Monday, December 15, 2014

The New "Warbler Guide" App Premieres. . . Here's An Interview With The Authors

Looking for an excellent new app for your smart phone?



It is here: As a complement to The Warbler Guide paperback, The Warbler Guide App is available at the iTunes Store and Google Play.

In the following interview, authors of the book and app — Tom Whittle and Scott Stephenson — answered some of my questions about their new app:

Why do an app when you have a book?



The Warbler Guide was an exciting project for us, and it incorporates a number of new features and tools such as Quick Finders, Comparison Species, and (for the first time) a complete system for analyzing and learning bird sounds.  But there are a few things an App can do that a book can’t. 

First, it can go in your pocket!  Our app works on iPhone and iPad, and that means you can bring it out into the field.  With that in mind, the app is also more focused on helping actively identify a bird you are seeing. 

Secondly, an app can respond to the user and sort information in ways a book can’t.  By using dynamic, real time filters, the Warbler Guide App let’s you quickly narrow down your selection by location, visual characteristics and sound.  So if you’re seeing a bird in the Northeast with a yellow head that’s singing a buzzy song, you can quickly enter that in the app and see what choices that leaves.  It’s a very rapid mode of identification.

Third, you can play sounds!  A book falls short there, and being able to just tap and compare songs in the app will prove to be not only a useful study guide, but and effective way to quickly compare and narrow down bird sounds in the real world. 

Finally, our app includes 3D models that let the user position and compare the bird exactly as they see it in the field.  This is a new and powerful tool that is only possible with computers. 

Are there parts of the book you left out?

The app is not the book, and visa versa.  We didn’t want to just create an electronic version of the Warbler Guide – instead we built the app from the ground up as a working tool for field identification.  As such, some of the information in the warbler guide isn’t in the app, although the entire species accounts and comparisons are included.  We basically streamlined the app to be what we felt was the best possible tool for birding. 

What's different from the book?

As we mentioned, there isn’t as much secondary information, such as taxonomy, measurements, etc.  We also don’t include the six very rare vagrant warblers that are in the guide, and of course we don’t have all the sections explaining what to look for and how to learn songs.  The app is more of a field tool, and the book is more of a study guide, and in that way they complement each other well.



Which process did you enjoy more or was more difficult? Writing the book or developing the app?

Those are two very different things!  The book was exciting to develop, and it was gratifying to be able to create new systems and tools that we feel makes learning warblers much easier. 
The app, on the other hand, was more about creating an elegant, useful field tool that took all the information in the guide and made it quickly accessible and fast-to-use in the field.  That was an exciting process, too, and challenging in an aesthetic, workflow and design sense.

Do you need to have the book in order to “get” the app or find it useful?

Not at all – the app stands alone, and is a great tool for the field.  But if you want to sit down and do a little more studying, then the book is great to have, too.  There’s nothing to replace the experience of reading a real book, and we didn’t try to do that with the app.  So we recommend having both!

The app incorporates 3D models, sounds, and search functions in new ways. Let’s start with the 3D models – why was it so important to you to include 3D images? What was the process involved in making them? 

The 3D models are something we’ve been thinking about for several years now, and we’re so excited to be able to present them in the app.  Traditionally, an illustrator has to decide which viewing angles of a bird to include in book, since space is limited.  But with 3D models, we can literally show every possible angle of a bird. 
We created the models using professional modeling software, and overlaid photographs and applied various graphic design techniques to create a realistic “skin”.  That along with a little extra magic from the very talented artists we worked with for these images, and we were able to put together what we think is a lifelike and very functional model. 
It’s been amazing to see these things in action in the app, and we feel it’s a step forward to give the user the ability to exactly match their view of a bird in the field. 

Also, we’re used to seeing bird songs in apps, but The Warbler Guide takes this to a new level, allowing users to play back at different speeds and to look at sonograms. Can you take us through this? 

Yes – the way we treat songs is another really critical innovation in the app.  Teaching songs through books has always  had limited effectiveness, but with an app we’re able to give the user songs they can play instantly, and compare side-by-side with other similar songs.  Just the speed and seamless experience of this process should make studying songs much less cumbersome than in the past.
The sonograms are visualizations of sound, and they give us a way to describe and share specific aspects of a song.  Having sound without sonograms would be like having a bird guide without illustrations!  This, combined with the new descriptive vocabulary of the Warbler Guide, give us a method of teaching that is truly effective. 
And the ½ speed playback is part of that, too…playing the song at half speed without the usual pitch distortion that accompanies it (think Alvin and the Chipmunks) lets a birder really hear all the parts of a song.  Later, when you hear the song at normal speed, those little details become more apparent, and make it easier to describe and identify a bird’s sound. By carefully studying the structure of a song, which can be greatly aided by listening to it at a slower speed, the user will become much better at hearing that song, or even a call’s, structure in the field.

The search and filter functions are really neat and highly visual. Why did you decide to go in such a different way when it comes to searches and filters?

Many bird apps have some sort of filtering, but none of them use our visually intuitive system.  When you’re looking at a bird and trying to quickly match it to an image, it doesn’t help to have a lot of verbal description to get between you and the bird.  Birding is, after all, a visual and auditory experience first and foremost – not a verbal one – so why introduce that layer of words that just slows down the connection?  By creating truly visual filters we think the user will have a faster and easier filtering experience.

One of the things that is really distinctive about The Warbler Guide is the species comparison photos and information. How do you cover this material in the app?

The comparisons are very important.  First of all, people generally learn birds by comparison: for example, this bird is larger than that one, or this one is more yellow.   Secondly, in a traditional guide the only way to be sure that the illustration you’re looking at is the right one is by knowing all the other birds in the book!  Otherwise how can you be sure that there’s nothing similar?   We call these guides “Bird Dictionaries”, and trying to teach someone birds with a traditional field guide is a lot like trying to teach someone English by handing them a dictionary. 
So we took a different approach with the Warbler Guide, and curated each species with all its look-alikes.  That way, you can easily see all the birds that might be mistaken for each other, and then quickly and confidently ID your bird.
The app continues this approach – if the user selects a bird, then all the similar birds are presented on the species account page.  Not only that, but if you then select one of those comparisons, it’s displayed side-by-side with your initial choice, and can be viewed from any angle and in 3D as well.  Tapping the birds also brings up a list of important difference between the two – again, creating a confident, rapid ID process without having to know all the birds of the US!
It’s important to note that the comparisons also apply to the warbler songs. You can listen to each species’ song types and immediately see and hear any possible confusion species, along with our notes on what to listen for to help tell them apart.

What’s next for you? A lot of people are hoping you’ll write a similar book for another family. Any plans to do this?

We will certainly be focusing on other types of birds, and are currently working with our publisher, Princeton University Press, to do that.  But the form of our next work may not be of one family, like sparrows. 
We have had lots of feedback on our approach to understanding and learning vocalizations and expanding this to other species groups is another direction we’re very interested in.
  
How will people in the field find app features helpful?

This app is built from the ground up specifically for use in the field.  We leveraged all the power of a portable device to create a new and effective tool for identifying a bird easily, quickly and with confidence as it’s being seen. 
The visual and audible filters are extremely effective at cutting down the number of species to just a few birds in moments.  The 3D view allows the user to position a model in the exact same viewing angle of a bird as they are seeing at the moment.  And the sound-playing aspects of the app help quickly play and compare songs to rapidly match songs heard while birding.  So we hope all those tools will help birders have a more rewarding and educational experience.

Will the app be applicable throughout the USA?

Yes – it covers all the warblers of the US, excluding a few rare vagrants like Slate-throated Redstart.  It is also filterable by region, so if you are in the Northwest US, you can select that area to show just the birds that are likely there.

Will a place for people to log their warbler sightings be present?

We defer to apps like BirdLog for that functionality.  The Warbler Guide App is really focused on its primary mission, which is to rapidly find and compare warbler species.

Will birders be able to track their sightings by date from one year to the next?

Again, we think apps like BirdLog and eBird already handle this brilliantly, so we avoided trying to repeat that functionality.

Does the app need to be connected to the internet to be effective? 

No.  One of the virtues of this app is that it’s stand-alone, so if you’re in some remote area without internet service, it still functions perfectly.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Warbler Guy, is there a good warbler app? An app featuring warbler photos?

Yes, Avrial (in Miami):

I recommend the new warbler app from Princeton University Press.

The one I like is complementary to The Warbler Guide.


I copied and pasted from the Press's web site the following information:

The Warbler Guide App is the perfect companion to Princeton’s revolutionary and widely acclaimed book The Warbler Guide, by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle. Taking full advantage of the Apple iOS® platform, the app allows you to identify birds by view or song, quickly and intuitively.

Exciting new 3D graphics enable you to view a bird from the exact angle you see it in the field. And the whole range of warbler songs is easily played, compared, and filtered. Whether for study or field use, this innovative app delivers the full power of The Warbler Guide in your pocket, built from the ground up for the Apple iOS® platform, and complete with unique new app-only features.

Breakthrough features from The Warbler Guide book that are included in the app:
  • Rapid and confident two-step ID process using visual finders and comparison species
  • The first complete treatment of warbler songs, using a new objective vocabulary
  • An intuitive visual finder that includes side, 45 degree, and undertail views
  • Master Pages with detailed ID points
  • Complete guide to determining the age and sex of warblers with photos of all ages and sexes
  • Annotated sonograms showing song structure and key ID points
  • Complete songs, chip calls, and flight calls for all species
  • Comparison species for making confident visual and audio IDs
  • Many additional photos to show behavior and reinforce key ID points
  • Highlighted diagnostic ID points
  • Color Impression Icons for narrowing down ID of warblers from the briefest glimpses
  • Behavior and habitat icons

Unique new app-only features:
  • 3D models of birds in all plumages, rotatable and pinch-zoomable to match field experience of a bird
  • Intuitive, visual, and interactive finders with filters for possible species based on audio and visual criteria chosen by the user
  • Playback of all songs and vocalizations with sonograms makes study of vocalizations easy
  • iPhone® and iPad® versions let you take these useful tools into the field
  • Selectable finder sortings grouped by color, alphabetical order, song type, and taxonomic order
  • Interactive song finder using objective vocabulary for fast ID of unknown songs
  • Simultaneous visual and song finders makes identifying an unknown warbler even easier
  • Half-speed song playback allows for easier study of song structure
  • Comparison species with selectable side, 45 degree, and undertail views
  • Features 75 3D images
  • Covers 48 species and 75 plumages
  • Includes 277 vocalizations, 156 songs, 73 contact calls, and 48 flight calls

Technical Specifications:
  • Requires iOS 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPad 2/iPhone 5 and above.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Warbler Guy, has the Arctic Warbler been seen in California? Has the Arctic Warbler split into three species?

Yes and yes, Alex (in Cincinnati).

Based on blood analysis, and per recent passage by the American Ornithologists' Union Committee on Classification and Nomenclature, the Arctic Warbler complex consists of the Alaskan breeding Arctic Warbler (that ranges across northern Eurasia as a nester)  Phylloscopus borealis  (including the previously named subspecies forms P. b. kennicottitalovkatransbaicalicus and hylebata). 

Two newly-defined species — the Kamchatka Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus examinandus and the Japanese Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus xanthodryas — both split from the Arctic Warbler P. borealis.

The Kamchatka Leaf Warbler breeds in southern Kamchatka, Sakhalin, Hokkaido and the Kurile Islands. The Japanese Leaf Warbler breeds in Japan (except Hokaido). 

Although all three species — the Arctic Warbler, the Kamchatka Leaf Warbler, and the Japanese Leaf Warbler look similar in appearance, differences in their songs and calls were determining factors in the latest reorganization. 


As for California sightings of the Arctic Warbler, eight accepted occurrences are listed at the California Birds Record Committee web site, including the most recent one on southeast Farallon Island in 2012. 

References:

1. http://ebonph.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/ask-the-experts-the-arctic-warbler-splits/

2. http://www.birdwatch.co.uk/categories/articleitem.asp?item=741

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Warbler Guy, which birding web site is good to note rare warbler sightings? Rare bird alerts appear at one web site?

Ellie (in Boston), I think you may appreciate:

birdingonthe.net

It hosts ongoing Rare Bird Alert updates from around the country.

So, for example, if I wish to see a summary of rare birds called into the northern California hotline,
I go to this web site.

Here, the latest transcripts from 10/25 - 11/9/14 are featured.

No rare warbler sightings are present in this compendium, but it's still interesting to see reports of
CACKLING GOOSE, FALCATED DUCK, LEWIS'S WOODPECKER, 
TROPICAL KINGBIRD, CLAY-COLORED SPARROW (possible), WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, 
CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPUR, and SNOW BUNTING. 


Friday, October 17, 2014

Warbler Guy, which West coast warbler vagrants are the most common ones to see? Do vagrant warblers also appear on the East Coast?

Good question, Hogie (in Portland).

Answer:

On the West Coast, say, on the Outer Point of Point Reyes in N. CA, the most typical East Coast vagrants to see in the fall include Palm, Blackburnian and Blackpoll. Other species that often appear annually: Black-throated Blue, Black-and-white, Magnolia, and Chestnut-sided Warbler.



(Blackpoll Warbler, shown above.)

As for the East Coast, it's not as common in autumn to have West Coast breeding warblers show up, but it does occur.

One reason relates to the orientation error displayed by migrating warblers. For many vagrants seen on the West Coast, the cause is due to first-year individual having an innate faulty brain, causing them to navigate south, then west — instead of south and, then, east toward Latin American expanses.
In traveling west by mistake, these newborn warblers continue as far as the land will take them — such as to the far western extreme of Point Reyes National Seashore. Unfortunately, these vagrants meet an unfortunate fate as they eventually continue moving west over the ocean.



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Is it possible to distinguish the call notes of Audubon’s vs. Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warbler during the non-breeding season where they occur together?

Is it possible to distinguish the call notes of Audubon’s vs. Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warbler during the non-breeding season where they occur together?

Answer:

Obviously, these birds are NOT now singing during the non-breeding season, but you do often hear loud chip or call notes where Audubon’s and Myrtle Yellow-Rumped Warbler patrol during the non-breeding season.

This is the case throughout the San Francisco Bay area where I live. In the fall and through March, most of the Yellow-rumped Warblers seen and heard occur as the Audubon's subspecies, though a Myrtle subspecies individual is sometimes spotted.

In many cases you can hear how the Myrtle (one of the subspecies of the Yellow-rumped Warbler species) has a flatter and softer chip note than the Audubon’s.

The “ch” component of the call note is weaker for the Myrtle and it often gives many calls in rapid succession.

However, be careful. Intergrades (individuals that display visual characteristics specific to both Audubon’s and Myrtle) may announce call notes of the other subspecies. In other words, it’s possible to see a bird that looks like an Audubon’s, but it’s call note sounds like a Myrtle. This individual could likely be an intergrade.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Warbler Guy, here's a first-year Blackburnian Warbler, correct?

Yes, indeed: The banded warbler shown in these photos is a beautiful first-year Blackburnian Warbler.
(Photos courtesy of Dave Noel.)



Not the absence of bright orange in the throat and, instead, a hue of faint yellow. The varied head pattern is also a good clue.

Enjoy the migration and your sightings, everyone. Regards, Daniel

danieledelstein@att.net
warblerwatch.com