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The BirdLog app—eBirding with your Smartphone

By deweidemann May 7, 2014
birdlog hotspots screenshot

The location selection screen from the the BirdLog app. Image used with permission of Birds In the Hand, the makers of BirdLog.

If you love your smartphone and are an eBird Caribbean participant, the new BirdLog app from the makers of BirdsEye will fundamentally change eBird data entry for you and the way you interact with the eBird Caribbean database. Now, for the first time, it is possible to collect bird observations in the field as you are birding, and then submit them directly to eBird Caribbean as soon as you finish. No longer does one need to record birds in a notebook and then transcribe the notes into eBird Caribbean when they get back home to their computers. In effect, it makes data entry twice as fast since it integrates the notebook with the computer. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about forgetting to enter a checklist or procrastinate over entering lists from a long day of birding because it will already be done! Team eBird strongly recommends using this app if you have a smartphone and are hoping for an easier way to enter sightings in eBird Caribbean from the field.

With more efficient data entry, eBirders with the BirdLog app will also find it easy to submit more checklists from areas that are not typically “good” for birding or where they did not record anything “noteworthy.” Checklists from a city parking lot or while waiting for the bus are actually very useful because they help eBird Caribbean provide a more balanced view of local bird communities. Furthermore, the location services in the phone make it much easier to determine if you are birding at a hotspot, resulting in more consistent data displays. The time and date services in the phone also reduce accidental date and time typos and will assist with automatic calculation of duration. And, perhaps most importantly, the act of recording birds in the field as you go will make for more accurate counts. While you previously might have rounded a number to 25 White-crowned Pigeons (Patagioenas leucocephala) on a walk, it is now much easier to tally as you go and realize that there were actually 38!

As you begin to get more in the habit of using your smartphone as your primary means of data entry in eBird Caribbean, we do want to give some recommendations for how to make your lists entered through BirdLog as valuable as possible.

Creating your list – Try to get in the habit of capturing the start time as soon as you start birding. The more accurate the time, the better. By the same token, be sure to capture the duration as soon as you finish your birding. To do this go to “Review and Submit” and click “Calculate” next to duration. This will automatically add in the duration spent birding.

Entering comments – Perhaps the biggest difference between entering a checklist through BirdLog and doing it online through eBird Caribbean, is the ease of entering comments. For most of us (especially the older generation!) typing on small smartphone keyboards is much slower and more difficult than a full-sized keyboard. Since detailed comments are important to document rare birds that you report to eBird Caribbean, we hope that use of BirdLog does not reduce the quality of comments that you enter in eBird Caribbean. Here are a few recommendations.

  • If you report a rarity with few or no notes, please do remember to enter comments when you return home. Just log back in to eBird Caribbean, open the list in “Manage My Observations” and edit the species comments.
  • If reporting a rarity, please enter at least brief comments through BirdLog. These can include: “Continuing rarity” or “Species not exceptional at this location.” If it is a rarity that deserves better notes–especially one you are reporting for the first time–then you can write “*Rarity; notes will be added later”.
  • For those with a newer model iPhone (i.e., one with “Siri”), the voice to text option actually works very well for creating initial text in the species comments field. Simply place the cursor in the species comments field and speak your text. Although certain bird names and birder jargon may not translate well, it can overall make it easy to add detailed notes for rare bird sightings. Be sure to reread the transcription before submitting though!
  • Breeding Code, Age/Sex, and other details cannot be entered through BirdLog. Please be sure to log back in to eBird Caribbean to record these details, especially breeding behavior if it was observed.

Entering locations – The in-phone GPS makes it easy to select your location or create a new one. Please do use the “find it on a map” option when birding outside of your local area so that you can first see if there is a location appropriate for your birding. “Create a new location” should be used only when birding in areas that you know do not have an existing location (i.e., random roadside spot, a friend’s house etc.).

BirdLog is a great way to see if you have multiple locations, or if you have a personal location that duplicates a hotspot. If you are asking BirdLog to show you a nearby Personal Location, and you end up seeing two spots with similar names that represent the same point, the chances are you have either created two Personal Locations for the same spot, or you have a Personal Location that duplicates a Hotspot. To fix this, go to the “Manage My Locations” page from “My eBird” where you can merge those two spots into one (your Personal Location should be merged with the hotspot). Remember, you can always rename the hotspot according to your preference, but using the official hotspot helps to aggregate data and keeps the maps from being overly cluttered.

To purchase and download the BirdLog Mexico and Central America app (which covers the Caribbean region), click here (iPhone users) or here (Android users). BirdLog is produced by Birds In the Hand. To visit their website for more details about BirdLog, click here. Video demos showing how to use the app can be found here. To contact the makers of BirdLog or leave feedback on your BirdLog experiences, click here.

Good luck and enjoy eBirding from your smartphone!

Team eBird and Doug Weidemann