who want a convenient and affordable guide to eastern sealife.

Thank you very much to Princeton University Press for providing me with a review copy.

Viking Smart Phone Adapter: First Impressions

:: I received a Viking Optical Smart Phone adapter from the company for review; all opinions and writing are my own ::

Viking Optical is a UK company that makes scopes, binoculars, and optics accessories including their Universal Smart Phone Adaptor, which is designed to allow any smart phone to attach to a spotting scope. Viking is an independent company in the UK with a long history of supporting conservation organizations, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and BirdLife International, the species champion for the Forest Owlet and Seychelles Paradise-flycatcher.

This digiscoping adapter is comprised of two elements — a platform to support the smartphone and a collar that twists and locks onto the platform.

Viking Optical has a choice of five collar sizes designed to be compatible with five scope models: 39mm (RSPB AG), 48mm (Viking ED Pro Zoom, Viking AW Zoom),
55mm (Swarovski ATS/STS Zoom; Kowa TSN 770/880 Series, Zooms and 30x),
56mm (Leica APO Televid 65/82 Zoom; RSPB HD Zoom), 59mm (Swarovski ATX). The collars will also work with other brands. I was sent the 55mm and 56mm collars as we weren’t sure which would fit my older-model scope. The 55mm collar fits best on my scope’s eyepiece and provides the most support for the platform.

Just align the phone’s camera with the centre of the adapter’s opening. Secure the phone in place by tightening with the four adjustable flexible rubber clamps which are tightened to hold the phone in place. The clamps can be removed and placed in different sections for a better fit no matter the design/model or thickness of the phone. Once secured, the camera is able to rotate within the adapter, alternating between portrait and landscape shots.

This adapter would be great to share on birding walks with other birders since various phones can be switched in and out to get digiscoped photos.

Another benefit to this adapter is that I’m able to leave on my protective phone case while using this adapter. Setting up the adapter for use is simple, and the adapter is both lightweight and sturdy. It also fits inside a larger jacket pocket, and comes with a detachable lanyard in case you find yourself pocketless.

The Black-capped Chickadees at my feeders are great for practicing my digiscoping technique.

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Viking Optical Universal adapter, and Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Viking Optical Universal adapter, and Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Viking Optical Universal adapter, and Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece

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.

Review: Birdseye Hotspots

BirdseyeHotspotsIn August, my mother bought an iPad for me to use on my trip to Long Point. Before I left for Long Point, I filled the iPad with a bunch of birding apps, including the Birdseye Hotspots, which I received from Drew at Nemesis Bird as a review copy.

The Birdseye Hotspot app was created by Birdseye Birding and Nemesis Code and quickly finds eBird hotspots wherever you are, around the world, as long as you are connected to WiFi.

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of hotspots in my area at home (in fact, there are only two).  But in Long Point, where we had WiFi (not at the Tip) there were many more, and I can see how useful the app could be for finding hotspots. I haven’t used the app very much because of the lack of hotspots in my area. However, if I get to visit a new area for birding, or if I ever get to do a Big Year, this app would come in very handy!

The two hotspots in my area

The two hotspots in my area

The app’s interface is very easy to use and intuitive. For every hotspot the app gives you, weather conditions, GPS coordinates and connects to Birdseye so you can see what species have been reported for that hotspot.

The app is compatible with iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches. The price is just right, for $4.99 you can’t go wrong!

My New Stokes Guides

Last week my new Stokes field guides — the Stokes Field Guide to Birds, Eastern Region and the Stokes Field Guide to Birds, Western Region — arrived in the mail and I was so excited to look through them! I have a very busy week this week so I’m hoping to review the guides soon, I hope next week.

Thank you again to Donald and Lillian Stokes for the book, and also for being willing to mail them to Canada!

The autographed page,

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Book Review: The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book

448naturecoverI’m so happy to be part of The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book blog tour! Thank you very much to authors Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer for including me at the last minute. I have to mention that my mother had already bought the book for the Snow Goose Chase’s Young Naturalists’ Corner, and I had decided to review it here, before I got in touch with Stacy and Ken (although Ken is sending along some bookmarks for us to give away!). I’m excited to be part of the blog tour with Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman (April 5th), James at 10,000 Birds (James, April 9th), Birdfreak (April 17th), and Birdchick (Sharon, on April 23rd).

In connection with my work setting up the Young Naturalists’ Corner at the Tofield, Alberta, Snow Goose Chase on Saturday, April 27th, I’ve been looking for great kids’ nature books to display on the table, for kids and their parents to learn about (so they can add them to their reading lists) and also to give away at the end of the day as part of a draw.

When my mother decided to buy some kids’ nature books to donate, she asked me for some ideas. I had just read about The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up on the ABA Young Birders Facebook page, so I mentioned it to my mother. She was excited to see that it’s brand new (published on April 2nd by Falcon Guides, part of Globe Pequot), and looked great from what we could see with Amazon.com’s “Look Inside the Book” feature.

Especially if your family isn’t like mine, living on a farm where we get to be (have to be!) outdoors year-round in all kinds of weather, this is a great book to help you get your kids outdoors and in to nature. And even if we didn’t live on a farm and didn’t home school (a lot of home schoolers seem to be very keen on nature study), I know my parents would have made sure to get my brothers and me outside. But if you’re not naturally the outdoors type, puns intended, or think the only place to go is the playground, this new book will give you 448 great ideas of what do in the great outdoors. As naturalist David Mizejewksi of the National Wildlife Federation writes in his foreword, “The nature of childhood has changed, and the sad reality is that there’s not much nature left in it.” He adds,

Technology isn’t inherently bad, but most would agree that it’s dominance in the lives of today’s children — at the expense of outdoor time — is way out of a healthy balance. Similarly, modern parents’ obsession with scheduling every second of their kids’ time in structured activities has resulted in burned out kids who never get to just run around and be kids.

And just as importantly, as David says, “we know the old saying ‘you only protect what you love, and you only love what you know’ is true.”

One of the features of the book you immediately notice are the beautiful illustrations by Rachel Riordan, which are so colorful and fun! (By the way, Rachel is Canadian and her husband Paul Riss is a birder who’s making a movie about his Big Year.) The book is divided into four main sections: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, and each season has 50 checklist items (“run barefoot on the beach”, “wake up before the birds”, “celebrate Earth Day”), 50 challenge items as part of each checklist (“catch a cricket”, “make sand art”), three projects, three destinations, three recipes from the garden, and three outdoor games. There are so many great ideas in this book, including recipes, outdoor activities, games, destinations, and craft ideas. This is a wonderful book and perfect if you want to get your kids outside, or if you need more ideas to spark your imagination. It would be hard to run out of ideas with this book!

Because I’m a birder, I’m going to highlight some of the bird activities and projects the book has to offer:

Idea #49: Watch a Bird-Banding Demonstration: I didn’t get to witness my first bird banding and band my first birds until last August at the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop. It was so neat to band a Hooded Warbler, Common Grackle, House Wren, and other species. I found that watching the people who came to watch the bird banding was one of the most entertaining parts — their faces would just light up to be shown a bird close up, so this is a perfect activity to take your kids to. I’m positive they’d love it.

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Kids love crafts, I know I still do, and these pinecone feeders are a perfect craft to make with even very young kids. I’m going to make this project later this fall, to supplement my commercial feeders:

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Ken and Stacy have a great website and blog with lots of extras for kids and their families: check out their Projects page (for projects inspired by nature, like the Mosaic Handprint project and gift), Outdoor Fun activities page (such as a DIY flower shelf), and Destinations page for fun family travel ideas. There’s even a Food page with recipes, and also a Videos section, with videos from Stacy and Ken with different projects, from winter hikes to forcing bulbs.

By the way, Stacy Tornio is the editor of Birds & Blooms magazine, which was my great-grandmother’s favorite. Since she died about 10 years ago, my parents have been giving an annual gift subscription of B&B to our library in her name. Stacy also wrote the recent book Project Garden: A Month-by-Month Guide to Planting, Growing, and Enjoying ALL Your Backyard Has to Offer (January 2012), a monthly guide filled with activities to keep kids and their families gardening through the entire year.

Ken Keffer is a naturalist, and has had some amazing experiences, from researching flying squirrels in the Tongass National Forest, Alaska, to monitoring Bactrian camels in Mongolia’s Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area. He has also worked as an environmental educator throughout the U.S. Best of all, Ken is a birder and a bander (and a curler!), and he’s doing a Big Year this year!

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