iPhone + Spotting Scope = Oystercatcher

I spent a long weekend with my family on the Olympic Peninsula, and squeezed in a little birding around the edges.  Yesterday we visited Ediz Hook, the long sand and rock spit that encloses most of the Port Angeles harbor.  The kids dug in the sand and chased tiny crabs around the beach, and I alternately helped them and looked through my spotting scope to see if there were any cool birds around.

I did see a nice Black Oystercatcher, which was only 30-40 meters away.  Alas, I had forgotten my camera back at the house.  But I did have my phone, and it has a camera on it.  I got my first ever mobile phone in May, and now I suddenly saw how useful it could be.  I hand-held the phone up to my spotting scope eyepiece, and snapped a few pictures.  Ok, so these pics won’t win any photography awards, but I was pretty impressed with how good a picture a phone can take.

Technology has made an impact in several areas of my big year already.  I have been playing around with eBird, a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society (http://ebird.org/ebird/eBirdReports).  Basically, eBird allows anyone to record bird observations – which species you saw, where, when, etc.  This database of observations can then be used to map the range, habitat, and seasonal distribution of each species. For example, here is the Washington (and lower BC) map for Black Oystercatcher sightings for 2012.

Darker shades of purple correspond to a higher density of sightings.  If you zoom in, you can see the exact locations and details of each sighting.

You can also see the whole checklist of what else was seen when the target bird was recorded.

If you like birds, or you like playing with data, then you should check it out!  If you like birds AND you like playing with data, here’s how you will spend several hours of your free time over the next month.

By the way, eBird tells me that I’ve seen 351 different species since my big year began in mid-June!  I’m over halfway to my goal in only a little more than two months, but of course it will get harder to add species as I see more and more of the common ones.  I’m planning an expedition to Mt. Rainier for ptarmigan in the next week, and of course I’ll be headed to New Jersey (and a few surrounding states) in September.


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