Birdwatchers have long headed into the woods with little more equipment than binoculars and a notebook. But when Laura Erickson sets out on a birding trip, she now brings along two digital cameras, a Palm device with a bird-species database and an iPod loaded with bird songs.
“I used to be a very low-tech person,” says Ms. Erickson, a 55-year-old ornithologist in Duluth, Minn. “It’s become such a high-tech kind of thing, with so many people carrying so much equipment now.”
Technology available to birdwatchers includes (clockwise from left) National Geographic Society’s Handheld Birds, a Palm-enabled field guide; BirdGuides Ltd.’s bird-news alert for the BlackBerry and other devices; and Mighty Jams LLC’s birdJam for the iPod.
Earlier this winter, she used a parabolic microphone in her backyard to record the sounds of woodcocks three-quarters of a mile away. “That doesn’t seem any more cheating than using binoculars” does, she says. “But to some people, that would just be a horrifying thought.”
Indeed, many traditionalists who think that the whole point of birding is to commune with nature bristle at the technology now available to the modern birdwatcher, from laser pointers used to identify birds perched on high branches to devices that play birdcalls. Professional alerting services, already popular in the United Kingdom and springing up in the U.S., allow hardcore hobbyists to receive notices of local sightings on their cellphones or BlackBerrys…
So begins a rather interesting article on the intersection of birding and gadgetry. Amazingly, this article, Why Birdwatchers Now Carry iPods And Laser Pointers by Andrew LaVallee, appears on page 1 of the Feb. 26, 2007 Wall Street Journal. That’s some prime real estate for such a normally humble hobby.
I actually spoke with the author for this article, but my comments were left on the cutting room floor. Chalk that up to good editing! Fortunately, the birding blogosphere is well-represented by both Laura Erickson and Lillian Stokes. Just the fact that so many of us can share our observations, photos, and hot tips about birds and birding through blogging speaks volumes about the positive impact on technology on the age-old practice of avian observation.