App: Outdoors Great Britain

Matt Merritt

 If you’re a regular user of our Go Birding pages, a good mapping app complements the printed page very nicely, and this one from the Ordnance Survey is an excellent example.

While it’s free to download, you do have to buy maps within it to get full use of it – it cost me £9.99 for OS maps of the whole West Midlands, for example.

Once you have, though, you’ve got the comfort of knowing that you’ve got an accurate map even when you’re offline.

If you’ve got a decent data signal, you can also map your own routes as you walk them, which I found very handy when

trying to record precise sites at which I’d seen certain birds. Even without a signal, you can create your own routes on bought maps, too.

It doesn’t end up cheap, but it saves carrying paper maps, and it means you’re ready for any situation.

Plantifier

Matt Merritt

In the course of trying to create a wildlife-friendly garden, I’ve again and again found our flower beds sprouting one or other plant that I can’t identify with my very limited knowledge.

That’s where Plantifier comes in. Free to download, you just need to create a log-in identity, and you can then start uploading pictures of any unidentified greenery that turns up in your garden. Other users tell you what the plant is (and can also add other useful information), and of course, as you get a little more expert, you can return the favour.

You usually get an (accurate) answer within 12 hours, so it’s invaluable in telling you what to dig out and what to leave.

Wild plants don’t always get such a good or quick response, but they’re worth trying. It’s thin on detail, but once you know what you’re looking at, you can research that yourself anyway.

App: BirdTrack IOSApp Version 2.0

Jonny Rankin

Jonny testing the app

Jonny testing the app

LONG STANDING Bird Watching readers may recall that I was delighted back in 2013 when the BirdTrack app hit the app store; indeed, I have used the app routinely ever since. This updated iOS version considerably broadens the app’s capabilities, to the extent that you can now use it globally!

As well as the convenience of being able to use BirdTrack while on holiday, your records now add conservation value to in-country organisations in the same way as they do here.

Given the now broadreaching scope of the app, various taxonomies are available in-app. The ‘BirdTrack Legacy’ list is the one to go for if you are UK-based. If you travel widely, you could leave it set on the default ‘International ornithological Congress’ list and merrily BirdTrack your way around the world!

When the overhauled version 2.0 hit the app store in March 2016, I hit some initial stumbling blocks, all of which have now been overcome. Paying heed to the in-built help module would have largely avoided the issues I faced, but much like flat-packed DIY, who actually reads the instructions?

First, under the Settings section of the app, be sure to press the blue ‘Update’ button once you have added your user details. If you have used BirdTrack before, this will pull in your existing sites and allow the app to recognise your location in relation to your established nearby sites. Thereafter, the aforementioned ‘BirdTrack Legacy Baselist’ will ensure the familiar species’ names are in use. I am aware that some users have expressed concern over the removal of the ‘Casual’ recording tool from the app, which allows for the input of a one-off sighting.

However, this functionality is still available; it is just that all records are submitted in a standardised manner. For a casual record you input in the normal way but leave the Complete List slider in the Off position. This adds value to your BirdTrack records, as it avoids a collection of ‘mobile sites’ building up in your site history by ensuring all sites have a meaningful place name associated with them – a very welcome change for end-users like County Recorders!

Overall, once you have set up the app, the functionality is now closer to the desktop version than ever. It is an incredibly powerful bird recording tool with the scope now broadened to allow for data entry anywhere in the world! In itself, that is a hugely impressive achievement - reducing the World and its 10,000 birds to one app.

Perhaps my favourite functions are the ability to create and name sites in the field and to cumulatively add to counts of already recorded species.

Birds of Britain and Ireland – Pro Edition

GO ON, admit it. At some time in the past, you fantasised about an electronic field guide that would put photos, drawings, species accounts and even songs and calls at your fingertips. Something like The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, in fact, but with more emphasis on the finer ID points of Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls.

When I first had that particular daydream, back in the Angel Delight and flare-bedevilled 1970s, I assumed I’d be flicking through this wondrous item just after piloting my jet-pack to work, while eating a nourishing, balanced, three-course meal in the form of a single pill.

Well it looks like we’ve still got a long wait for jet-packs, food pills and silver jumpsuits, but BirdGuides’ new Birds of Britain and Ireland iPhone application goes a long way towards making those field guide musings come true.

Smaller versions have appeared, concentrating on garden birds, but this is the first attempt to get to grips with pretty much every bird you could reasonably expect to see regularly in the British Isles – 271 species in total.

In terms of content, they’ve done a superb job. For each species, there are annotated colour illustrations by the likes of Ian Wallace and Ian Lewington, as well as, in most cases, colour portrait photographs, too. Added to that, there are detailed distribution maps, and recordings of calls and songs. These latter show a really impressive range – they’ve not simply included the most familiar where a particular species has more than one song or call.

But the biggest selling point, for me at least, was that you get the full species accounts from the Concise edition of Birds of the Western Palearctic. OK, you’re not necessarily going to need it all in the field, but there must have been the temptation to scrimp. Including them means that what could be seen as just another app, is genuinely a field guide in miniature.

All this, though, stands or fall by the user interface – how easy it is to actually use, in layman’s terms.

The answer is, very easy. Species are grouped by family in typical field guide order, but with a single touch you can change that to alphabetical order, if you prefer. There are collapsible headings, preventing the screen from getting too cluttered, and the various aspects of each species entry are entered and exited in clear, logical steps.

About the only thing I could find to complain about is no fault of the app, but a quirk of the iPhone itself. Because the touch screen works through heat sensitivity, rather than pressure, you might find that, in the field, it’s a bit slower in working when you’re using cold fingers. You have to take gloves off to use it, too, but it’s hardly an insurmountable problem, and it’s also as simple as on any iPhone app to zoom in on a certain part of the screen.

I did dread, too, as I downloaded it, that it might take a huge bite out of the phone’s available memory, but at 194MB it’s really very compact.

You’d probably want, I suspect, to use it in conjunction with a conventional field guide, but then my practice in the past has always been to have a battered Collins Guide with me in the field, and to cross-refer to two or three other books at home anyway. This app now becomes my ‘in-the-field’ guide, meaning my new Collins can get the love it deserves at home.

I’ve no doubt at all that BirdGuides and other companies will bring out bigger, even better versions as the technology changes (and it is doing at an amazing rate), but if this isn’t quite The Hitchhiker’s Guide to UK Birdwatching, it’s really pretty close. The words ‘Don’t Panic’ on the title page in large, friendly letters certainly wouldn’t be out of place

REVIEWED BY MATT MERRITT

FACTFILE


Hama Profil Duo III tripod

This lightweight tripod (it weighs in at 1.6kg) has a number of features that make it versatile and potentially attractive to birdwatchers. It does its basic job pretty well, with rubber feet and steel spikes working well to ensure that you get plenty of grip on any surface.

The quick release plate is simple to screw in, too, although it does feel a little small if you’re using it with a really large, heavy scope. Having said that, it’s built to cope with loads of up to 4kg.,

But the three-way head does its job well, moving smoothly and easily once you get used to the twist controls (although I might have liked the pan arm to be a bit longer), and interestingly the central column can be removed completely to be used as a monopod (44cm, up to 164cm), for those occasions when a tripod is too big to fit. There are spirit levels on both the body and the quick release plate, nice little extras that could well come in handy if you also use the tripod for photography.

The three-section legs extend to 150cm, and were quick and easy to extend and lock in position, and I had no problems with stability at any time. It’s supplied with a case, too, for extra portability.


FACTFILE

  • Price: £69.99
  • Dimensions: extends to 150cm; monopod 44-164cm.
  • Weight 1.6kg
  • website: Hama.co.uk

Lowepro Birder's Belt Pack

When it comes to bags for birdwatching, I’ve generally been pretty low-tech in the past. I don’t have loads of camera gear to carry, and rucksacks can be time-consuming and noisy to access just as the bird you’re watching hoves into view, so I’ve tended to use an army surplus satchel for stashing my fieldguide, notebooks, cleaning cloths, gloves and, of course, Jaffa Cakes (priorities and all that).


Full review in the February issue of Bird Watching