BirdBlog Guest Post

Birding Tech: A Timeless Tradition Enters the Digital Age - Ernie Allison

For centuries, the sport of birdwatching conjured images of a man in the bush or crouched alongside a backcountry river with books and sketch pads in tow. As modern birders enter today’s technological revolution and adopt the latest gizmos and gadgets, however, they are putting a new face on a timeless tradition.

When I first began to see fellow birdwatchers showing up to the field with iPhones and tablets, I was admittedly concerned. I worried that the addition of these digital interfaces would prove to be a barrier, effectively separating the user from the nuanced, tangible world she had set out to witness. I saw the introduction of technology as a threat, one capable of inflicting a sort of “field blindness.”

It was my grandchildren who challenged my reservations and convinced me that I could have deeper, more meaningful experiences by utilizing the tools of the digital age. We had driven deep into the sagebrush hills of eastern Oregon, where I often go to view birds of prey—Bald Eagles, Great Horned Owls, Merlins, and American Kestrels. Any time we spotted a bird we could not readily identify, I would pull out my dog-eared copy of The Birds of North America while Nick and Hannah pulled out their smartphones. They beat me to a positive ID nine times out of ten.

Since that time, I have warmed up to the idea that the right technology can enhance my birding excursions. And as an advocate of citizen science as a tool for advancements in conservation, apps and hi-tech gadgets also allow me to provide more thorough, accurate data to research organizations.

Below are some of my favorite tech tools for birders:

 


Apps

  • eBird: For avid birders, eBird helps you keep track of your sightings. The information you enter is uploaded to a database along with many thousands of other user reports and used to generate interactive maps and graphs. What I most love about eBird is that it provides an international online community for fellow bird lovers to share highlights, ask questions, and compare notes. eBird also compiles data that is later shared with land managers, ornithologists, and conservation biologists to aid them in their research.
  • BirdLog allows you to record your sightings in the field and upload them directly to eBird, replacing the need for a field notebook. This innovative app provides comprehensive local data, such as abundance charts and nearby birding hotspots.
  • iBird Pro: This app, available across all mobile devices, is a good fit for beginning birders and remains my grandchildren’s favorite. iBird Pro is best used for identification purposes, allowing users to quickly sort their search by more than a dozen attributes—size, color, pattern, head shape, etc.

Gear

From spotting scopes with auto-focus and built in HD cameras, to GPS-enabled digital binoculars, optic technology is on the rise. Casual birders may not be ready to invest in the latest gear, but true enthusiasts and professional birdwatchers who foot the bill will be rewarded with the ability to spot more birds quickly, capture better photos and video footage, and easily record a wider cross-section of data. These binoculars, while beyond my budget, would have any birdwatching enthusiast drooling.

About the author: Ernie Allison is a bird watcher with a love of life and 
nature, passionate about wildlife conservation. He writes for Bird Feeders.

 

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