Techno Birding

Blogger is acting weird tonight so if there are more typos than usual, I apologize. Spell Check got very wonky.

There is a new product showcase at Bird Watch America where attendees can show off a new item and participants can vote for what they think is the best new product. The last two years have really perplexed me in the choices that won the award. Perhaps the reason was that not all new products entered the contest or that attendees who are buying for their stores look at it from the perspective that they think a certain item will be easiest to carry as well as be a hot seller. I’m looking at it from more of a consumer angle. As a consumer, I find that someone going in a completely different direction much more exciting.

The big buzz at the show was technology. We’ve seen it in the past in the form of the Yankee Flipper, the weight sensitive and motorized feeder that literally flips squirrels off or in the form of heated bird baths. But now technology is really coming to the forefront in birding and birdwatching circles. A couple of these I have mentioned before, but they are still cool and worth mentioning again.

The PullUin Software booth was busy every time I passed (pictured, right, President of PullUin, Mary Derby demonstrating the new PDA field guide to buyers). PullUin is the company developing National Geographic’s Handheld Birds, a PDA with National Geographic’s North American field guide complete with maps and audio recordings of almost all the birds loaded onto a PDA.

I’ve actually had a test version since December that I took down with me to Arkansas. There were a few bugs that were still being ironed out, so I was hesitant to mention it until it was ready to go. (My favorite bug being that when you clicked on the range map for the ivory-billed woodpecker, the program would crash and reboot--this made me chuckle for days). I’m happy to report that this flaw is fixed and the program is oh so cool. I tend not to take a field guide out with me, one because I usually don’t need it and two I don’t want the added weight. The PDA field guide is perfect because it is small and light weight and as an added bonus you can use it to make field notes. In Arkansas I had to spend ten to twelve hour days out in the field loaded with recording equipment and food so the PDA was easy to sneak in without added weight. If you have never used a PDA before, getting the hang of it can seem intimidating, but after playing with it for a day you can really start to have a good time. Mary took quite a few orders this weekend. I think this is only the beginning, and more field guides will follow suit.

I had always wondered why National Geographic had never updated their bird identification cds, but after using the handheld, I understand--there are way more bird calls on this than any other North American bird cd I have ever purchased--including calls of the ivory-billed woodpecker. The birds are organized alphabetically or taxonomically and program also includes range maps, field marks, conservation status and the ability to create lists.

Another product getting some buzz was the birdPod, which I have reviewed before and really enjoy. The company did not have a booth, but they were present at the show and were met with interest and excitement. For birdPod to work, you need three things: an iPod, the Stokes CDs (either eastern or western) and the birdPod program. BirdPod will organize all the calls either alphabetically, by family group and habitat and eliminate the narration. As an added bonus, the program will take a track that has two different bird species on the same track and divide it into two separate tracks! I already had an iPod and a Stokes Eastern CD of bird calls so I just ordered the program itself. I had always wanted to download the Stokes CDs onto my iPod, organize them and have some of the tracks without Lang Elliot’s narration. I had started and even tried to rope Non Birding Bill into doing some of it for me, but it was just too time consuming. I found the idea that I could just download a program that will organize the bird calls into several different play lists and take out the narration very appealing and more than worth the price. If you just have the Stokes CDs you can order an iPod and the program or if you don't have those you can order an iPod already programmed with the cds and the software.

One intriguing item I found was a heated mealworm feeder by NovaBird (left). I had heard of someone in southern Minnesota who used one of these and it had cost them somewhere in the neighborhood of $150. This person had bluebird coming to feed all winter and wanted to put mealworms out. When it gets cold enough, mealworms go dormant and birds are less likely to eat them. I think the wiggly movement of mealworms stimulates them to eat so when they just lay there the birds aren't as motivated. The feeder is thermostat controlled and is only warm enought to keep the mealworms alive, so birds can't just sit in it to warm their toes.

A final booth was a product that I almost missed called Hear More Birds. I don't know if their site is up just yet but should be in the next few weeks. They offer an inconspicuous earpiece (pictured, right, nestled discreetly in my ear) that enhances sound behind you or in front of you. It’s similar to the earpiece I wear on my KARE 11 segments when I have to answer phone questions, but it fits a lot better. As I was trying it out, I could hear conversations three booths away or hear someone’s cell phone vibrating in their pocket. I’m very impressed and interested, it’s a product that could help birders with deteriorating hearing be able to listen to those northern parulas or help birders with great ears listen for birds just a little farther away out of their normal range of hearing…come to think of it, I really REALLY wish I had that in Arkansas.

I believe this product originated in the hunting industry as a means for hunters to be more aware of their surroundings and perhaps be able to hear approaching prey. I’d really like to try it in the field during warbler season to see how well it works, or for doing owl surveys in the evening.

What an exciting time to be a birder.