Bird Watching in the Digital Age

I suspect when most people think of bird watchers (or birders as they are now often called) the first thing that comes to mind is a group of “old” folks in tweeds and funny hats peering through their binoculars. “Tech savvy” or “nerdy” is probably the last thing that would come to mind. However, if you think this way, you’re definitely mistaken.

Bird watchers have embraced the internet, I-pods, smart phones and other technology in a big way and while I won’t say these technologies have revolutionized birding, they have definitely brought some real changes.

For years, birders have sought out rare birds – those that are rare for a particular area (BC for instance) or rare for a certain time of year or for the ambitious willing to travel, rare for North America. Previously finding out about rare birds could be a task – it involved finding out the phone number of a rare bird alert service for a given area (usually operated by some birding or conservation group) and then making a phone call (usually long distance). Now rare birds all over North America can be found in a flash on the internet. Want to know if there are any rare birds in southeast Arizona this week? There’s a website that lists all the rare bird sightings in that area and gives directions to the site. Visiting Vancouver Island this month – there are several web sites that give the best birding hot spots and list recent rarities. Just “Google” “rare birds south east Arizona” or whichever other locality you might be interested in. For interior BC (which includes us of course) there is also an email service whereby birders can post their latest sightings and an email goes out to every subscriber so you can be almost instantly up on what’s going on in the birding world. Amazingly enough, there is absolutely no charge to be a subscriber. To sign up, send an email to:

Think an I-pod is only a new fangled way to listen to music – wrong again! You can easily download all the bird calls of North America, attach your I-pod to miniature external speakers and listen to those birds out in the field. Not sure if that bird you are hearing is a marsh wren? Scroll down to marsh wren, play a few seconds worth and you’ll know right away if you’ve made the right ID. However, don’t misuse this high-tech gadget to call up elusive birds during mating season. Males especially, hearing a “rival”, can almost go crazy trying to track down and chase away the “intruder” and this can seriously disrupt the breeding process.

Want to bird with your I-phone – there’s an app for that which allows you to do much the same thing as with an I-pod.. Many birders are now using their cell phones to text their birder friends right from the field with the locations of interesting birds. Info on what is happening with the birds out in the field is no longer for the lucky few but is available instantaneously for virtually everyone.

And of course, the introduction of digital cameras has meant that the number of good bird photos has grown exponentially. Because even the most amateur of photographers can now shoot hundreds of photos at virtually no cost, everyone ends up with at least a few good photos. Just “Google” bird photos to see what I mean as many of the more serious photographers post their photos to various websites.

The South Okangan Naturalist Club meets this month on Thursday, March 25 at 7:30 PM in the Penticton United Church. This month’s speaker is Karen Nicol of Kaleden; her topic is the solitary Mason Bee, a native of southern BC and an important factor in pollination of the Okanagan’s many fruit trees. All are welcome. Bob Handfield is past-president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club.
Nature Wise