Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Field Guide to the Birds of whereever I am right now.

Planning a recent trip to Baja California, I decided to buy a field guide to the birds of Baja, only to discover that there is no such book. Ornithologist colleagues suggested I just bring a guide to the birds of Mexico, but that seemed much less than ideal. Mexico has more than a thousand species of birds. Somewhere around 300 of those 1000 have ever been seen anywhere on the peninsula of Baja, and maybe a 150 of those have a moose's chance in Texas of showing up where we where when we were there. I looked through my very old edition of Peterson's Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico (so old they don't even have pictures of all the species because of the cost of printing illistrations), and decided that almost every bird we were at all likely to see was in the much more usable National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America (which in this case means the US and Canada), so I just brought that.
Of the 66 bird species we saw, only one wasn't in the Nat Geo guide, or at least only one I successfully identified, the Grey Thrasher.

But this system of having to have a different guide for each place one goes is just so cumbersome, especially when one goes to a place for which a guide is not available. It's time for field guide 2.0. What I want is an electronic guide that detects where I am and what season it is, then displays a list of species that could possibly be there. This could even be a fairly simple application for an iPhone or PDA. I click on the name of the species I want to see, or the group I want to explore, and I get that page. If I know I am looking at a booby, but don't know which one, I click on the genus Sula. Based on the fact that I am in Baja in winter, I get pictures of a Blue-Footed Booby and a Brown Booby of the brewsteri subspecies.

If I am an ambitious birder and hope to find birds that aren't normally found where I am, I tell the program to be less picky in the list it gives me. If I am a novice who will only notice the species that there are at least a thousand of all aroud me, I can get a more selective list and have an easier time IDing the Yellow-footed Gulls.

This would require no new technology, only someone from one of the several companies who make bird guides to take the data they already have and slap them in a program. But no, instead they want to sell us stacks of bound paper. How 20th century.

(EDIT: Just after posting this it occurred to me that someone might already bo doing this. The closest I can find are "Handheld Birds" from National Geographic and iBird Explorer. They don't yet have any more birds than what appear in field guides to the US and Canada, and they don't seem to have the capability to let your wireless device filter by your location and season, but I hope that will come soon. It is clear at least that bird guides are going digital.)

Here, by the way, is the unorganized list of bird species Iris and I saw on our trip:

La Paz, La Ventana & Puerto San Carlos, Baja California Sur, Mexico Dec. 15-25th, 2008

1. White-winged Dove
2. California Quail
3. Magnificent Frigate Bird
4. Brown Pelican
5. Turkey Vulture
6. Crested Caracara
7. Merlin
8. American Kestrel
9. Western Gull
10. Gila Woodpecker
11. Cassin’s Kingbird
12. Cactus Wren
13. Northern Mockinbird
14. Gilded Flicker
15. Phainopepla
16. Western Scrub Jay
17. Spotted Sandpiper
18. Royal Tern
19. Ring-Billed Gull
20. Orange-Crowned Warbler
21. California Gnatcatcher
22. Common Ground Dove
23. Common Raven
24 Costa’s Hummingbird
25. House Finch
26. House Sparrow
27. Pyrrhuloxia
28. Hooded Oriole
29. Great Egret
30. Sanderling
31. Bonaparte’s Gull
32. Lesser Scaup
33. Double-Crested Coromorant
34. Green Heron
35. Little Blue Heron
36. Great Blue Heron
37. Snowy Egret
38. Great Egret
39. Cattle Egret
40. Tricolored Heron
41. White Ibis
42. Osprey
43. Red-Tailed Hawk
44. Heermann’s Gull
45. Western Sandpiper
46. Rock Pigeon
47. Mourning Dove
48. Anna’s Hummingbird
49. Blue-Footed Booby
50. Caspian Tern
51. Forster’s Tern
52. Eared Grebe
53. Yellow-Footed Gull
54. Ash-Throated Flycatcher
55. Grey Vireo
56. Verdin
57. Rock Wren
58. Semi-Palmated Plover
59. Long-Billed Curlew
60. Black-Throated Sparrow
61. Belted Kingfisher
62. Ladderback Woodpecker
63. Willet
64. American Oyster Catcher
65. Grey Thrasher
66. Brown Boobie

1 comment:

jte said...

I'd encourage you to send this idea along to the folks at Google, perhaps starting with your cousin Matt. If they produced Google Earth and Sketchup and all the other things they're busy producing, this could well be something that sparks their interest.