Re: PDA / GPS and software for birders

To: "Chris Corben" <>, "birding-aus" <>
Subject: Re: PDA / GPS and software for birders
From: "Simon Mustoe" <>
Date: Sat, 2 Dec 2006 20:07:12 +1100

I've refrained from commenting on this thread until now but since it overlaps with another recent thread about bird and animal lists, I will do so now.

For my part, I use a Bluetooth GPS with my PDA. Although my Ipaq has a built-in GPS, this drains batteries quickly. I use a BT338 which boasts a battery life in excess of 9 hours continual use but 20+ hours on battery saver mode. It clips nearly to my binocular strap and from a warm start, gets a fix within a few seconds.

More recently I have been toying with customised databases for storing wildlife records in the field. There is a fantastic piece of freeware called Cybertracker ( which was developed for South African game researchers using EU funding. You just download it and register. It is amazingly versatile, althoug somewhat difficult to learn as a beginner. They include various simple formats but the real benefits are in the customised databases. For instance, I have produced a database for recording seabird and cetacean sightings offshore, which includes a moving map and logs all information with time, date and position. It is amazingly easy and sychronises with my PC enabling me to download and produce maps and reports in minutes. I have done the same for dragonflies in Victoria and would like to do the same for birds in due course. It would take no more than a couple of hours for instance, to build a database that records data in BA Atlas format*. Since I travel everywhere with my PDA / phone, I can turn on and log data anytime any place. Previously I have depended on having a notebook available and then finding the time later to record data in electronic format. Ninety percent of what I collect never sees the light of day but that is changing thanks to taking the effort out of processing the written word**.

*Incidentally, I have had no luck finding an electronic list of birds from BA including BA Atlas codes. BA have seemed reluctant to provide this, although it would make me much more likely to regularly submit records. An regularly updated list codes would be a useful resource. Similarly, I can't believe that there are not complete lists of species available for other groups. For instance, who keeps the current formal list of mammal taxonomy in Australia? And herps, butterflies etc.?

**For those of you about to being a tawdry thread about the relative merits of notebooks vs PDAs, please don't. It doesn't replace a field notebook, it merely augments the process. My notebook is no longer full of lats and lons, enabling me to use the space for sketches and descriptions instead.

I could continue on this topic for ages but won't. If anyone is interested in getting into this themselves, then I would strongly recommend starting with Cybertracker. You will however need to be familar with database design and patiently work through various help and FAQ files. This and a lot of trial and error and you will shortly be able to build a database that does anything you need. I have only just scraped the surface of its uses to now. For general mapping, Oziexplorer is cheap and incredibly versatile. You can georeference any map - easily done with reasonable accuracy by pinning locations in Google Earth (edit the properties of your pins and it gives you the lat and lon) and using these as your geo-reference points in Oziexplorer. Alternatively, you can scan and georeference any map whatsoever or simply buy the CSIRO 1:250000 maps on CD. For the PDA you need a $10 add-on for Oziexplorer and you have to save maps in a separate format before using them.

For what it is worth, on the more general question of using GPS's, I completely agree with Chris Corben. For those luddites amongst us who may prefer to avoid novel new technology, that it your choice. For the rest of us, there is a wealth of inexpensive or freely available resources that can make your life much easier, not least for the collection and submission of wildlife data. It is also useful for safety purposes to have a GPS...better than to get lost in the bush and cost the authorities and your family an enormous amount of stress finding you. I don't care what anyone says, when you're placed in an unfamilar location there are dangers. Environmental conditions including fire and smoke could make it horrendously difficult to make your way back to safety quickly enough. Of course, I always use a GPS but also carry a compass and take note of my surroundings. Anyone with any sense would not rely entirely on a single method.

If anyone wants to know more, please get in touch. Similarly, if anyone from BA is willing to share a copy of their list with Atlas codes, I would be grateful.



PS - I am too busy to respond to pointless gripes and unpleasant pedantry. If however, you have a genuine interest in any of these things then please don't hesitate to get in touch but I am away for most of the time until Xmas. Have a great Xmas and New Year.

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU