Monday, 30 July 2012

Bird Ticker App - Review

Apart from the first hints of the annual wader passage, July has progressed in the same vain as June - quiet! With regards to birds August really can't come too soon! Therefore, I have another birding app review to fill the column inches with for now.

As you will gather from the title, the Bird Ticker app from Purple Spectrum is based purely on ticking and listing. Most birders love to keep a list whether this be a garden, county or plain old life list. That said, I must be one of the few exceptions as listing has never really been at the core of my birding experience but even I like to know the number of birds I've seen from the garden - 62 if anyone is interested!

The opening page of the app is a bold green background with gold lettering, which I'm not really sure works, unless of course the developer has an Australian background... This may seem a bit petty but I'm a firm believer in choosing a softer palette of colour tones, which are easier on the eye for the end user and thus giving a more professional finish - colours and correct choice of fonts are key to any new brand.

The creation of lists on the app is simple and endless in terms of the number of lists you wish to keep, I created several popular choices amongst birders with ease. The app contains 626 names of birds - enough to keep most big 'UK' listers happy but for anyone who keeps Western Paleartic or World lists they would need to use the 'add a new bird' function, manually typing in the name of any new bird.

Create a list - simple!

The order of names is alphabetical which makes sense in a listing app - but where is my Latin name, this could have been easily added below the main name? The search function is useful - no one wants to keep scrolling through 626 names - I think having the birds grouped into families with a drop down menu might have added another dimension, if just to make searching and adding a new entry a little bit quicker.

Search function and alphabetical order of names - but no Latin name!

The drop pin mapping is there and this covers most of the planet, as is the automatic date recording functionality, with the ability to adjust the date if you are amending or adding historic sightings - no gripes with any of this.

Alpine Swift ticked on my County and Patch list - if only!

I was slightly concerned that there is no back-up function available and no option to export the data to another format or device - although I have been informed by the designers that as part of the continued development of the app these options will be available soon.

Conclusion: There's no bells or whistles with this app - as the man from the Ronseal advert said "It does exactly what it says on the tin". If you are a fan of keeping lists and having an instant database of your ticks to hand, then this is good tool to have in your back pocket. It's worth remembering that the purpose of the app is much less about recording any bird counts or daily sightings for which there are other apps available.

Overview: At £1.49 this app is not going to break the bank, although I do feel it would have been better placed in the 69p category, this may then appeal to a wider audience which could be the key to its success or failure, as the market for this app fits in more with the serious lister than the greater garden bird feeding public.

The Cowboy Birder rating of 3 out of 5 Chili's.

Monday, 16 July 2012

British Birds: A pocket guide App - Review

Talk about London buses! After recently reviewing a birdwatching related app, I received a request from iSpiny the creators behind several bird based apps, asking if I would take a look at their latest development; British Birds: A pocket guide - well, I couldn't refuse such a kind request and I was soon downloading the app onto my iPhone eager to see what this latest creation had to offer!

The opening menu which greets you is a simple straightforward format; a search window, Browse Names, Browse Images and Bird Finder  - all very nicely colour coded with a pastel palette, a theme running throughout the guide.

Opening menu - where do you want to go?

After spending a few minutes finding my way around the app, my overriding first impression was that this was less about recording your bird sightings and much more about identification (I suppose the big clue may have been in the title of the app!) and as I browsed the images it felt like I was flicking through the pages of a book, this was the closest app I have come across which could possibly stop me reaching for a book. Working through the names section - nicely grouped in families and taxonomic order I might add, it wasn't long before I was looking up and reading about one of the 189 species of birds available.

For anybody relatively new to birdwatching, the Bird Finder page is a must if you have seen a bird which you don't recognise or can't quite place. Fill in each section as best you can and the Matching Birds number reduces until it either matches a bird to your description or gives you a couple of possibilities based on the information given - I tested this function on several occasions with the Matching Birds icon selecting the bird I had in mind each time - Genius!

What was that bird?

Having selected the group of birds I was interested in (Waders, Gulls and Terns) I randomly selected Grey Plover to be my guinea pig, tapping on the details icon under a very smart photographic image, I was genuinely amazed at the amount of information there was available. A full and detailed description, status, habitat, diet, lifespan, nesting and further facts - it was like I had clicked onto Wickipedia.. and then I noticed on the toolbar a link to the the actual Wickipedia site, which if you needed it, gave you even more facts and figures than you can shake a stick at!

The key indicator page

Further along the tool bar is the bird song and call icons and it's a real bonus that you are given the option to choose between the two. The photographic images of Grey Plover were excellent with three images to choose from in varying plumages, one of which was a bird in flight showing the ID clinching black armpits. A notes section allows you to record your sighting and add any comments - with the ability to post your sighting directly onto Twitter or Facebook (if you have an account) with the tap of a button. I tested the Twitter feature and instantly sent a tweet to my followers saying that I had just seen a Hobby - luckily I didn't test this feature on Ptarmigan! Another clever feature on the toolbar is the key symbol which shows a photo of the bird and the basic key indicators to aid identification, though this feature is not yet available on all 189 birds on the app. And lastly full colour distribution maps - clearly the team at iSpiny have done their homework. I could give you numerous other examples on the detail of the other birds covered in the app, but there is really no need, as every bird has the same full and detailed coverage.

Note making and posting your sightings on Twitter of Facebook

Conclusion: This app is difficult to fault, it has been well researched and developed by people who have a full understanding about birds and the requirements of birdwatchers. If you are a Smart phone owner and you are looking to download an app, for the cost of a bag of crisps (69p) you could own a library of great bird images and facts at the touch of a button - my mum at the age of 62 recently purchased an iPad (bless her cotton socks) and I for one will be recommending this app to her. Remember this app is only the pocket guide version, so for anybody who is slightly more knowledgeable of birds than my mum, iSpiny have a big grown up version called BirdGuide with a whopping 293 British birds species to enjoy with full record keeping and exporting (Excel) capabilities.

Overview: This is an entry level birdwatching app at its best, it might be titled a pocket guide but make sure you have large pockets as it's packed full great photographs and information - which should appeal not just to the everyday birder but ultimately to the non-birder, possibly making everybody's mum an expert!

The Cowboy Birder rating of 4.5 out of 5 Chili's.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Birds of Britain iPhone App - Review

I have a new iPhone app that I received for free - Birds of Britain designed by CleverMatrix a London based software company. Like everybody else I always enjoy receiving stuff for free and even more so when the item happens to be bird related.

After I had installed the app the first thing I noticed is how the birds are listed, not in the usual taxonomic sequence you would find in any bird book, but alphabetically - for example; anyone looking up Common Tern would see it following Common Sandpiper and Common Scoter. I feel it would be more beneficial for the user to see Common Tern sitting along side Arctic Tern and Roseate Tern - if only to assist the user with identification of a particular bird or family of birds.

Once you have found the species of bird you want to either look up for reference or record as a sighting (the term on the app is 'spotted' which I personally am never keen on using and much prefer the term 'sighting') using the search tool or scrolling through one of the 5 tabs: All, Resident, Summer, Winter and Passing (I'm really not sure about using the word Passing. Passage might have been a better term to use). There is a small photographic image of each bird next to its name but unfortunately some of these images are not always the classic image you would expect to see, for example Garganey - it's probably not the best idea to use an image of the female bird! The same goes for Black Tern, why not use the image of a classic adult summer, instead a juvenile bird has been chosen? For Mediterranean Gull you would expect to see a summer adult with a nice full black hood but no, another juvenile and there are others examples - I understand this app is probably aimed more for recording and keeping of records than for identification purposes but these are basics that every top birdwatching app should be getting right. After finding the bird you want to either read about or record as a sighting you click on its picture and this takes you to an overview page, which I found to be nicely laid out and very informative, with Latin name, family name, a full description, size, UK distribution and migration all of which is well written and largely accurate. And lastly the feature I liked best on the app; beside each bird there is a play button which gives the call or song of that particular bird - always useful when you are out in the field.

After recording your sighting, adding the date, location and any notes you want to make this then builds up a library of your sightings in the Bird Spotted (I really don't like that term) category, in here there is also the option to allow you to map your sightings using the familiar pin drop method.

Another feature I discovered and liked was on the bottom tool bar in the More section called Places, this gives you an index of birdwatching reserves and locations around the UK, with useful information like contact numbers and addresses, websites and even a link to their locations on a map, although hitting the Get Directions button gave me an error (Access denied), perhaps this is still work in progress but would be very useful once fully functional.

In conclusion: The birdwatching/recording app market for smart phones is ever increasing with more and more people moving away from carrying around reference and notebooks, whether this be for birds, butterflies, wildflowers or whatever your field of choice, and turning instead to handheld devices for all their needs. With the ability of Smart phones to hold more and more data, soon you could have an entire library of fauna and flora in your hands at the touch of a button - especially useful if you are a novice in a particular field or just the casual observer, and this is the category where I feel the Birds of Britain app falls into. I can imagine any experienced or seasoned birder finding this app a little annoying with its minor inaccuracies - let's hope further updates are due out soon. I would also have liked to have seen a way of exporting the data saved in the app to an excel or txt file as a back up or for use in another database of your choice. But if you are a casual observer and like to record your sightings or you just want the instant ability to look up a bird you don't recognise, this app may be for you as the descriptions and distribution guides are very good as well as having the songs/calls to hand - just don't rely too heavily on the photographic images!

Overview: A user friendly app with plenty of functionality which will keep most bird watchers interested - best aimed at someone new to the hobby or for just keeping a record of your sightings.

The Cowboy Birder rating of 3 out of 5 Chili's.

Please see the Chili tab at the top of the page for an overview of my rating system.