Jun 27 2011

Addicted to the Sibley eGuide

Published by at 7:00 am under Books & Events

Today's blog is for "techno birders," people like me who play with technology and go birding to get away from it all.  Or so I thought.

Until recently my birding was low-tech.  I'd go outdoors with only binoculars and my field book.  Then three months ago I bought the Sibley eGuide for my cellphone.  I thought I wouldn't use it much.  Hah!  I love it!

First let me say that I come by technology honestly.  I've worked with computers since high school and my real job at WQED is Director of Information Technology (no, not "blogger").   Even so, I'm conservative about gadgets and updates and am slow to adopt the latest technology.  I never have the newest stuff because I've seen too many new things crash and burn.

On the other hand, I have a Droid smartphone.  I don't carry it to make phone calls.  Nooooooooo!  It's my pocket computer and I use it everywhere.  I suffer withdrawal if I can't get on the Internet.  Ask my husband how I react in a certain place in Maine that has no 4G network.

Being a slow adopter I am very cautious about downloading apps to my Droid.  My low-tech husband was the one who researched the Sibley eGuide for my birthday gift.  I downloaded it a few months early so I could use it during my trip to Nevada last April. (It cost $29.99 at the time.)

Since then I have become addicted.  The Sibley eGuide allows me to:

  • See Sibley's great images and read detailed information about each species including range maps and behavior.
  • Zoom in on the images to see more details.
  • Use taxonomic or (my new favorite) alphabetic lists.
  • Narrow the scope of potential birds by choosing my state/province location.
  • Use the Smart Search function to further narrow the possibilities by size, color, body features (such as tail patches), etc.
  • Listen to the song to help my identification.  (No! No! No!  I do not play the songs so the birds can hear them.  I turn the volume very low and listen right next to my ear and play just a short bit to verify my audio guess.  Do not play the sounds for the birds!  Here's why, from Sibley himself.)
  • Compare two species' images side-by-side as I would in a book-based field guide.
  • Compare two songs side-by-side.  Can't do that with my field book.
  • Record the bird's date and location and email or export the list.

The Sibley eGuide [no longer] validates its license over the network every time you open it. It works just fine when you're off the grid.  For me, it used to force-close at startup but that's because I was being way too tech-y and killing it with my task killer instead of gracefully closing it like a normal person.

Since downloading the Sibley eGuide I've changed my birding habits.  Instead of thinking "I'm not carrying my field guide because it's heavy and I won't encounter a bird I don't know,"  I now say to myself,  "I don't need my book. I have my Droid."

I never leave home without it.

(image from Sibley eGuides to Birds App webpage at sibleyguides.com. Click on the image to read more about the app.  Get it at Android Market or at iTunes for iPhones or at Blackberry App World, depending on your cellphone model.)

As you can tell from the links in the photo credits, the Sibley eGuide also runs on the iPhone (its original platform) and the Blackberry.

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Addicted to the Sibley eGuide”

  1. Stephenon 27 Jun 2011 at 9:11 am

    I have the Sibley Guide on my iPhone and yes, it rocks! Particularly like access to the calls, and the variety of them. Well done app.

  2. Steve-oon 27 Jun 2011 at 10:47 am

    There are lots of articles out there that will tell you not to use a task killer with your Android phone. I stopped using one and I use an app called “Watchdog Lite”. This app looks for out of control apps that are hogging too much memory and gives you the option to kill that particular program, or ignore it.

    I’m going to start dropping hints to my wife that I should get this app for my birthday, thanks for the heads up!

  3. Andrea Boykowyczon 27 Jun 2011 at 10:48 am

    Awesome! Thanks, Kate! Our budding 4yo birder will love it. Have you seen LeafSnap? We’ve enjoyed using it for tree ID-ing in Schenley Park. It’s not great with the shrubs and vines, sadly, but does very well with trees and woody bushes.

  4. Gailon 27 Jun 2011 at 11:22 am

    I have used the Birdjam on my ipod for years. It just died and I am looking to replace it. I have added so much to my bird identification with it. When I got Birdjam years ago, it was only the songs. Now they have added so much to it that, yes it has become my field guide.

  5. Kate St. Johnon 27 Jun 2011 at 11:52 am

    Task killer: I first used computers when 64K was a *lot* of space so I find it hard not to be vigilant about memory on my pocket computer. Yup, sometimes I really mess it up so I turn off my phone & take out the battery. That shows it who’s boss. 😉

  6. Kate St. Johnon 27 Jun 2011 at 11:55 am

    I’ll look into LeafSnap. I wish the Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide was on Android. As soon as that happens I won’t need *any* field books.

  7. Barb Simonon 28 Jun 2011 at 11:08 am

    I’m jealous. I’m noooowhere near you guys. It’s just my eyes, my head and my heart. And I’m a plant junkie besides being a bird enthusiast. I am thrilled to be surrounded by flowering weeds. Well….maybe some day. But I’ll need a lot of help from my kids. They understand these things.

  8. Tana Allenon 28 Jun 2011 at 2:55 pm

    I recently downloaded iBird Pro and I’m totally addicted. It was on sale for $9.95, so I picked it over the Sibley app or else I would have had Sibley. It is amazing to be able to very quickly find a bird to compare without lugging my guides around in my pockets. I have lost more field guides by taking them out of my pocket to sit and then leaving them on the bench while birding, LOL! Now that’s not so much an issue.

    I know exactly what you mean about playing the songs softly now. I accidentally called a Northern Parula off his perch, totally unintentionally, last week. I was in the Laurel Highlands, at Touchstone Center for Crafts, and I had heard a song I wasn’t sure of. I had played every warbler song in my cabin the night before and I still couldn’t figure out what I had been hearing. Now I was looking at a Northern Parula at the top of a tree and it still didn’t sound right, so I got the phone out and checked the song on ibird. It definitely was a different song than the one I was hearing and seeing the Parula sing, but apparently it was just a different accent or dialect, because he sure responded! It didn’t occur to me that he was going to hear it so far away, but within seconds he was in the little tree above me singing and fluttering, trying to find the intruder. I felt sooooo bad for having disturbed him.

    Later, sitting on the porch of Touchstone’s lodge, talking about the birds we saw and heard, someone asked about the Towhee. I showed it to her on the phone and hit the song so she could hear it. Oops, again, here comes a very irate Towhee flying out of the brush to confront the interloper….

    Lesson learned, no playing the sounds outside!

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