'A light-weight, easy to carry and also a good quality guide for Colombian birds is not yet available'. Gerjon, deze zin verbaast mij een beetje. Net terug van vier weken Colombia, heb ik mij uitstekend vermaakt met the 2nd edition van de 'Field Guide to the Birds of Colombia', McMullan and Donegan, 2014. Alle soorten staan er in, platen zijn bruikbaar (met aanwijzingen voor determinatie) en de taxonomie is redelijk bij. Alleen voor de Hummies en de Tyrant Flycatchers heb ik zelfs iets digitaals gemaakt aan de hand van HBW-Alive.
Wij hadden gedurende de hele trip gidsen (totaal vier) van Multicolor Birding.
App: All Birds Colombia – a complete field guide to all the bird species recorded in Colombia (Mullen & Pohland GbR), €24.99
[Voor een Nederlandstalige versie klik hier]
In October 2016 I went for over 3 weeks to Colombia together with Garry Bakker and Remco Hofland to join Arjan Dwarshuis on a stage of his Biggest Year, a meanwhile very successful attempt to break the world record in birdwatching.
In preparation for this birding trip to ‘the Country of Birds’ I started to search for bird books, bird sounds and trip reports. Certainly there are several bird books that cover Colombia or the region, but these are mainly thick heavy books, which are not easy to carry around in the field and not always quite up to date. A light-weight, easy to carry and also a good quality guide for Colombian birds is not yet available. Regarding the fact that Colombia has the most bird species in the world, I also foresaw me spending lots of hours behind my computer to download all the bird sounds on Xeno-Canto (www.xeno-canto.org). Reason enough to start searching for something mobile.
In my search I quickly ran into the app “All Birds Colombia” via the App Store (Apple). This app is published by Sunbird Images®, a German company which is specialized, amongst other things, in developing applications for mobile devices all in the field of nature. More information about Sunbird Images can be found at their website (http://sunbird.tv/sunbird-apps-ebooks/).
All Birds Colombia is part of a series of apps, mainly based on the two volume Helm Field Guide “Birds of Northern South America” by Robin Restall, Clemencia Rodner and Miquel Lentino, published in 2006 (Restall). In total Sunbird Images produced eight apps out of the Restall of which seven that cover the different countries in the area (Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Trinidad & Tobago, Northern Peru, Northern Brazil and the Guyanas) and one the entire region.
The bird calls and songs included in the app (over 4000) are mostly recordings by Peter Boesman, of which the most were obtained from his DVD “Birds of Colombia MP3 Sound Collection” (2012). Since 2015 Peter Boesman has also shared all his sound recordings on Xeno-Canto. The remaining recordings were obtained from different other sources.
Especially the presence of all the bird sounds in the app made me decide to immediately buy and install it. Unfortunately, up to this moment the app is only available for Iphone and Ipad (iOS), but Sunbird Images has announced the intention to publish an Android version in 2017.
“Taping” the Perija Thistletail (Schizoeaca perijana), one of only a few species without sounds available from the app (Perija Mountains, Colombia, 25 October 2016, photo: Remco Hofland).
Although this is not a book review on the Restall but an app review, in the underlying text I could not avoid mentioning some faults which can be related to the Restall, simply because the app is mainly based on the books. In this article I tried to describe the advantages and shortcomings, which we encountered during the use in Colombia. Although I mostly discuss the Colombia app in the next paragraphs, it can be considered as a review on the whole series of bird apps by Sunbird Images, regarding the fact they all contain the same features and are based on the same sources.
More detailed information about the content, features and operation of the app is included in the “About “ section in the app. In this section you will also find the original introduction obtained from the Restall, references and citations, and some information about where to watch birds in Colombia.
Screenshots of the three navigation screens (iPhone).
After starting the app and passing the welcome screen you will automatically see a screen in which you can navigate to the different bird species. The bird species can be displayed in three different modes.
By default you will enter the “Gallery View” which groups all related species into 80 categories with pictograms of similar ‘looking’ species (left figure above). The chosen arrangement, however, does not follow the current taxonomy and is not always very obvious. Therefore it can take some time to find a particular species.
The second mode is the “A-Z View” (middle figure) in which all birds are listed alphabetically based on the first set language (e.g. English). If necessary, you can change the standard language in the settings. You can choose between six languages (English, Latin or scientific, Dutch, French, German or Spanish). There is also the possibility to choose a second language, which is also displayed in the “A-Z View” (e.g. scientific) and a third language, only displayed in the page of a specific species. Considering the fact English and scientific being the international standard, there is no reason to change this setting. This mode is very useful if you exactly know what species you are looking for, but it is certainly not if you are searching for a certain family or related group of bird species.
The most useful and personally most used mode is the “Category View” (right figure) in which the species are ordered by related taxa (bird families).
In order to quickly navigate to one or a group of related species, the app also has a quite handy and fast searching feature, which can be started by pushing the search icon at the bottom of the screen. In this feature you can start your search concurrently based on the first two set languages (e.g. English and scientific), giving you the number of hits already at the first entered letter. This is quite useful if you are looking for example for all the species in a specific genus.
Taxonomy and nomenclature
The taxonomy used in the app exactly follows the one used in the Restall. This means that the used taxonomy is based on the American Ornithologist’s Union (AOU) checklist, which is revised for South America by the AOU’s South American Checklist Committee (SACC). A significant disadvantage of the app is the used version of the SACC list dating from 2006 and updates of this list since then where not implemented in the app. Taxonomically lots of changes occurred since 2006: new (sub)species were discovered, species have been split or lumped, taxa have been reordered, etc., etc. So you will not find new species and splits like Antioquia Wren (Tryophilus sernai), Santa Marta Antbird (Drymophila hellmayri) or Klage’s Antbird (Drymophila klagesi) in the app. Another example found in the app is Emerald Toucanet (Aulcorhynchus prasinus). This species has meanwhile been split (including White-throated, Grey-throated and Santa Marta Toucanet) and also been lumped again to White-throated Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus albivitta).
The nomenclature used in the app is also outdated, as used in the Restall which follows ‘Howard & Moore’ (Dickinson 2003) and the IOC endorsed list of recommended English names (Gill & Wright, 2006).
Examples of meanwhile changed bird names are Ochre-lored Flatbill (Tolmomyias flaviventris) still listed in the app as Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Sepia-brown Wren (Cinnycerthia olivascens) as Sharpe’s Wren and Fuertes’s Parrot (Hapalopsittaca fuertesi) as Indigo-winged Parrot.
The above implies that users of Observation.org and apps like ObsMapp, iObs or WinObs (based on IOC version 6.4) and also of HBW Alive (Handbook of Birds of the World /Birdlife International) and eBird (Clements 2016) will regularly encounter (sub)species which cannot or not easily be found in the app and/or vice versa. The fact there are many differences between the mentioned lists is well known, but not discussed furthermore in this review. The developers of the app have stated to be aware of this shortcomings and hope to update the taxonomy and nomenclature in future versions.
Plates and species accounts
The app contains a shipload of information and covers all species which have been recorded in Colombia (until 2006 of course). Regarding the plates and species accounts, which are almost completely derived from the Restall books, it is quite obvious that Sunbird Images first produced a master app out of the whole Restall, hence, of the whole region covered by the two books. Subsequently different apps were produced per country within this region, like the app for Colombia, in a, to be honest, quite ‘quick and dirty’ way, covering only those species which have ever been recorded in this specific country. In these ‘country’ apps the plates and species accounts are fully taken over from the master app, without any adjustments for the country in particular. So, in the Colombia app you can encounter plates and descriptions of subspecies that, for instance, can only be found in Suriname or Peru. Only some paragraphs in the general “About” section are written specifically for Colombia.
Examples of plates (iPad) and a species account (iPhone).
The plates show much variation in quality and besides that, hardly any birds in flight are depicted, despite this being quite essential for proper identification in some cases. The accounts are briefly written and, as mentioned before, not always up to date. Therefore, the app alone is not sufficient for proper identification of tricky or ‘new’ (sub)species.
A useful feature within the species accounts is the “similar” feature. By pushing this option (at the bottom of the species accounts screen) a list of species with similar characteristics is presented which, on the other hand, would be more useful if the original species was listed as well.
Just like the plates and species accounts, the range maps were copied from the Restall, so including all errors.
All maps show the species distribution in the whole of Northern South America and not only in the specific country, in this case Colombia. Therefore it is quite a puzzle, especially for very localised endemics, to locate the area where they can be found approximately (and approximately is as far as you will get).
Some other shortcomings of the maps are:
- Only one color is used in the range maps. Unfortunately no distinction is shown regarding seasonal distribution of the species (like summer/winter visitor, migrant or resident).
- Not all subspecies listed in the species accounts are shown on the map (the range of subspecies are marked on the map using letters). For instance for Long-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus kingi) five subspecies are described in the account, but only two are actually shown on the map.
- The distribution range of some (sub)species are not up to date.
- The distribution range on the maps, in some cases, does not correspond with the range mentioned in the text.
Range maps (Resp. Ruddy Ground Dove, Fuertes’s Parrot and Long-tailed Sylph).
The bird sound mode is by far the most valuable and, during our trip, most used feature of the app. Songs and/or calls of nearly all species are included in the app and while playing these sounds, a sonogram is displayed in progressive motion. The repeat feature, included in the sound mode, is very useful for taping species in the field.
There are only a few species of which no sound recordings are included in the app, like Perija Thistletail (Schizoeaca perijana), Bicolored Antpitta (Grallaria rufocinerea) and Hooded Antpitta (Grallaricula cucullata). A bit of a miss, since sound recordings of these species are certainly available from other sources, like for instance Xeno-Canto. Hopefully these sounds will be included in future updates of the app.
Sound mode (Ocellated Tapaculo, iPad).
One of the most convenient features is the “Compare” tool. With this tool, which you can operate from one of the three navigation modes, you can compare up to eight (iPhone, on your iPad even sixteen) species. You can choose between three compare modes: Plates, maps or sounds. Especially the last mode is pretty neat, because you can play the sounds simultaneously and start them independently. This is quite useful if you want to compare sounds with each other (the sonograms are also displayed in progressive motion) or when you want to tape more species at the same time. Unfortunately I discovered this last feature only when we were back home.
Screenshots of the “Compare” modes (iPad).
Another feature is the “Identify” tool (Eye symbol at the bottom left) in which the most important field characteristics of a bird species are listed. You can choose one or several identification criteria and only the matching species are displayed subsequently. This may be very useful if you do not have much experience with the local avifauna, or in cases you really don’t know what you have observed. However, I did not have a chance to test this tool as I found myself in the company of some very experienced ‘South America’ birders.
The last feature of the app I will mention in this review, is the “Sighting” tool. In this mode you can manage your sightings of the bird species in the app. Place, date and GPS coordinates are recorded automatically, bird numbers and remarks you can enter manually. The possibilities of this feature are furthermore quite limited and because of the existence of much more sophisticated sighting management apps (like iObs, ObsMapp and eBird) used by most birders, it is probably a waste of time and money that they have put effort in developing this. They better could have saved that for making the app more up-to-date.
During the use of the app in Colombia, I quite quickly encountered a habit of the app, so annoying, I call it a bug. When operating the app, no matter what mode or screen, and then switching forward and backward to any other app, for example your email or iObs, the Colombia app automatically returns to its starting mode. So it does not stay in the mode you were operating in. This also happens when you turn off your phone screen or when the screen turns off automatically after a period of no touching. Hence, you have to search for the bird species over and over again to, for instance, play its sound or make a comparison. Hopefully this bug will be removed in the app's first update.
Prices and other apps by Sunbird Images
The “All Birds Colombia” app costs €24,99 just as the other South America apps. The app for the whole region (Northern South America) is logically more expensive and costs €79,99.
Besides the above mentioned, Sunbird Images has also published eight bird apps for some European countries (Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Scotland, United Kingdom, Sweden and Switzerland). These apps are similar to the “Restall” apps but contain photographs of the birds (including their eggs) instead of illustrations. The prices of these apps vary from €12,99 to €24,99. The last in the series of bird apps Sunbird Images published to be mentioned is “BIRD SONGS of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East”, which is based on the reference work of Schulze and Dingler, covering all 800 European species known from the 17# CD set (Vogelstimmen, €69,99).
Altogether “All Birds Colombia” can be evaluated as a quite complete, fast and easy to operate app with some very useful features. It contains lots of information and particularly because of the combination of plates, species accounts and sound recordings the app can be considered as a good supplement to the existing field guides. However, because parts of the information being out-of-date, a part of the drawings being of average quality and drawings, accounts and maps being incomplete, the app can’t be seen as a replacement, but more as complementary to the guides. As they state in the “About” section of the app, this was not the intention of the publishers anyway.
Would I recommend this app to anyone going on a birding trip to Colombia or one of the other countries in Northern South America? For sure! Despite the shortcomings and rather high price for the region app, you will be provided with a load of information, a nearly complete set of bird sounds and a few useful tools and features for use in the field for relatively low money. The app turned out to be very helpful for us during our trip. Let’s hope that Sunbird Images will improve the app in the near future by removing the bug, bringing the presented information more up to date, adding the missing bird sounds and, of course, publishing an Android version.
Using the app in Colombia (La Virginia, Cauca River, 19 October 2016, photo: Remco Hofland)
Ridgely, R.S. and G. Tudor. 2009. Birds of South America, Passerines. Christopher Helm, London.
Hilty, S.L. & Brown, W.L. 1986. A Guide to the Birds of Colombia. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
Restall. R., Rodner, C. and Lentino, M. 2006. Birds of Northern South America: An Identification Guide. Volume 1. Species Accounts. Volume 2: Plates and Maps. (Helm Field Guides). Christopher Helm, London & Yale University Press.
Erize, F., J.R. Mata Rodriguez and M. Rumboll. 2006. Birds of South America: Non-Passerines: Rheas to Woodpeckers (Princeton Illustrated Checklists). Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
HBW Alive/ Handbook of the Birds of the World. (http://www.hbw.com/)
Sunbird Images® (http://sunbird.tv/sunbird-apps-ebooks/)
IOClist v6.4, IOC (international community of ornithologists, http://www.worldbirdnames.org/)