Friday 5 October 2012

Larkwire Review

Last March, while living in Singapore I was reading/dreaming about the impending migration in North America - I was getting super excited to move back to Canada and do some birding. That's not to say that the birding in Singapore wasn't very good. It was great. I might even say it was too good.
It was sort of like when you eat too many candies in one go. At first they're so good and you can't wait to get more, but eventually, it becomes too much and your stomach starts aching (I would know)...

That's what I was feeling in terms of birding. I was super excited to move to Denmark (last year) and then Singapore. Tons of birding, and naturally, tons of life birds. My life list jumped from 318 to 711 in those 8 months (thank's eBird). I was feeling a bit indulged... sort of like that kid with the stomach ache after eating tons of candies... and I was starting to look forward to the good ol' times at home.

Picture stolen from here

Anyway, you're probably wondering where I'm going with this and how it relates to the title of this blog post?
I was excited to go back to NA, so I wanted to do what I could to prepare myself, especially in terms of learning bird songs. I was far behind where I would have liked to be.
A birding friend of mine suggested Larkwire. My first impression of Larkwire was - "oh, another scam" (I can be quite skeptical at times)...
But I quickly noticed the "Try it Now - No Sign up Required" option. So, I tried it out and was pleasantly surprised by the program. After reading the few reviews that I found online, I was convinced that it was worth the investment. Besides, exams were closing in and I needed something to procrastinate with =D

Throughout April, while studying for exams and dreaming about migrants in the New World, I spent several hours studying bird songs on Larkwire - that time correlates strongly with the Bird Song Quizzes that I posted here. Since then I've been practicing during the rare time that I have a few minutes free.

Why do I like the program?

  • Helps teach bird songs in a systematic and logical way - not just playing tapes over and over
  • The game-like aspect: it's set-up like a game where you can complete levels/tasks etc
  • You can choose which species to study
  • It keeps track of which songs you know and which ones you don't, and focuses on the ones you're struggling with
  • There's an App for it!
  • Great for trip preparation - when I went to Alberta this summer, I focused on the sparrow songs of that region which directly helped me to find a Brewer's Sparrow and Golden-crowned Sparrow!!

As with anything, there is room for improvement:
  • Can be tedious to organize specific groups of species (e.g. if you want to learn only finches, you have to manually set that up yourself - which doesn't take too long, to be honest)
  • The "Gold" and "Red" level can be too easy - they should force it to be harder (i.e. make it more realistic such that there's a larger pool of songs to choose from)
  • No waterfowl, herons, shorebirds :S (this has changed, which I'm super excited for - check here for updates!)
  • Very few call notes - the focus is on songs, but I would love to see call notes of warblers, sparrows, etc
  • Would be fun if they had a "top100" kind of thing like eBird to make it competitive :p

I definitely recommend this program to not only beginners but advanced birders as well. It's a great opportunity to remain familiar with the songs/calls throughout the winter, or to study the birds throughout the rest of the continent!

This is what the interface looks like for the beginner level: a song/call is played, and you have to decide which species it is, the game gets harder - trust me ;)

Anyway, you should at least try out the free trial online to see for yourself!

By making this review I'll be able to get the Larkwire expansion pack (the one with waterfowl, etc) for free - :)

Black-tailed Godwit - Thailand
(only North American species of birds are included in Larkwire as of now)