Technology and birding don’t seem to go together at first, but in reality technology has become an integral part of a Big Year.
It is hard for us to imagine how Ben Basham got over 700 birds without Internet, GPS, or cell phones. The Internet provides regular updates on rare birds. We were able to find the Barnacle Goose in New Hampshire and the Mountain Plover in Texas solely from information posted on the Internet by people we don’t know and may never meet. We learned about the Rosy Finches at Sandia Crest from a website. Weekly summaries posted by birding groups around the country let us know what to expect (and not to expect) in a new area. Range maps in books only go so far. Rare Bird Alerts and specialty websites like NARBA have become a necessity and not just a convenience.
Blogs posted by previous big year birders, such as Gabriel Mapel, Matt Stenger, and John Vanderpoel allow us to learn from their experiences. Blogs and e-mail facilitate communication with avid birders from around the world.
After constantly getting misplaced (or lost) last summer, we bought a GPS. Although it is not perfect and lacks information on natural areas, it usually gets us close enough to find signs or people who know the area well. We even received GPS coordinates for a burrowing owl from Larry and Judy Geiger. We plugged the coordinates into our GPS and there was the bird sitting on a culvert at that exact location.
Although we don’t always have cell phone service in rural areas, Renee’s smart phone allows us to look up directions, park hours, camping and other information. We sometimes text back and forth when we go different directions while searching for a bird, thus not disturbing the birds or other birders.
So birding and technology really do go together, but behind all the information on the Internet and the smart phone are people. Without people posting up-to-date information, the Internet is as bad as an outdated book. We have also found that the Internet is best for rare birds or birds that are out of range. Talking with local people is the best way the find the common birds for an area. When we were looking at the Rosy Finches at Sandia Crest, Jason Kidd provided tips on other birds and birding areas nearAlbuquerque. One of these tips was that Cackling Geese come to theRio GrandeNatureCenterState Parkevery afternoon. Since the Cackling Geese are not rare birds, we didn’t see this on any Internet site but that tip got us a new bird for the year.