Wednesday, April 26, 2017

eBird Mobile App

I recently purchased my very first smartphone that’s capable of running apps (Samsung Galaxy S5 for those of you who want to know). The past few days I decided to test the eBird mobile app to enter sightings while actively birding in the field. While I don’t really have any complaints about the app itself, almost immediately I noticed how it negatively impacted my style of birding.

I’ve been using eBird since 2007, primarily for recording my observations at Pheasant Branch Conservancy (1,346 checklists to date). Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at memorizing my sightings and entering them into eBird once at a computer or from my iPad at a coffee shop.

As a 50-year old with bifocals, I noticed trouble right away with my distance vision after scrolling through the list of birds and entering a few sightings. As one might expect, the more time I spent entering data, the longer it took for my eyes to adjust for distance. Obviously, distance vision is critical for finding small songbirds foraging in the understory or tree canopy.

Another problem is the potential for missing birds that aren’t vocalizing. In general, I detect and identify birds from their vocalizations. While I still possess decent visual acuity for my age, I more often hear them before seeing them. However, yesterday while I was entering in a few sightings into the eBird app (face pointed toward the ground), Jesse Peterson spotted a Red-headed Woodpecker. If I had been birding alone I probably would have missed the bird. Texting data is definitely a distraction.

To be sure, having a smartphone is an invaluable tool in the field. It’s great for letting other birders know about a good sighting and to find out where your fellow birders are birding. Additionally, having several field guides installed on a single handheld device instead of hauling around books is a nice convenience.

In my case I don’t think using the eBird app will improve checklist accuracy. I had difficulty keeping up checking off species in the app as my brain kept right on identifying various songs and calls. When birding without entering in data on a device, keeping a mental count is easier and more efficient for me. And believe it or not, I can keep two days of outings in my memory, but not three.

Perhaps I’ll warm up to it, but in the end I doubt I will use the eBird app while I’m birding during peaks of spring and fall migration. Instead, I’ll continue to rely on my memory ability and enter data once off the field. I think the eBird app is a good idea, but it isn’t for everyone. Perhaps younger birders who are more app savvy and don’t have to worry about vision adjustments will find it more intuitive.

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