Recording Bird Songs

I've been wanting to work on recording birdsong for awhile now, but never really knew where to start.

Luckily, I now have a winter project to work on in preparation for next spring thanks to a series of blog posts by Ted Floyd of the American Birding Association.

How to record birdsong:

How to record birdsong: Part 1

How to record birdsong: Part 2

How to record birdsong: Part 3


Using eBird to get the most out of visits to our National and State Parks

A recent article on the National Parks Traveler website about using eBird to plan birding trips (or getting the most out of a short amount of time if your non birding family is along) got me thinking about what a great tool eBird and a couple of smartphone apps that use eBird are for birding National and State Parks.

Anyone who has used eBird (or the BirdLog NA app in these pictures) has likely noticed hotspots that look like "Kilen Woods SP" and "Kilen Woods--Campground".

Some of you may have wondered what the difference is and which one you should select.  Well, eBird considers data collected at "fine resolutions" to be more useful than data collected over a large area.  In other words, checklists/sightings for individual trails, lakes, ponds, creeks, and such within a National/State Park are more useful than just saying you saw X number of X species in the whole entire park.

Now, you don't have to do that if you don't want to.  The information from your sightings will still be beneficial to both scientists and other birders.  However, while I don't know the exact effects on the science end, I think anyone who is a birder can understand the difference between knowing a bird was sighted somewhere in the park and knowing it was sighted along a specific trail within that park.  Personally, I recommend people try and use the most specific hotspot they can.  If there is not one already for the trail/lake/etc that you birded, then best option is to create one or just use the National/State Park...  don't just use the closest hotspot to where you were.

While submitting your sightings to eBird following the above "protocols" is the most helpful method, it does create one problem.  If you want to see all the sightings within a single National/State Park, you have to look at all the individual hotspots within it, and in some cases, that can be overwhelming.

One possible solution: I've long thought that eBird was missing a very useful option - the ability for users to select a hotspot and see all the sightings within a certain range of that spot.   This would allow people to select a hotspot within a National/State Park and then expand the range to see everything within, for example, 20 miles.  This would allow you to see a comprehensive list of all sightings within the park, but it could also select some areas nearby that you don't want.

This option already does exist for anyone who uses the Birdseye NA smartphone app.  With just a couple of touches/swipes, Birdseye NA allows you to see all the recent sightings to eBird within a selected distance of your current location (or a selected hotspot).  It gets better though....  it also shows you species that you have not seen before (based on your eBird lifelist), allowing you to easily find some new birds.

Here is a screenshot of the Birdseye NA app, showing Theodore Roosevelt NP.  Notice that it lists 55 recently seen species and the 4 species seen recently there that I have never seen.

A better option, (as a volunteer eBird HotSpot reviewer myself I know this could be done - but would take some solid volunteer work) would be to have all the individual hotspots for a park associated with an "umbrella" hotspot for that whole park.  So, all the sightings within a park could be seen with a single click, but could still be submitted at the specific locations.

I'm pretty sure this has been considered or is already in the plans, as I know that the eBird developers are constantly working on expanding the site to constantly improve it.

Anyhow, I encourage people who plan on birding National or State Parks to give check out eBird and the smartphone apps.  Play around with them a bit and maybe you'll be able to use the information gained to help you have a better birding trip or find a new life bird!


New books: ABA Field Guide Series

The ABA (American Birding Association) has recently started publishing a series of field guides focusing on individual states and authored by birders from those states.  The books are designed for beginner and intermediate birders, but early reviews make me think the books are very nice and written so well that anyone interested in birds will enjoy them.

The ABA Field Guide to the Birds of Colorado by Ted Floyd


News: The week in bird news

  • Another case of smuggling.  A Czech man was arrested trying to smuggle bird eggs into Australia.


Tech: Birdsnap Smartphone App

Earlier today I found out about a new app that claims it can ID birds from photos.

Birdsnap, a collaboration between Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution, was just released a few days ago on the iTunes store.  As of this writing, it is only available for iPhone 5/5(s) devices.

So, I downloaded the free app on my phone and tested it out taking photos of my computer screen.  Maybe not the best way to test it but it is evening currently and is supposed to rain all weekend, so I was left with no other choice.

To start the matching process, you either take a photo or find one on your phone.  Then the app asks you to tap the area where the eye(s) are and then again near the tail.  After 10-15 seconds of thinking, you should get a result.

I first tested it by taking photos of 5 birds that, while not rare, are not your typical backyard birds.  (Chipping Sparrow, Cerulean Warbler, Snowy Egret, Marsh Wren, and Vermillion Flycatcher).

I was very pleasantly surprised to find it matched all 5 on the first attempt.

Well.... how about shorebirds, sparrows, and fall warblers?  The birds that give people the most problems.

Not bad....  but could use some work.

  •  Least Sandpiper - Nailed it on first attempt
  •  Hudsonian Godwit - Kept misidentifying as Marbled Godwit.  Still a good guess considering the photo is of a drab Hudsonian Godwit.
  • Blackpoll Warbler (fall) - Misidentified as Cape May Warbler on first attempt.   Tried a new photo and could not ID at all.  
  • Blackburnian Warbler (fall) - Nailed it first attempt.
  • Leconte's Sparrow - Misidentified as Grasshopper Sparrow.  Second attempt with new photo also misidentified as Grasshopper Sparrow.  LeConte's appears to be in the database, so this species might need more work.
The app's user interface is reasonably well designed.  I was able to open it and start navigating right away, but I can see some areas where people who don't use phone apps very often could get overwhelmed.

My only real issue with the app is it's size.  At 899mb, this app will eat up lots of space on your phone and anyone who keeps a large collection of music or videos on their phone might not have space for it.  I assume the large size is needed for all the photos within the app, but it could be an issue for some people.

I'm definitely interested in seeing where this app goes.  It seems to be strong for a first release and could be a very good app for novice to intermediate birders or birders outside of their usual birding ranges.  However, the early problems with some of the harder to ID birds makes me hesitant to recommend it to birders who can recognize most birds on their own and are looking for something to help.  

They appear to have an area on their website where people can offer input and even volunteer to help improve their software.  

I'll have to play with this app for a few more weeks and review it again after some real world testing.