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Future tech

Editor’s Note: The ABA Blog is happy to introduce Drew Weber as a contributing author focusing on the intersection of technology and birding.

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The current state of birding technology is truly awesome. You might say that we are in a golden age of technology for birding, but the truth is, we can only imagine what we will soon be able to do with tech that fits in our pockets. Any time that I find myself in a crowd of birders, I am struck at how quickly birders have adopted iPhone and Android smartphones across every age group and skill level.

Already, most of the major North American field guides have apps for iOS and Android phones, with quite a few international guide books also available. Talk about accessibility and convenience! Instead of carting along a 4-inch thick field guide on an international trip, you can load up your device with a couple apps with the most updated info (and sounds!) and be on your way.

If you are an eBird fanatic like I am, you can submit checklists straight from your smartphone with BirdsEye BirdLog, and figure out where to go birding with sightings info in the BirdsEye iOS app, Oddfeathers website or the BirdTrax Google gadget. You can get daily and hourly rarity and needs alerts from eBird and rare bird text messages from Kiwifoto.

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And then there are all the new features that aren’t even birder-centric, but have ended up being a staple of everyday birding. Pulling out a phone to digiscope with the camera or record a bird song is now a routine sight, as is sharing those recordings for instant help with identifications. Rare bird alert texting groups, maps and driving directions on smartphones, and Facebook groups for identification help and sharing photos have become commonplace in the birding world. Language translation apps promise easier social navigation and birding in other countries.

But advances aren’t just limited to smartphone apps. Birders get weekly migration updates during the spring and fall from BirdCast. We have access to real-time data on bird migration from NEXRAD radar stations and each morning birders can wake up to regional analysis by amateur radar ornithologists across the country.  Xeno-canto.org and the Macaulay Library have extensive collections of bird sounds from around the world.

Optics are ever-improving and you can pick up increasingly competent bins at almost any price point. High-end scopes and bins are pushing the envelope on strength and weight while increasing field of view and adding new coatings to increase light transmission. If you have the cash to spend, you can even buy name-brand spotting scopes with embedded cameras, or even image stabilization.

Likely some of these tools are already incorporated into your daily birding. None of the above tech advances should be particularly surprising for most avid birders, as we seem to relish finding new tools to enjoy our hobby in new and exciting ways.

I wrote this post to simply set the stage as I talk about new technology for birders in future posts. Let’s be optimistic that the new developments continue to flow in, and that they improve birding both for newcomers to birding, and those of us who have been actively birding for decades (really, decades already?). We can debate, as has been done in various articles in Birding and ABA blog posts, about whether this digital revolution is good or bad for birding, but I think that discussion is moot. The revolution is happening no matter what. Let’s embrace the technology we have and work to make it have the best possible impacts on how we enjoy birding.

When people dream up new advances that will change birding, the standard answer always seems to be a device or app that identifies birds/birdsongs for you. What new tech advances are you most excited or hoping for?

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Drew Weber
Drew Weber is an ornithologist originally from PA but now living in central New York. He is finishing up a master's degree at Penn State University on grassland bird conservation. Drew is active in the Pennsylvania birding community as chairman of the bird records committee, serves as a board member for the Pennsylvania Ornithological Society and is a reviewer for sightings submitted to eBird. His passions include figuring out how new technology can be used for birding, introducing people to birding and getting more people to use eBird.
Drew Weber

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