Software, DVDs, Recordings etc.
Listing Software – What Are The Options?
(See the Apps page and Apps section in other pages for listing apps)
Most birders keep their bird lists either using an excel spreadsheet or a dedicated commercial listing software or app. But cloud-based services also offer a viable alternative, which may have advantages.
Geo-coded observations and photos, automatic taxonomic update, subspecies tools, trip-report publishing & etc. It is even possible to select your next destination based on the maximum number of lifers available. So do you choose the right online birding software for your particular needs, and how easy will it be to import your data?
First things first, cloud-based services provide effective, affordable and secure storage. If you ever had a disk crash or lost your laptop you know how it feels to see all records vanish in a flash with no hope of ever seeing them again. Stand-alone computers require regular back-ups not to mention multiple copies in different locations to be really safe. This is the first major advantage of online services; they provide automatic back up, not just now and then, but all the time; every time you make a tiny change! The ‘cloud’ stores all their client’s data with multiple back-ups, around the clock.
The second great advantage is that your records can then be accessed from any location in the world, at any time. Beyond security and accessibility, some cloud-based services offer help with managing your lists and making the most out of your observations.
Continuous taxonomic updates are, of course, key. The two most popular taxonomies – IOC and Clements – are regularly updated. Given the number of splits, lumps, name changes, sequence changes, etc., it’s a hard job keeping up with updates so you are probably far better off with a system that handles it all for you. Moreover, if its web-based its future proofed… you don’t have to move your records every time you find better software, with on-line solutions the code is updated for you.
OK, so you are sold on the ideas of a system keeping your records in the cloud. However, the prospect of laboriously copying many years of records to a new system is really daunting. You don’t want to spend days or even months exporting your data to the cloud. Fear not! Some birding software offer tools for importing your data in less than an hour! Records can be transferred quickly with smart software. Some software even has pre-defined import wizards for various databases that also allows you to create your own template based on what your current data file looks like – which for many of us is an MS Office Excel spreadsheet. The smart operators have also worked hard to create the software to import your data from some of the existing popular (and even defunct) bird listing software.
It’s not all completely trouble free – some work can remain: if you have not been on top of taxonomic changes for a few years, some species may not be recognised, or assigned to the wrong taxon (because it has been split once, in some cases even more than once). That Sandwich Tern that you saw in South America, is now called a Cabot’s Tern. This is a key reason to choose a software equipped with the tools to help you do the matches in a simple and informative way so that you can quickly be back in complete control of your lists!
Most of us keep records like a stamp collection that sits in a dusty draw ready to pass to the next generation who may be completely uninterested. We list for our own enjoyment or study. However, these days you can share your information as an ordinary birder whether or not you are competitive. Several citizen science projects depend on birders submitting their records to help monitor, study and protect wildlife; eBird being probably the most important globally. So the best software enables you to synchronise geo-coded observation with eBird or BirdTrack. Make sure the software you choose enables you to import from eBird too.
With all sorts of mobile devices, and growing connectivity you want to use the system in the field to record your sightings in real-time, that will mean you don’t have to do it all again when you get home whether it’s from the overseas trip or the patch visit.
Two more things about entering data: you should have the possibility to enter your observations directly in the field. Better still, check that it works without having to pay expensive roaming charges. The best have the facility to share data from a friend or the tour leader on a trip.
The more you dig down into some systems the more you realise the importance of good list management tools. In some you can mass-edit a set of observations with certain criteria. For example, you may want to geo-code your observations from the location names from all your travels; the software should allow you to move all of the data tagged for one location in one go. Other mass-edit options include changing dates, (sub)species, etc. That means that the software needs to have rigorous data on distribution ranges for both species and subspecies.
Most of us birders are aware that recording observations at the subspecies level may lead to ‘armchair ticks’ later on. So software that handles subspecies is a must; ideally tools for assigning observations to subspecies level should be user-friendly so you can make the most of your old records.
More and more birders now like to take photos for which you need a system that allows them to be added to your observations. Moreover, some help you with observation maps and you combine everything in a trip-report all in up-to-date taxonomic order. The best systems allow you to consult your data for any given date, like a diary, showing you which lifers or year-ticks you got that day, who was with you, what the weather was like, etc.
It seems like half the world now spends more time on social media than real life! So it’s almost an essential that your software should enable you to share a successful birding day on social media, including your photos. Some cloud-based software offers even wider range of tools to access, represent and make use of your data. The right software allows you to view and print your target lists for a destination you are considering. It can even select a destination that maximises your number of lifers!
I’ve yet to meet a birder who doesn’t have an interest in other critters whether it be mammals, dragonflies, butterflies & so forth. The very best software provides the same functionality for any given species-group, worldwide. Even if you weren’t listing them before you may as well start if it’s that easy.
Björn Anderson (iGoTerra) & Bo Beolens (Fatbirder)
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