A brief Collins Bird Guide (for Android) App review, or – Who needs a microwave?

Collins Bird Guide App, a review of sorts.

Collins Bird Guide App for Android is here

Years ago, when we got married, my wife’s work colleagues at the time made us a gift of a new microwave oven. This was back in the early 1990s, when not everyone had a microwave, and well before the era of mobile phones. True to my luddite streak, in private, I rather ungratefully declared “Who needs a microwave”? Because if I wanted to boil milk I used a saucepan, I had the kettle for boiling water, cooking was done in the oven, and defrosting food was planned the night before.

I’ve mellowed somewhat over the years, at least that’s what my wife tells me now and then; even so, I must admit I was tempted to say, “Who needs the Collins Bird Guide as an app?”. Now I’ve always said that the Collins Bird Guide – in its traditional paper and ink form – would remain unsurpassed by any similar field guide for decades to come, and I feel that that particular statement has the ring of truth, unless we get pedantic and count second and third editions etc.

Collins Bird Guide Little Bustard

Collins Bird Guide Little Bustard

 

Collins Bird Guide App search feature

Collins Bird Guide App search                       feature

So I have the Collins Bird Guide if I want to see an illustration of the species itself, see the bird in its natural habitat, glance at a distribution map with colours for winter, summer etc, read a useful descriptive text, or even have a description of the bird’s song and calls. What more could I need? And, furthermore, how could an app replace the feeling of leafing through a bird book?

Well, what I didn’t realize is that it doesn’t need to replace anything, rather this app has made a niche for itself and is ideal for anybody who is out and about birding in Europe, and even more so if you happen to be a professional of the birding world. The book is still there for you on the shelf, perhaps in the car or at best in the backpack, although if you have the app on your mobile phone then you might as well save yourself the inconvenience of the latter.

This app does everything the book does, as you’d expect, and without getting dog-eared, but what else can it do? Well, the list is quite substantial:

(i) Instant alphabetical search function – just type in the name of the bird species and the options appear as you write. Of course this is a commonsense feature, but just think of any beginner birders you may know and the difficulties they have finding their way through the standard guide, “Why aren’t the birds in alphabetical order?” is a question I have often been asked.

(ii) Comparison feature allowing the user to compare similar species or any species they want, up to 6 in all – even if you think Crested Larks and Hoopoes both have a crest and so need to be compared the app will not put up any obstacles or raise any objections.

Collins Bird Guide App Compare FeatureCollins Bird Guide App bird families

 

(iii) Recordings of most species’ songs and calls – making redundant the very variable interpretations of the phonetics of descriptions such as “voy voy…vüüü(cha)… vüüü(cha) swe-swe-swe-swe-swe sisisi … svee, sveeh” (can you tell me which species that refers to off the top of your head?). Just play the call (looped) and there is no need for any words to get in the way – however, they’re still in the text if you’re a fan.

(iv) The “My list” feature offers you a simple note-taking capacity. Admittedly, I personally still prefer the written notebook, but that may change.

(v) Add-to (and pay-for) features already available or nearly so include Bird Atlas 2007-11 maps if you have a special interest in Britain and Ireland, and species videos, many of which are brand new and have been filmed especially for this app.

In summary, in the field this all this translates to:
What does the bird look like? That.
What does it sound like? That.
What’s its range in Europe? That.
How is it different from a Hoopoe? There.

OK, so having established that this app is the best thing to happen to European birding since the Collins Bird Guide was published, is there anything the app doesn’t do, and perhaps could? Well, I miss a bit of “fun”, for example a quiz option where you can challenge your buddies or students to identify the species from the song (fingers on the buzzer or not) or the distribution map, or even “bits” of the bird in question. Furthermore, some of the recordings are of below average quality, although I have been informed that this is a shortfall which is likely to be rectified in later editions. Another thing is that, as with any app, it’s not as easy to lend as a book is. Come to think of it, that’s got to be an advantage.

The Collins Bird Guide app or, “Who needs a microwave?”. I do!

A Few Simple Ways to Bird-Proof Your Home

A Few Simple Ways to Bird-Proof  Your Home

 

Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

 

Attracting birds to your home is one of the easiest ways to birdwatch, requiring nothing more than a gentle touch to ensure you don’t spook them.

However, your home can be a potentially dangerous location for birds. In a world where we already have to balance environmental interests with bird safety, there are some steps you can take to make your own little impact and hopefully attract some birds to your home.

Windows

Birds flying at high velocities perceive “the gap”, which is in reality a window, to be nothing but air. Needless to say, it can easily injure the bird, or in the worst case scenario, kill it. The first option to rectify this, if you’re committed and have time and money, is to change the glass. You can make your windows bird friendly by switching from purely transparent to etched or angled glass. These particular methods alter the way the bird looks at the ‘gap’ to prevent it thinking it can just fly through.

If you’re a bit more strapped for cash and time, consider creating distractions; wind chimes, external shutters and strips of tape, for example, to either deter the bird from being in the vicinity or, again, change their perception of what they’re flying into.

http://www.penn-jersey.com/ensuring-your-windows-are-bird-safe

Protecting the Birds

Aside from windows and wind turbines, one of the biggest international killers of birds are cats. To cite an example from the USA, cats kill 3.7 billion birds every year. Cats are a big issue in Spain, with whole colonies living in the towns and cities; so in your backyard, birds will be unlikely to visit without a bit of protection.

To make your property a less inviting proposition for cats, consider spraying citrus around the garden, which is a known cat ‘repellant’. You can also employ the use of chimes to alert birds and try and discourage skittish felines.

We’re currently living in somewhat difficult times for birds, with several bodies harming bird populations. If we all come together, however, and make small changes in our own lives, we can together create a much more bird-positive environment, and enjoy the benefits ourselves.

By Sally Perkins

Participate in our birds and birders survey

Participate in our birds and birders survey!

At Birding In Spain we would like to conduct an informal survey of birders and birding. We are interested in getting insight into your birding experiences and outlook. If you can find the time help us by writing your answers and sending us an e-mail. Thanks!  

 Birders and birding survey

The questions are:

1. How long have you been birding?

2. What made you start?

3. What’s the best thing about birding for you? And the worst?

4. Does environmental education and promotion of birding make a difference to conservation? If so, can you give any examples?

5. Do you contribute with time, work or money to any conservation efforts? Which? How?

6. Does birding have any negative effects?

7. Is birding on the up in your part of the world? In general?

8. Which naturalists or birders do you admire the most, and why?

9. Is there somewhere you haven’t birded but would love to?

10. Would you like to make a prediction about the future of birding?

We invite you to complete and send us the answers via e-mail. A pdf version is also available on request.

Happy birding!

Preventing extinction: a common cause

The Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor could be down to just one pair in Catalonia, in other words it is soon to be extinct in the whole of the Iberian Peninsula. The truth is nobody was betting on the species to hold out much longer. For several years now the known population was reduced to a single site, where despite close monitoring and trapping of Magpies (the main predator of nestlings) the numbers of Lesser Grey Shrikes has gone slowly but steadily downhill. From just over 10 pairs at the turn of the millenium, to 4 pairs in 2008, and now the last one. Will the species have any reason to turn up here next year?  

I was embarked on a survey for the Atlas of Breeding Birds of Catalunya 1999-2002 when I chanced upon this as-then unknown breeding population of Lesser Grey Shrikes, on the very edge of the city of Lleida. At the time the discovery seemed to breathe some new life into the hopes for the future of the species in Spain. By then this attractive shrike had disappeared from the Aiguamolls of Empordà in Girona and from the last few pockets remaining to it in Aragón

In the face of the continued decline of the species it was closely monitored at this site. In fact, the presence of the Lesser Grey Shrike went a long way towards the declaration of the area as a “ZEPA” (SPA), a fact welcomed by a one-in-a-thousand enlightened landowner. Local biologists and conservationists even started working on a reintroduction scheme. 

Lesser Grey Shrike, Lanius minor.

None of this has been enough. Surely, now is the time for all involved to ask themselves if they really thought it was ever going to be enough. If the (public) money spent on the Lesser Grey Shrike, on counting, monitoring, studying and paperwork, had any significance for the conservation of the species? And if anyone so employed believed that getting results was what really mattered the most?  

That brings me to an issue which has come to me time and again in my contact with conservation initiatives in this country. Does anybody seriously propound that counting (surveying, censusing) is conservation?

Yes? Then please explain to me how it works, and why the Dupont’s Lark went extinct in Catalonia despite regular censuses, and why the Lesser Grey Shrike is now close to the end of the same path.

No? Then why do so many conservation efforts in Spain (Iberian Peninsula, Catalonia…) focus almost exclusively on solely counting the birds? Where’s the conservation in knowing that a rare species is getting rarer year by year, if you don’t use that information immediately to draw up some plan of remedial action?

That’s my point. Counting is not conservation. It might be many things, most of them good: birding, collaborating, training, group-bonding, identity-forming, whatever. But if no-one has bothered to work out what to do with the results before the count has been done, then it is not going to be of any service at all to the bird in question, ie. it is not conservation.

My proposal is that public funding for counting birds or other beasts should always be conditioned towards action based on the results. In other words, if a species is declining and the cause is known (lack of habitat, disturbance, predation by magpies, etc), then the lion’s share of the available funds should be allocated to action to ameliorate the situation. In other words, action, not numbers.

Iberaves Birding Questionnaire

Spanish birders birding in Bulgaria

Together with SPEA from Portugal, Spanish SEO-Birdlife have designed a birding tourism questionnaire. Both organizations are representatives of Birdlife International in their respective countries. And both would like to know more about the interests, motivation, logistics, etc of the birders, both foreign and national, who bird in Spain and Portugal

Spanish birders in Montsec

BirdingInSpain.com was invited to a presentation of the initiative and we found it interesting and well designed.

So instead of playing cards on the Internet, or whatever else you do to kill a few minutes, we suggest that you follow this link to the Iberaves questionnaire and help the good people of SEO-Birdlife with their search for knowledge. It may lead to improvements in services, infrastructure and, indirectly, to the conservation of the species that birders want to see.

Seawatching off the Mediterranean coast

Birding and sustainable tourism versus windfarms

It seems to be a debate that leaves no-one indifferent. Wind farms and the need for renewable energy in one corner and birding, sustainable tourism and conservation in the other.

The undeniable logic of renewable energy in times of increasing concern over global warming and oil wars is pounded into us. And most energetically (!) by interested parties who have the most to gain in the short term. Take off your masks and show us who you really are!

In the other corner are local residents concerned about the enormous visual impact of wind turbines (anyone been to Fuendetodos recently? The village widely signposted as Goya’s birthplace? Scenic, eh?), electricity pylons and lines, health aspects, and even the mortal effect they have on birds of prey. Rural tourism is going hand in hand with sustainability, and slowly gaining hard-won ground, here in Spain at least.

So should the inhabitants of Terra Alta, Montsià and Matarranya, with the great natural and scenic wealth of Els Ports, the serres of Pàndols and Cavalls, the wonderful via verda, the rivers Matarranya, Estrets, Algars (the cleanest in the Mediterranean basin)…should they let it all go and allow the hills to be plastered with wind turbines?  I don’t think so. And luckily, many of the local residents of those areas don’t think so either.

If wind turbines are necessary, let them first go up in the places where they will have the least impact: put them along the motorways, put them up next to industrial estates, on city outskirts, even at the top of those sierras which don’t have birds of prey and are not in the heart of what should be a protected landscape. That is the real logic of wind energy –  putting the turbines where they belong. And one day, when no such sites remain, then it will be time to sit down together and talk about the future.

Spring-loaded cars

Maintaining a blog requires constancy and vanity: I’m obviously lacking in one of those, but I’m not sure which.

Ideas for the environment, and hence for birds. This month’s apparently “whacko” suggestion is spring-loaded cars.

Imagine it: go to a “petrol” station which has no petrol but rather exercise bikes of similar. There you can pedal for as long as you like on a static bike which in fact is winding up a very strong, resistant spring-loaded mechanism housed inside a rechangeable tube. You pay nothing for the exercise, and in fact get a credit for replacing your spent “tube” or cannister for a recharged one, depending on the amount of exercise you have done, or how much you want to pay.

I’m no engineer, so I expect such a system would have to be used in combination with petrol or similar, as a spring-petrol hybrid.

Want more? Got more?

More green taxes, please!

Another thing. They tell us that nature conservation is all very well, but that it doesn’t pay. Then make it pay!

Establish a taxing system to replace rates or poll taxes or even VAT that awards value to the quality of the environment where people live, produce or consume. Every municipality could have its own biodiversity ranking, depending on the quality of the surrounding environment, the gains or losses of habitats and species in recent years, the rarity/uniqueness of its fauna and flora (including birds of course). The basic premise is that those areas which do most for the environment pay less, and those area which rely on industry or other types of production without considering the protection of biodiversity pay more. After all they are getting rich by producing, unless they’re doing it in the wrong way.

The principle is simple enough, but of course it would take a lot of goodwill and imagination to put it into practice. Maybe it’s Utopia. Maybe it’s sustainability.

Ideas for birds: a new category for the Birding In Spain blog

It’s been bugging me for some time now, so I’ve decided to take the plunge…As from today this blog will have a new category called “Ideas for birds”.

And what exactly is “ideas for birds” I hear you ask? (I only hear that in my head as nobody ever makes any comment on this blog!). Well it’s basically a mish-mash of ideas that at one time or other have occured to me; ideas that would make things better for birds, the environment and most people if someone powerful and influential enough were to take them to heart. Failing that they will float around cyberspace until the Birding in Spain.com blog domain is stolen, lost or neglected, or until an internet virus blows us all back into harsh reality.

Could I give an example? Of course…

Every municipality with a minimum number of animal farms should have its own co-operative biogas plant. If the capital outlay is too much for the individual farmer then let them come together as they did for olives, almonds and other crops and form a co-operative. Biogas plants on this scale would produce electricity to meet part of the village’s electricity demands, fertilizer, heat for greenhouse production and would also do away with the problem of pig slurry disposal.

ANother one, also related to a question of scale:

Why are fields being swallowed up by acres of solar panels before plastering roofs with them in our villages, towns and cities?

Put wind turbines along motorways and not on the tops of the sierras. This would reduce raptor collision problems and visual impact.

More uncomfortable truths to follow…