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I’ve been wanting to write a piece about what technology we have used over the year. It’s no secret that tech plays a role in todays bird watching, maps, alarm apps, facebook groups, different sites, cameras, chats, cell phones technology all help the intrepid birder towards those ticks. Let’s start with maps.
Maps and Internet access
Google maps is awesome, however we worried like crazy prior to the Big Year because a number of Arab countries do not allow offline of Google Maps. We prepared another map app, called Locus Maps which allows for offline maps. The solution turned out be much simpler – we brought an extra lo-end Android phone and bought SIM cards where ever we went. Then we used WiFi tethering on that phone, providing WiFi for all of us. One drawback with tethering is that most phones have quite a few settings, where stuff is downloaded, synced etc in the background on WIFI only. From the p.o.v of our phones, we were on WIFI, whereas in reality we were all on the 4G network via the extra phone. These settings must be tweaked into manual, otherwise the data traffic becomes to high and you have buy more data all the time.
This gave us perfect map access in all countries. Especially the satellite option in Google Maps turned to be gold over the year. Quite a lot of time has been spent searching for the right bird habitat, the satellite option has given us invaluable clues as to where there are dirt-tracks, marshes, ponds, fields etc.
It’s usually very easy, and also cheap to buy those SIM cards and data. The cost is a fraction of the price at home. Sometimes we have bought them on the airport, but more often we have bought them in small shops in cities. The activation of the SIM card is sometimes difficult though, and you need help with that – typically at the shop/vendor/street person where you buy the card.
Tapping up the phone, i.e buying additional data you also need help with, different countries have different systems. Usually you can buy extra data in all small shops, even small grocery shops or cafes. The sellers always help with the tap-up process though.
Cell coverage is excellent in all the remote countries, we had better 4G coverage in Oued Jenna, Western Sahara than what we ever had in the UK.
In our group we speak Swedish, English, German and Spanish. Important languages we lacked were French, Arabic and Russian. When all else fails, body language is of course the last resort, however a recent addition to Google Translate saved us a few times. It’s now possible to offline an entire language in Google Translate, that in combination with different-language keyboards makes it possible to communicate (slowly) in those remote languages. English is not as prevalent as you would think, and especially on the remote country side, English doesn’t work.
We’ve taken a lot of pictures over the year and those SD cards quickly fill up, especially if you chose (as you should) the RAW option in the camera. The solution is to bring a proper Laptop on the trips, and do all of that pesky image processing in the field, upload (over the 4G network) all pictures you want to save and then throw the rest away. Yes, I realise this hurts, but the opposite would hurt even more. There are plenty of good cloud storage possibilities for pictures. Buy some extra space on Google Drive, sign up at www.smugmug.com, etc. Your choice.
Reporting and keeping track of ticks
There are AFAIK 3 different apps that are good at keeping track of your observations, iGoTerra (which we use) eBird and it’s associated app, and Observado and it’s associated app. Pick one.
Digiscoping and Photography
Learning to Digiscope reasonably well is often the difference between a record picture of the bird and no record at all. If it’s a rare bird, you’ll need that photograph in order to convince other birders of the authenticity of the sighting. There are adapters, but they make you slow. Learn how to just put the phone on the scope and take that picture – fast.
Calls and playback
Traditionally the CD pack from Andreas Schultze has been the best sound recordings of WP birds. Now we have other options. One good option is to use the calls from Collins Bird Guide app, and then complement those with additional calls from Xeno canto for species that are poorly covered in the app. The best loud speaker for birders is JBL clip, just buy one.
We have used Mobtapes sometimes, here is one which has proved successful over the year. Mobtape – use with care.
We have also used a sound recording app, called Easy Voice Recorder. It has been useful a couple of times when we have heard a bird, but were uncertain of the id. Doing a quick recording, gives you time to investigate further without relying on memory only. This particular app has the ability to gain the sound, making even very low recording useful.
Fresh bird information is abundant on the internet, the problem for us has been that there so many different sources of information. We have had to scan all those sites/apps continuously over the year. Here are a few.
- RBA, rare bird alerts in UK/Ireland. This is a service you have to pay for, it’s invaluable though and a must.
- eBird has in many areas/countries been the main source of information for us. The ability to explore hotspots and all the other search functionality has been invaluable. We have done all our reporting in iGoTerra, but once the year is over I’ll ensure all our data finds its way to eBird as well. Ebird has an excellent app for sight recordings as well, and going all-in on eBird is clearly an alternative to iGoTerra.
- Observado is in many ways similar to eBird but with worse search functionality. We have used Observado extensively over the year.
- BirdAlarm is the Club300 in Sweden app, it’s used in Norway and Denmark too. Costs money.
- All the various facebook pages for various countries are worth to sign up for. Birding Germany/Iceland/Italy/Poland/Cape Verde/
- Bird news from Germany and France at ornitho.de and ornitho.fr
- Whatsapp groups in the various countries have been great, they always require a local contact though.