Thursday 5 April 2012

BirdsEye App - review - preamble

First, check out the new site for submitting butterfly sightings.

Recently a new app came out for birders to submit sightings to eBird via their iPhones (it already came out for Android users a few weeks prior) - it also works for iTouches (which is what I use).

This is something that I was eager for! Not too long ago I considered developing an App like this, but I decided that I didn't have enough time to do it on my own - and while looking into the idea I learned that others were already working on it.

So why did I want something like this?

The main reason had to with my trip to Spain. I was roaming around the country for a week without Internet access. Of course I was taking notes on the birds I was seeing and their location - but I was doing it at a much more broad scale than I usually do. So instead of having a checklist for a specific trail or side road, I was grouping all my sightings into one area, such as an entire National Park. I prefer the more granular approach, and really wished that I could do it - but it wasn't feasible with pencil and paper, especially considering that I have a nasty habit of losing many of those lists while I'm traveling.

It simply seemed more convenient to be able to submit sightings directly to an eBird list at the end of the day instead of writing them all down.

So that's the main benefit. Being able to travel and have the option to submit sightings while you're on the go makes for more accurate data. Which brings me to the next benefit. You don't need to be traveling to another country to take advantage of this app. Even sightings from a day trip to a nearby hotspot can be optimized. If you're out with a group, you can submit the sightings while you're in the car driving to the next spot - or at lunch time when you're taking a break... (who takes breaks?)

That way you can better keep track of the birds you're seeing as well as their location and time of sighting.

On more than a few occasions I've been out on CBC's, or similar bird counts, and have asked the group "who's going to keep a list today?" Only to learn that the people I'm with have some crazy memory abilities. I used to believe that I was capable of it too. I thought that I could go birding for an entire day and easily remember all the species I've seen and keep a decent tally of the numbers. I've since learned that I was wrong, and anyone who claims to be able to do that is bull shitting! Sure you can remember the notable species, and sure you can get a decent idea on numbers - but being able to remember which species you saw at each location is sort of unbelievable. Humans have a short term memory capable of about 7 bits of information - assuming you're seeing at least 20 species at each location, you're almost guaranteed to forget a species, add one that shouldn't be there, or a similar mistake - for a CBC that's 'unacceptable' if you ask me!

You're out there to get 'good quality' data - and this app may be able to help you do that. Because, nowadays, there's a decreasing trend of notebook usage in the field - yet everyone is obsessed with checking their phones.

The biggest worry I have about this app is that people will be submitting sightings while they're in the field - when they should be looking for/at birds!
And considering that this is an app for data-entry, there's bound to be plenty of incorrect entries. Or someone might initially think they found something great and immediately submit the sighting, only to 'calm down' and rationally decide that it's just an aberrant form of a common bird. With the new hourly rare bird alerts from eBird, I can imagine a lot of disappointed twitchers.
But then again, the opposite can be true. If you find an Ivory Gull somewhere along Lake Ontario, you can submit the sighting within minutes, addict eBirders in Ontario (and around the world, for that matter) can see the sighting almost immediately - and if you have it set up, an email will be sent to you within an hour to tell you that there's an Ivory Gull not too far away!

I think this App has a lot of potential and I will certainly be using it on weekend trips to keep track of my sightings.

In the next entry I'll actually write more about the app itself - and my initial thoughts on how user-friendly it is.