Like many birders in the online era, I’m a big fan of eBird. The program’s merits scarcely have to be repeated here, but needless to say my own birding has benefited from the record-keeping and good-natured competition that the program inspires. In the early days of eBird (you know, 3 or 4 years ago), I would carry a notepad in my pocket when I was birding, carefully noting the species and occasionally the numbers of birds I was seeing at a given location. Part of my regular routine would then be to sit down at my laptop and carefully enter this information in an eBird checklist and then spend however much time I had available to me, tooling around on the bar charts and maps and personal lists to see if that day’s birding had changed anything. I’ll bet I’m not alone here.
Then I had kids.
After all that business, my time at home was no longer time to bask in the data-enabled glory of a successful day’s outing, but time to do parent stuff again. My notebooks, previously carefully and meticulously entered immediately upon returning home, started piling up. The prospect of entering 15 checklists, each one consisting of normal everyday birds, was not exciting. Enter BirdLog.
I was a little slow to adopt BirdLog, the iPhone app that effectively lets you enter and submit an eBird checklist from the field. But when I caught on, I caught on hard. Over the last year or so I have used BirdLog exclusively and my eBird contribution has been as high as it ever way. I especially appreciate the ability to pinpoint my location, which saves me the trouble of scanning Google Earth later. It’s a clever little app and I think essential to any avid eBirder with a smartphone.
But here’s the deal. I am, as much as anyone these days, a bit tied to my phone. And one of the wonderful things about birding is that it gets me out of that space and into the woods for a little while where my brain can come down from the constant dopamine bath that the various pings and rings and notifications prompts. But when I have my phone out, I’m still receiving these things and it’s not uncommon for a simple number adjustment to turn into a brief spin around Gmail for Facebook. I realize I can turn these notifications off, but I never remember to turn them back on at the end of the day. But even without that, having my phone out and taking that brief moment to find the bird in question and tap the extra number means I’m almost constantly looking down when I want to be looking up for that next bird. I suppose there’s no easy answer for it, other than advocating for a voice recognition system for Birdlog so I never even have to look at the screen (I would love this), but expecting technology to solve a technological problem is probably asking too much.
I’m no Luddite, and I’m not saying I’m going to stop using BirdLog, the app is indispensable and that post-birding decompression and checklist entering time is not coming back anytime soon. But I will continue to feel slightly uncomfortable at the extent that these things improve my birding experience while changing it slightly in uncomfortable ways.
I know there have to be heavy BirdLog users out there. How do you deal with the intersection of technology and birding? Do you have a process that works better than mine? I’d love to hear about it.