Handheld Bird Guide

There are some fun new toys on the way for birding. You look at items coming out now for birding like the Song Sleuth for identifying and recording bird calls or optics that take digital photos. I always thought that it would be a matter of time before there is a hand held interactive birding field guide...and I am happy to report that there is one on the way.

It's called National Geographic's Handheld Birds (no website yet) and let me tell you it is going to be a sweet little program. You will be able to either purchase the software for your palm pilot or purchase the palm and the software all at once. It uses images from the National Geographic Field Guide and includes bird call recordings from Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The unit will also include features like habits, how to tell a bird from similar species, range maps, and you can take field notes with it too.

It's surprisingly easy to navigate as you can do it by type, color, general name, actual name and I'm sure there a couple of other ways as well that I just forgot in my general excitement. I went out in the field with Khara Strum and she helped identify an ash-throated flycatcher for me with the pilot. It's still a little ways from being ready for sell but they are getting closer and closer and closer.

I began thinking about nay sayers and this product. First thing that I don't like is that there won't be any book signings for this guide. I love finding a new bird author to geek out over and I don't see any practical way of getting a palm pilot autographed.

When I was testing the Song Sleuth a couple of old school birders pointed out that they remembered when people used to go out and learn bird songs not use some box to id the bird for them. But there is still some work with products like this. I think fun birding tech products are going to help mainstream birding and more people into the fold. How cool will you look with a handheld out in the field?

What I am always surprised about is how a trip like this can change my perspective of different species. For example I was at the ABA sales area and was looking over the artists that had work on display. I ended up purchasing a wood block print from artist Alex Cruz who had white-breasted nuthatch prints or painted redstart prints. I was immediately drawn to the nuthatch but the redstart didn't pique my interest. However, after visiting the Garden Canyon area and seeing twenty or so painted redstarts, I now wonder if I should have bought that print instead. Having experienced the bird in the flesh I now get how cool Alex's prints were. Amy sensibly purchased a redstart print--I should have followed her smart example.

I met another artist named Ray Nelson who has had some of his prints in Birding. My favorite is called Beauty and the Beast and it's a turkey vulture and hummingbird, it's beautiful. He's not sure he will sell it, he did get an offer from someone but it was a little lower than we wanted and he was thinking of going ahead and selling the original for that. I alas, don't have the money but hope he sticks to the price and in the next year or two when I will have that kind of money would love to have the original on my wall. He also has a barn owl piece that is just to die for as well.

I found a book that I must add to my library page on the site (actually, I am in dire need of updating that, a couple of friends have asked why their books aren't on there, it's not that I don't like their books, I'm easily distracted). The book is called Bird Tracks and Sign A Guide to North American Species by Mark Elbroch and Eleanor Marks. It is such a handy tool for tracking birds. It goes way beyond just finding pellets or tracks in the snow, it talks about common feathers found and how to id birds from those. There's a section on cracked acorns and how to figure out who ate them and little sidebars of interesting tips like ravens need a little run to take off but crows do not. Crows can jump straight in the air and fly, a raven can't--I never noticed that before. There's also a funny story about the author's canoe trip and all the roosting owls discovered along the river and the unfortunate luck of canoeing under a great blue heron rookery and learning the hard way of heron missile defense (their stanky fishy poop). It came out in 2001 and is a good read and will improve your birding skills. And for those who think I only read dry books with not pictures, this is a VERY photographic guide (alright, a good portion of it is bird extracta like poop and pellets, but there are photos).