The changing Field guide Paradigm

Are field guides changing?

A tremendous amount of creativity is being expended these days as people look to utilize some of the advantages of digital ecosystems. Granted, some ideas will turn out to be dead ends. Thats a normal part of the creative process and isn’t an indictment of digital tools.

With organizations such as Cornell building tools like eBird and Merlin this suggests that this is only the beginning.

 An exciting time to be a birder.

Field guides in their traditional form are not going away anytime soon. However, I’m seeing more and more people of all ages availing themselves of these new tools and sources of information.

We use all these new tools and they really do help a lot. Just one example of how things are changing for us is the use of voice memo apps. Besides quick and dirty call and song recordings we find we are using this tool more and more for note taking. It’s much easier to whip out the phone, tap on the record button and make notes verbally. Back in the office I play back the mornings recordings and type my notes into the app of my choice.

We see a lot of digital cameras in the field these days. They make great visual notetaking tools. When a species is resisting an id a camera can be very useful. This kind of use seems to be mostly confined to the birder first crowd. In contrast I would categorize the big lens toting types as photographers first.

How does our effort fit in?

With such great resources available why would birders even want simple self contained ebooks such as what we are able to create? Regardless of what format its in these books will always be vital if they contain consistent and accurate content. it’s that idea that sustains us. 

Other thoughts occur.

In spite if being digital based this project has always felt like a handmade object to us. In our minds thats more important today than ever. Unfortunately in todays digital world perfection almost always trumps excellence. Handmade things are a wonderful antidote to that perfection. 

When we sign off on a bird we know at that we have the most current descriptions, painting and distribution information available. 

When new information comes forward from our efforts or others we curate and challenge that data. We can then incorporate it into the existing content. Finally, handmade objects are just nice to have around.

Why do we do this 

First and foremost is curiosity and passion, plain and simple. What is just as important in these days of a changing information delivery system is the original vision. Oh and stubbornness, why leave this field to organizations whose resources are relatively vast, we want to contribute too. 

That a traditional small team find themselves playing a kind of benign David to a benign Goliath is just a normal day for us. We don’t feel these giants are adversaries but we do try to avoid being trod underfoot as we live alongside them.

What we do know for sure is we are building field guides of the birds of Central America one bird at a time. That has to mean something.



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