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Field guides in the future

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Old Wednesday 30th January 2019, 20:49   #1
DMW
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Field guides in the future

Like most birders, I think, I still prefer to have physical paper field guides, but once the major gaps in geographical coverage are filled (and which Lynx seem to be tackling) it's perhaps likely that improvements in regional guides will be incremental.

So how would you like to see field guides develop in the future?

The only significant paper-based advances I can think of are specialist texts dealing with difficult groups, to be used as a supplement to general field guides. What I am thinking of is Faansie Peacock's guide to the LBJs of Southern Africa, which is an absolutely superb book. It would be tremendously useful to have something similar for e.g. Asian warblers.

Major innovation is likely to be in the digital realm. I can think of a few possible innovations:

GPS-based filtering - let's say I'm in Atlantic Forest in SE Brazil and have a digital field guide to Brazil. I really don't need hundreds of extraneous Amazonian, caatinga, or cerrado species cluttering up the plates when trying to pin-down a bird. Wouldn't it be useful if I could have a setting to enable GPS filtering and remove these, leaving me with just the set of birds in range. This could potentially be fine-tuned down to site-specific lists.

Sound guides - obviously quite a few regional apps have recordings, but curated sets of high-quality recordings are surely a major priority for many parts of the world. It's massively time-consuming downloading from Xeno-canto, and unless you are familiar with a particular species, it's not always possible to know which recordings are the most useful or representative. Some of the commercially available sets are not the best, and require considerable supplementation to be fully useful. Is there a separate market for high quality curated sets?

Annotatable field guides - it would be quite nice to be able to scribble notes or sketches with a digital pen on a tablet-based field guide

User-selectable or custom-sequences - yep, we can all go back to Voous order, or put all the small brown birds next to each other.

User supplementation - the ability to drag and drop external illustrations onto plates (e.g. photos off the web), or add / edit text.

Real-time taxonomic updates

Audio-recognition function - save you the bother of identifying what is calling!

Anything I've missed?!
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Old Wednesday 30th January 2019, 21:56   #2
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Regarding printed FGs, the Peterson FG to advanced birding was good and could use regional counterparts in other parts of the world.

Regarding the GPS driven selection of which birds to see would need a lot of refinement before useful, because true ranges are not necessarily known and are subject to eruptions and other changes. Not that the idea is bad, more that it is difficult.

How about FGs that tells you if you have seen this bird before, whether it was the same subspecies, etc, and does that based on your observations in Ebird or similar, not based on you needing to tick off a list within the app? I realize that subspecies can be a loaded subject

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Old Wednesday 30th January 2019, 22:25   #3
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One innovation not mentioned that already exists is 3D images. These are found in the Warbler Guide app:
https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/the-...950923317?mt=8
Basically you can rotate the image to see it from any angle so can see what the bird looks like from underneath or on top etc.
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Old Wednesday 30th January 2019, 23:04   #4
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What I would find most useful is field guide linked to observado or similar, highlighting species which were really seen in a given locality. Even within a narrow geographic area species are often localized, e.g. a spot in a secondary forest would never show species of primary forest.

From the point of view of ornithology, this would be actually horrible, because would cause bias propagating itself recursively.

Otherwise, an app identifying bird sounds - but this has been tried and failed by surprisingly many people over two decades, including big boys like Cornell.

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Old Wednesday 30th January 2019, 23:09   #5
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Originally Posted by njlarsen View Post
Regarding printed FGs, the Peterson FG to advanced birding was good and could use regional counterparts in other parts of the world.

Regarding the GPS driven selection of which birds to see would need a lot of refinement before useful, because true ranges are not necessarily known and are subject to eruptions and other changes. Not that the idea is bad, more that it is difficult.

How about FGs that tells you if you have seen this bird before, whether it was the same subspecies, etc, and does that based on your observations in Ebird or similar, not based on you needing to tick off a list within the app? I realize that subspecies can be a loaded subject

Niels
Yes, implementing GPS filtering would need to be done intelligently, and include the ability to quickly widen the range of species, partly using a probabilistic approach. It would also include seasonality filters.

And I certainly know of some birders who would appreciate the "only birds I need" filter to narrow the range of things to tick
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Old Wednesday 30th January 2019, 23:09   #6
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One innovation not mentioned that already exists is 3D images. These are found in the Warbler Guide app:
https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/the-...950923317?mt=8
Basically you can rotate the image to see it from any angle so can see what the bird looks like from underneath or on top etc.
I wasn't aware of that - sounds excellent!
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Old Wednesday 30th January 2019, 23:17   #7
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From the point of view of ornithology, this would be actually horrible, because would cause bias propagating itself recursively.
That's certainly a risk, although not insurmountable. For example, you could have clickable buttons on plates to show similar species that are moderately out of range / unlikely but possible.
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Old Thursday 31st January 2019, 07:42   #8
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What I would find most useful is field guide linked to observado or similar, highlighting species which were really seen in a given locality. Even within a narrow geographic area species are often localized, e.g. a spot in a secondary forest would never show species of primary forest.

From the point of view of ornithology, this would be actually horrible, because would cause bias propagating itself recursively.

Otherwise, an app identifying bird sounds - but this has been tried and failed by surprisingly many people over two decades, including big boys like Cornell.
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Originally Posted by njlarsen View Post
Regarding printed FGs, the Peterson FG to advanced birding was good and could use regional counterparts in other parts of the world.

Regarding the GPS driven selection of which birds to see would need a lot of refinement before useful, because true ranges are not necessarily known and are subject to eruptions and other changes. Not that the idea is bad, more that it is difficult.

How about FGs that tells you if you have seen this bird before, whether it was the same subspecies, etc, and does that based on your observations in Ebird or similar, not based on you needing to tick off a list within the app? I realize that subspecies can be a loaded subject

Niels
You're out of the realms a of a field guide here and in to computers or smart devices.
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Old Thursday 31st January 2019, 10:41   #9
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GPS-based filtering - let's say I'm in Atlantic Forest in SE Brazil and have a digital field guide to Brazil. I really don't need hundreds of extraneous Amazonian, caatinga, or cerrado species cluttering up the plates when trying to pin-down a bird. Wouldn't it be useful if I could have a setting to enable GPS filtering and remove these, leaving me with just the set of birds in range. This could potentially be fine-tuned down to site-specific lists. (:
This is available on some apps already. For example the Australian frog app allows you to select the species in the local area, or any other place based on putting a pin on the map.
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Old Thursday 31st January 2019, 10:52   #10
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You're out of the realms a of a field guide here and in to computers or smart devices.
The original post was more about what you could do with apps rather than printed books. I just elaborated this train of thought

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Old Thursday 31st January 2019, 23:36   #11
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That's certainly a risk, although not insurmountable. For example, you could have clickable buttons on plates to show similar species that are moderately out of range / unlikely but possible.
What I meant that when people start putting records because other people put a record of species A not species B in a given locality, and travel to a given site to see specifically species A, this makes pattern of observations from the citizen science completely skewed for researchers studying A and B.

This thing already exists, the book Where to Watch Birds already 20 years ago talked about "self-propagating hotspots", but with people using digital bird records this can be massively amplified.
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Old Friday 1st February 2019, 00:14   #12
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What I meant that when people start putting records because other people put a record of species A not species B in a given locality, and travel to a given site to see specifically species A, this makes pattern of observations from the citizen science completely skewed for researchers studying A and B.

This thing already exists, the book Where to Watch Birds already 20 years ago talked about "self-propagating hotspots", but with people using digital bird records this can be massively amplified.
Interesting point and further reason to regard birding and “citizen science” {to use that overblown term) as 2 different animals, each with its own priorities and agenda.

With regard to the future of field guides, my guess is that in 20 years’ time (or sooner) paper guides will be extinct, having been supplanted by increasingly capable apps on vastly improved devices. Or so I would like to think at any rate. . ..
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Old Friday 1st February 2019, 01:22   #13
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For example the Australian frog app allows you to select the species in the local area, or any other place based on putting a pin on the map.
Though frogs are much less prone to vagrancy . . . if you wanted a similar capability for birds on e.g. the east coast of Britain, you'd need to at least be aware of the possibility of things like Dusky Warbler as well as Willow Warbler
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Old Friday 1st February 2019, 09:25   #14
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What I meant that when people start putting records because other people put a record of species A not species B in a given locality, and travel to a given site to see specifically species A, this makes pattern of observations from the citizen science completely skewed for researchers studying A and B.

This thing already exists, the book Where to Watch Birds already 20 years ago talked about "self-propagating hotspots", but with people using digital bird records this can be massively amplified.
I think you are conflating several different issues here. First of all, the possibility of misidentification by expectation already exists with paper-based literature. It is actually quite an issue with moths in the British Isles, as popular field guides omit almost identical continental species which were historically unknown here. In Jersey, some moths have gone from being unknown to among the most numerous species, within the space of a few years due to climate change - their population cycles are a lot shorter than that of paper based guides. With a digital guide and the ability to recode ranges with minimal work, this issue is easily dealt with.

Self-propagating hotspots are more about increases in records of vagrants due to increased observer coverage, and this isn't an issue for field guides. I think what you are describing is where an original identification error is propagated. I'm sure this happens, but rarely persists for long, and will almost certainly occur within the normal range of a species. The only actual examples I can think of off the top of my head are Javan Scops Owl and Sulawesi Masked Owl, but I'm sure there are others. I would say it is quite difficult for such propagation to occur with species that are truly out of range. There are just too many people who would scrutinise such records.

I think the problem exists mostly at the very local level, where inexperienced birders submit erroneous records to ebird from sites at which a species does not occur. I'm not sure how much these are propagated, but certainly ebird requires better curation in some regions.
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Old Friday 1st February 2019, 09:37   #15
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Though frogs are much less prone to vagrancy . . . if you wanted a similar capability for birds on e.g. the east coast of Britain, you'd need to at least be aware of the possibility of things like Dusky Warbler as well as Willow Warbler
That is the advantage of a digital filtering system. You could instantly tailor the guide to suit your needs. Most birders likely to find a Dusky Warbler would most likely have it on their radar anyway, and would set their guide to include vagrants. But let's say you are a beginner and birding in June in Hampshire, and you find a warbler. Having a dozen vagrant Phylloscs cluttering the plate is more a hindrance than a help.
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Old Friday 1st February 2019, 09:51   #16
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Anything I've missed?!
http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/

A free identification resource to 3000+ species featuring a field guide, identification key and machine-learning bird identification is pretty futuristic...
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Old Friday 1st February 2019, 11:14   #17
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http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/

A free identification resource to 3000+ species featuring a field guide, identification key and machine-learning bird identification is pretty futuristic...
Merlin is great and encapsulates some of these ideas, but I don't think it is a replacement for a field guide. For one thing, it is based on photos rather than painted illustrations, and history suggests that birders much prefer the latter.
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Old Friday 1st February 2019, 12:45   #18
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That is the advantage of a digital filtering system. You could instantly tailor the guide to suit your needs. Most birders likely to find a Dusky Warbler would most likely have it on their radar anyway, and would set their guide to include vagrants. But let's say you are a beginner and birding in June in Hampshire, and you find a warbler. Having a dozen vagrant Phylloscs cluttering the plate is more a hindrance than a help.
Advantage, but also disadvantage - it means the occasional vagrants that do occur would not be detected.
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Old Friday 1st February 2019, 19:35   #19
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I think the filter on common species is fine as long as the "compare feature" for example in the Collins Europe app, (which I vowed I'd never buy because they took so long to acknowledge android, but did buy it in the end!) includes the vagrants. At least then, if you have a nagging doubt, you are subsequently playing with a full deck.

Also, similar to the Merlin app, has anyone used the Plantsnap app? You show it a photo of the flower cropped close up, and it gives you the likely species, or the option to ask an expert.
Bat identification software is becoming more automated too. Personally, I think this is a step too far. Encourages a lazy attitude to identification perhaps?
Then again we've all used human guides to whisk us thru tropical forests and come out a couple of hours later with 50 new species, when on our own we'd have managed a dozen or so
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Old Friday 1st February 2019, 21:01   #20
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Bat identification software is becoming more automated too. Personally, I think this is a step too far. Encourages a lazy attitude to identification perhaps?
Is it any worse than using Bat detectors, after all, you need a licence to catch / handle them. I think Bat ID, is the only area mentioned so far, where I'd defend the use of tech to such a degree simply on practical grounds?
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Old Friday 1st February 2019, 22:40   #21
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Well not really. Think of the bat detector as just a sound recorder.
You'd typically take the file, analyse it on some spectrum analysis software, and coupled with any visual clues when you saw the bat, identify the bat.

Well now you get software that takes the file and tells you the bat, end of! similar to plantsnap taking your photo and telling you the plant.
I think there is a danger here of putting too much faith and reliance in the software.

Much better, I think, would be the app/field guide whatever, asking you questions so you come up with the identification yourself, and that way you learn why it is that species. More along the lines of an identification key.
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Old Sunday 10th February 2019, 16:52   #22
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.........….paper field guides, but once the major gaps in geographical coverage are filled (and which Lynx seem to be tackling) it's perhaps likely that improvements in regional guides will be incremental.

So how would you like to see field guides develop in the future?

…………. (:
I think what Lynx is doing now is to cash in on their large data base, but not necessarily in the birders' best interests! One needs to keep in mind that the vast majority of the depictions comes from the general illustrations of the species. And these often do not show the critical field marks. Sure, some flight views are often added now, but over all, specific FGs give more helpful specific details in the illustrations. Needless to say that Lynx has managed to close some important gaps. But to a certain extent that has come at the cost of discouraging the production of books with more suitable specific illustrations.
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Old Sunday 10th February 2019, 17:37   #23
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I think what Lynx is doing now is to cash in on their large data base, but not necessarily in the birders' best interests! One needs to keep in mind that the vast majority of the depictions comes from the general illustrations of the species. And these often do not show the critical field marks. Sure, some flight views are often added now, but over all, specific FGs give more helpful specific details in the illustrations. Needless to say that Lynx has managed to close some important gaps. But to a certain extent that has come at the cost of discouraging the production of books with more suitable specific illustrations.
Completely agree with all of this.
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Old Thursday 14th February 2019, 10:46   #24
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I think what Lynx is doing now is to cash in on their large data base, but not necessarily in the birders' best interests! One needs to keep in mind that the vast majority of the depictions comes from the general illustrations of the species. And these often do not show the critical field marks. Sure, some flight views are often added now, but over all, specific FGs give more helpful specific details in the illustrations. Needless to say that Lynx has managed to close some important gaps. But to a certain extent that has come at the cost of discouraging the production of books with more suitable specific illustrations.
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.
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Old Friday 15th February 2019, 10:25   #25
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The ultimate would be this:

make a superb plate of every species, and if possible, every single subspecies, + flight + juvenile + winter plumage + breeding plumage...
make an up-to-date distribution map of every species.

make an app that AUTOMATICALLY connects your current location with all possible species, and the relevant plates for those species (and the relevant sounds!). Make filters in those apps based on input of your life list, your want-to-see list,...
Feed the app with all possible databases (ebird, inaturalist, observado, ...)
Last: the app could have a photo ID option, a shazam-for-birdsounds option,...

So in short: you travel to Norway in winter. You want to see birds that occur in Norway in winter, in winter plumage, of the correct subspecies, and you can filter all lifers (or not) + locations of last sightings,...

Or you want to make a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Ecuador. You should see all species of birds that occur in Ecuador, or that occur on your travel itinerary, all of the correct subspecies,...You could even print all of those plates in a custom field guide, and if the plates would come with concise texts, the extraction from plates + text to a field guide layout should be a piece of cake with some automated designing software.

All of this should be already possible (technically), we only need someone willing to do the programming, and the databases willing to have API so the active feed option can work. 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.
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