Provides: Video disc formatted for iPhone/iPod touch
Minimum Requirements: Macintosh with DVD drive, video-capable iPod, iTunes 8
Availability: Out now in the UK
Bird watching is one of the areas where the iPhone and iPod touch are generating a lot of excitement. After all, the big challenge of birding is identifying what you’re looking at by subtle marks and colors that can change not only with the season, but with the age of the bird. And, until recently, the only way to answer that definitively was by lugging around a heavy field guide against which to check your observations. Some companies, however, have developed programs for PDAs and even playlist generators for the iPod to make things easier for birders.
But now we have the iPhone, a device which combines photos (for checking identification), video (showing the bird’s actions in the environment), audio (bird calls), as well as email, phone, and web access (for keeping up to date on rare birds found in your area). A few American companies are starting to take advantage of the iPhone/iPod touch, but one place where they’re barreling ahead is the U.K., where BirdGuides has just released the British Birds Video Guide, iPhone and iPod touch Edition (BBVG).
Part of a series of DVDs and Audio releases, the BBVG consists of videos sized and formatted for the iPhone, along with narration about identifying the bird, habitats where it’s likely to be found, and other facts. The BBVG comes on a single disc, and is composed of 16 hours of video of 270 species (total size is about 8.5GB). Each bird gets its own video, and they’re organized in folders by groups: raptors, gulls, waders, game hens, etc.). The videos are formatted as Quicktime movies, so you could also play them on any device (like an iPod video, or a 4G nano) that supports them. Installing them is simply a matter of copying them into iTunes, or simply dragging them directly from the disc into your iPod.
You can use as many or as few as you like; since my iPod touch is the 8GB variety, I didn’t feel like erasing everything to make room for all the videos. Plus, the thought of scrolling through 270 videos to get to the one you wanted would give even a hard-core birder (like my wife) pause. My suggestion would be just to add the videos of birds you’re likely to see, or the ones whose identification you want to work on.
Each video begins with the bird’s name (English and Latin). You get shots of the bird perched, in flight, and in its common environment, along with a map of its breeding range (though the colors used in the map aren’t explained: perhaps its one of those things that experienced birders will understand, but I was baffled). The narrator will talk you though identifying marks of the species, but there are no illustrations or arrows to point out what he’s referring to—you’ll need to be very familiar with birder jargon like “primary feathers” and “mantle” to take full advantage of these subtle variations in identification. The narrator also explains how to differentiate a bird from one that looks similar, but you only get a direct, side-by-side comparison for some birds, or when, say, different species of gull are flocking together.
Another issue to be aware of is, of course, that this a guide to British birds, and while we in America do get some migrants crossing over, there are several we don’t, not to mention naming and other differences. I’m told that the Common Buzzard is the English version of the Red-tailed Hawk, but there are color variations that simply must be taken into account.
Still, for someone interested in British birds, this guide is a great step in the right direction. It’s not cheap, but you get an extensive library of individual videos with well-shot video detailing birds in a way that really gives you a feel for them in their everyday activities. I can easily see a serious birder using it before, during, and after a trip to enhance his/her skills, though with its use of jargon, lack of additional illustrations and cost, it’s not something I would give to a beginning birder. Here’s hoping we get an American edition soon.