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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.

    –=====–

    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.

    Aba tech

    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

    Latest posts by Drew Weber (see all)

    • http://birdaz.com/blog Rick Wright

      Looking forward to learning a lot, Drew.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/coreandrew Andrew Core

      How about Shazam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shazam_(service)) for bird songs? You open the app, it records for 10 seconds (or a minute), sends it off for processing, and then tells you what birds are singing? Or maybe gives you a match % – i.e., 97% probability that’s a Blackburnian Warbler singing over your head, the one you can’t hear any more. Plus, there’s a Kentucky Warbler and a Wood Thrush nearby…

    • http://profile.typepad.com/drewweber Drew Weber

      That’s always the dream, right? Both for new birders and for ornithologists who would love to be able to remotely monitor lots of areas. There were some press releases a while ago about weBird http://www.news.wisc.edu/19882, which was possibly scheduled for release this spring. No official word yet on whether its done though.

    • Andy Martin

      One technology that has not seemed to have moved forward as much as I would have hoped by now or maybe a better word might be remained inaccessible in terms of pricing for latest technology is Night Vision. Remains very expensive w/ no real Gen 3 or 4 bird-worthy product on market that I know of. Military must have some really cool stuff that would be fun for any birder heading out at night. The Night vision monoculars, binoculars, and goggles currently available seem to be all the same Gen 1 or 2 technology that was available 15 or 16 years ago.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/drewweber Drew Weber

      I’ve noticed that as well. Good quality night vision at a lower price could really change owling and marsh birding, making those areas more accessible at night. This could be interesting because you could walk around with no artificial light so your disturbance would decrease.

    • Ryan Ford

      I’m interested in seeing where devices like these end up taking the birding experience. Do you think they will ever fully replace traditional binoculars?
      http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-57581105-76/sonys-new-$2000-digital-binoculars-get-better-zoom-evf/

    • Mel Cooksey

      How about some apps that help with teaching distribution? One of the biggest failings of beginning and intermediate birders is poor knowledge of status, abundance, seasonality, migration paths, etc., therefore resulting in wide-scale mis-IDs. With all the glitzy new apps, it seems that most of them simply allow us to misidentify birds QUICKER.

      Although the field guide apps have range maps, these maps don’t seem to get much of a look. And, yes, distribution is apparently not very marketable, and perhaps it has less dollar-to-market potential, being sort of “nerdy” and boring. Color and sound are just more fun. Better to match up the bird with whatever comes the closest on the app.

      So, maybe we make learning distribution funner…. how about a “Check Your ID” app? You enter your ID in the field into the app, the software spits back out a probability status; “rare”, “common”, “non-existent”, “try again”, etc.? (Wow. what a dumb idea) Might make it a lot easier on the eBird reviewer, though. Sure it would take a lot of data, and maybe not do-able at this time.

      Of course, if all else fails, one could always STUDY distribution, local bar charts, migration tables, keep records, peruse NAB reports, stuff that we dinosaurs do.

    • Doug

      Teleportation. I could certainly see more rarities if all that travel time could be avoided.

    • Madeleine McDonald

      Looking forward to your upcoming posts, Drew!

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