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Field guides in the future

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Old Friday 15th February 2019, 13:58   #26
andyadcock
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And there goes all the fun and most of the challenge of our wonderful hobby.

I know for a fact, that having to trawl through pages of similar species, looking at differentiating features and figuring out ranges, has given me far more knowledge than I'd ever be exposed to under this vision of hell. It's like driving an automatic car, in the long run, you become a less capable driver
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Old Friday 15th February 2019, 14:33   #27
peter.jones
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These are all valid points. The Lynx guides are typically not up to the standards of Collins, and if a "Collins" for - say - Thailand was published, it would undoubtedly sell very well. That was really my point about future improvements in paper-based field guides being incremental.

What I am trying to do is envisage how digital publishing could change the concept of the field guide. One of the possibilities that would add value is to be able to upload additional artwork or photos to the digital field guides, rather than wait 10 years for the second edition.

For example, most field guides are quite hopeless for identifying the difficult groups, such as Cisticolas, Phylloscopus warblers, Acros, Tyrannulets etc. Wouldn't it be useful if an artist could produce a really good set of plates of one or more of these groups, and sell them as a "bolt-on", to replace the pre-existing plates for these groups. Or a photographer do the same with an annotated collage of photos.

This would bring an end to the traditional publication cycle of 2nd and 3rd editions, and make the field guide a continuously evolving "open source" platform that users could update with their own or third party content.
I like that idea.or even: Similar to buying a pc.. you choose the operating system, browser, email, spreadsheet. Etc
For the field guide,, You start with the framework app, then add your choice of plates, regions, text, sound files, distribution maps, sightings all in the one app.
I'd be a Collins, bwpi, xeno cante, ebirder!
Others may prefer helm, Collins, bwpi sounds, bird track sightings.

Would things ever be consistent enough to make this happen? Probably not, but who knows. You wouldn't have thought a Microsoft file could edited with free non-microsoft software a few years ago.
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Old Friday 15th February 2019, 15:34   #28
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These are all valid points. The Lynx guides are typically not up to the standards of Collins, and if a "Collins" for - say - Thailand was published, it would undoubtedly sell very well. That was really my point about future improvements in paper-based field guides being incremental.

What I am trying to do is envisage how digital publishing could change the concept of the field guide. One of the possibilities that would add value is to be able to upload additional artwork or photos to the digital field guides, rather than wait 10 years for the second edition.

For example, most field guides are quite hopeless for identifying the difficult groups, such as Cisticolas, Phylloscopus warblers, Acros, Tyrannulets etc. Wouldn't it be useful if an artist could produce a really good set of plates of one or more of these groups, and sell them as a "bolt-on", to replace the pre-existing plates for these groups. Or a photographer do the same with an annotated collage of photos.

This would bring an end to the traditional publication cycle of 2nd and 3rd editions, and make the field guide a continuously evolving "open source" platform that users could update with their own or third party content.
Point the first, aren't all, new ID features, by their very nature, 'incremental' and much of the time, advances in field ID are quite infrequent.

Point the second, I doubt with all sincerity, that many of the tougher groups as mentioned, even with the best plates, are reliably 'do'able' without knowledge of vocalisations or use of recordings so IMHO, that's a bit of an irrelevance? It is obviously though, an area where an 'app' is hugely superior where a recording is conveniently accessible rather than having to decipher a phonetic rendition of a call.

When I'm on a trip where there's a tricky group or groups, I just trawl for each target species with a recording, it's really the only reliable way for most of us who see these species so infrequently.
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Old Friday 15th February 2019, 18:15   #29
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Point the first, aren't all, new ID features, by their very nature, 'incremental' and much of the time, advances in field ID are quite infrequent.

Point the second, I doubt with all sincerity, that many of the tougher groups as mentioned, even with the best plates, are reliably 'do'able' without knowledge of vocalisations or use of recordings so IMHO, that's a bit of an irrelevance? It is obviously though, an area where an 'app' is hugely superior where a recording is conveniently accessible rather than having to decipher a phonetic rendition of a call.

When I'm on a trip where there's a tricky group or groups, I just trawl for each target species with a recording, it's really the only reliable way for most of us who see these species so infrequently.
It's certainly true that vocalisations are often critical, but it's nice to confirm that once the bird comes in to investigate, it's actually the one you think are playing, rather than a mislabeled recording (has happened to me), or a different species that has come in just for the hell of it (has also happened to me).

If you haven't already seen it, take a look at Faansie Peacock's guide to southern African LBJs http://faansiepeacock.com/lbjs-2/. It actually gives a fighting chance of IDing, say, most if not all the regional Cisticolas from plumage, behaviour, jizz etc. Then there are birds for which vocalisations are less useful, such as some of the pipits - we found it invaluable for confidently IDing Buffy Pipit.

But your point about recordings is taken: it was on the original list of things a modern digital field guide needs
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Old Friday 15th February 2019, 19:55   #30
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It's certainly true that vocalisations are often critical, but it's nice to confirm that once the bird comes in to investigate, it's actually the one you think are playing, rather than a mislabeled recording (has happened to me), or a different species that has come in just for the hell of it (has also happened to me).

If you haven't already seen it, take a look at Faansie Peacock's guide to southern African LBJs http://faansiepeacock.com/lbjs-2/. It actually gives a fighting chance of IDing, say, most if not all the regional Cisticolas from plumage, behaviour, jizz etc. Then there are birds for which vocalisations are less useful, such as some of the pipits - we found it invaluable for confidently IDing Buffy Pipit.

But your point about recordings is taken: it was on the original list of things a modern digital field guide needs
I have this book and it's superb however, I still think that African Pipits are one of the toughest groups anywhere. Just to illustrate my point, I assume that you're aware that Kimberley Pipit no longer exists?

I'm very glad that I decided not to go looking for this bird when we were there!
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Old Friday 15th February 2019, 22:17   #31
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And there goes all the fun and most of the challenge of our wonderful hobby.

I know for a fact, that having to trawl through pages of similar species, looking at differentiating features and figuring out ranges, has given me far more knowledge than I'd ever be exposed to under this vision of hell. It's like driving an automatic car, in the long run, you become a less capable driver
I can only guess the fun and challenge of your wonderful hobby is trawling through Cisticola pages within the Africa S of the Sahara field guide, trying to ID a certain bird and being confused by similarly looking species that don’t occur in that area, or illustrated subspecies that are nothing like the subspecies you could get in your area... you better take the full hbw coffee table books so you can always compare all species from the whole world. You wouldn’t want any field guide confined to one country or one biogeographical region. That would take all the fun out, not getting a chance to compare the african pipit you just saw with some oriental pipits...
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Old Saturday 16th February 2019, 11:58   #32
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If you want everything to be so simple, why not take up trainspotting? You can get a timetable and you'll know exactly what you'll see and when, ok, maybe not in the UK with our rail service......
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Old Saturday 16th February 2019, 14:01   #33
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I like clarity, full info, but I remember having a very hard time using certain field guides with plates separate from maps and text. Those guides have a (in my eyes) unnecessary steep learning curve. I enjoy good design that helps getting a clear message across...
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Old Saturday 16th February 2019, 21:19   #34
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HBW is already doing the drawing, but while they obviously want to cash in on current artwork, they should keep refining and expanding the current artwork.
This is what they are doing I think. E.g. plenty of new drawings in the Vietnam or the Thailand guide, which are also now available in HBW alive. Obviously they have a good headstart with the plates and texts from HBW for new field guides, but it's certainly more than cashing in on these. Additional plates, all distinct local subspecies illustrated, up-to date information on local occurance, good maps, bird names in local language, a user friendly layout. For the book I use (Vietnam), all useful improvements over the existing guides, so I for my part am certainly happy with this project of Lynx.

HBW alive is also great. What they still miss, for both the HBW alive and the field guides is apps for the field.
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Old Saturday 16th February 2019, 22:57   #35
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I feel that the biggest scope for improvement in field guides can be songs and calls. Currently we are in a situation where there are bird recordings, and descrptions are often poor, not clear, and not linked to them. Bird sound and in a situation in which bird pictures were 50 years ago. Essentailly like a primitive field guide which has bird photos at the end, and separate texts with scant descriptions.

I would welcome e.g. an app which plays a bird song, and at the same time prints bulletpoint identification marks of the song. For example, when a song of Chaffinch is being played, the app lists quickly main characteristic points. When Chaffinchs typical final tone sounds, the bulletpoint of this ending tone highlights. Xeno-canto might add this functionality to some best recording.

Even better would be a "local guide app". An app where you can load several songs of birds which you need. When a matching sound is heard in the forest, the app matches the sounds and buzzes. That app needs not to be fool-proof. It would emulate one of biggest advantages of having an experienced ornithologist with you in the field. An experienced person can notice a rare bird calling in the distance, which you would completely miss among other sounds.

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trawling through Cisticola pages within the Africa S of the Sahara field guide
Cisticolas in Africa are not as difficult as African field guides show them to be.

Many illustrations are poor, essentially copies of one 'standard-cisticola' omitting many differences. And indeed, habitat and distribution differ. Typically there are 2-3 clearly different cisticolas in any one locality. Add to this a song and it is not so difficult.

There is indeed a scope for better African or Asian guides. The current ones remind me of European guides from 30 years ago, where all warblers or all young gulls were painted as copies of one bird.
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