This app will have them twitching

Twitcher |ˈtwi ch ər| (noun): A birdwatcher whose main aim is to collect sightings of rare birds.

Pizzey and Knight Birds of Australia Digital Edition
Gibbon Multimedia (Aus) Pty Ltd 2013
Original text: Graham Pizzey
Illustrations: Frank Knight
Field Guide Editor: Sarah Pizzey

Birders in Europe and North America have been using smartphone apps to help them identify birds for about as long as we’ve had smartphones. Australia has had a few of these apps, but they have essentially been ebook versions of older field guides, with the addition of bird calls of each species. The new digital edition of what is possibly the most popular Australian bird field guide, by Pizzey and Knight, takes birding into an exciting new realm. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to use the Pizzey and Knight app for a few days before it is released on the App Store. It’s expected to be available at the end of this week. The app can be used on both iPad and iPhone (I’ve been using the iPhone version) and an Android app is also under development.

For most of this year I’ve been using the Michael Morecombe & David Stewart eGuide to the Birds of Australia, and it has been helpful to have a field guide in my pocket wherever I go, especially for identifying birds by call. The superb sound recordings by Dave Stewart are what made this app unique, and an important part of a serious birder’s toolkit.

Until now.

The Pizzey and Knight Digital Edition takes birding apps to a new level. This is a REAL app – it uses so much of the smartphone/tablet functionality that a lot of what it does was really just a dream a couple of years ago:

* Bird lists based on location, using inbuilt GPS, or map search, or location search
* A superb Key Guide for identifying species – also uses habitat/size/shape/features, but it can limit a search using location services (GPS), and colours for different parts of the bird
* Multiple personal lists, and the ability to consolidate any or all into a master “life” list. These can be sorted and searched by trip, or to show where a species has been recorded
* Birding Sites – showing 250 of the best hot spots in the country, with key species, full species lists, and even 7-day weather forecasts!
* Option of tagging each record with GPS coordinates
* Option of tagging each record with date and time
* Side by side comparison of species (drawings, photos, maps, calls)

As well as all that, we still get the full P&K field guide, plus calls for most species, and multiple photos of each species. There is a glossary, detailed help section, Parts of a Bird, and the maps showing seasonal distribution and status.

This is a superb guide. I love the way it allows access to the data in so many different ways. Yes, some people prefer a more linear approach – scroll through taxonomic order or look up an index. Well, that’s how a book works. It’s ideal for some birders because it never runs out of batteries, they can write in it, drop it, and even sit on it. But it won’t show them a list of species recorded in any area they arrive at, or play a range of calls for a species, or allow them to quickly build a trip list tagged with times and GPS data.

The ease with which a species can be added in real time is one of the great features of this app. Once you have a species list for your location, a single tap next to each species adds it to whatever list you’ve specified – along with the parameters you’ve chosen. Bird names are always a bit contentious, and there are several ways of cataloguing all the birds of the world. Research ornithologists don’t always agree whether some species are in fact different species, and occasionally one name will be preferred over another. Most North American birders follow the taxonomy described by James F. Clements (Cornell University); the British tend to favour a different list published by the International Ornithological Congress (IOC). In Australia, we used the checklist of Christides and Bowles, though recently our main ornithological body has preferred yet another variation, the Birdlife International checklist. The Pizzey and Knight app allows the user to specify which taxonomy to use, and that can be changed at any time.

There is a detailed tour of the app on the Gibbon Multimedia website:

http://www.gibbonmm.com.au/tour/PKBA_iOS.aspx

This gives a much better overview of what the app can do, and what you can do with the app. And that’s the whole point: the user isn’t constrained to view the field guide in one way, or in one order, but has at their fingertips an extensive database, and several ways of finding information in it. Different birders will use the app in different ways.

I haven’t listened to a lot of the P&K calls (most recorded by Fred van Gessel) but I do like the fact that each call shows where it was recorded, the race or subspecies, male or female, and age where relevant – plus the name of the sound recordist. Personally, I prefer the Dave Stewart recordings, so I won’t be deleting the Morcombe app. We’re a bit spoiled to have such a wealth of birdsong at our fingertips now!

It’s hard to believe I’ll be carrying such a powerful database of bird calls, descriptions and information in my pocket. I probably won’t even need a notebook to record sightings any more. I wonder when someone will build all this functionality into a pair of binoculars?

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