Palmtop PCs and birding

To: "Birding-aus" <>
Subject: Palmtop PCs and birding
From: "Simon Mustoe" <>
Date: Fri, 7 Jul 2006 21:53:00 +1000

I've just become a convert to the world of Palmtop PCs / PDAs (Personal Digital 
Assistants) for birding. Actually, it happened last year whilst birding in 
South Africa. Robert's fieldguide is published in a format that can be used on 
PDAs and many South African birders use it.

I bought a factory seconds HP Ipaq, one of the new series with a built in GPS 
for about $550. I've installed Oziexplorer CE. I already have a copy of 
Oziexplorer and the two pieces of software are needed. They cost about $130 all 
up and you need a separate PC / laptop to run Oziexplorer as the files have to 
be converted to place on the Ipaq. I also bought the CSIRO basic Natraster map 
series, which is the whole of Australia at 1:250000 scale and costs $100. With 
this system, I can navigate anywhere in the country. The GPS drains the battery 
faster than normal so a car charger is necessary four long-distance route work 
and you'd want to keep it topped up between walks. But you don't have to have 
it on continually as it gets a fix very fast if you periodically download the 
latest satellite position data (the unit does this automatically, either 
synchronising it to a file downloaded by your PC or connecting to the internet 
itself). This is one drawback: the Ipaq seems to want to connect to the 
internet at every available opportunity and the cost of bandwidth is quite 
high. I have found myself setting up a 'false' connection setting so it doesn't 
connect without me knowing. If I need to access the internet, it is pretty easy 
to set it back and I don't really want to become the sort of person dependent 
on the internet whilst in the bush! Nonetheless, it could prove useful.

Over the last few years, I've also been gradually taking extracts from bird 
call CDs and tapes and saving them to MP3 to use on another system and I now 
have them on the Ipaq. I don't know if I should be saying too much about this 
but it's pretty handy to drop them across for trips and have everything neatly 
indexed - beats the old dozen volume tape set. I don't tend to use it for call 
playback because the speaker is pretty useless on the Ipaq though for about 
$100 you can buy a bluetooth speaker with about 5h play time (20 hour standby) 
which would be an option. Again, bluetooth connectivity from the Ipaq draws 
quite a bit of battery power but would prove a workable device and the sound 
quality / volume would be very good.

For a trip I have coming up shortly, I've compiled waypoints from Frank 
O'Connors website, which is a very useful navigation aid saving me from 
constantly having to stop and start looking at maps. You can save new waypoints 
and routes on the way, so it is possible to backtrack or simply keep positions 
and notes as you go. For the grey-headed lapwing, we sat and planned the route 
on the way in the aircraft and set waypoints as regional towns. We also used it 
semi-successfully to navigate backroads through Wee Waa and take the shortcut 
to Burren Junction. Unfortunately, since these maps were produced, new roads 
have been added and others removed. Neither does it show dead-ends so you have 
to use a bit of judgment. At least it's useful to know if you're heading in the 
right direction though.

It saves having to tediously write down GPS references in one's notebook and I 
will start keeping a list of waypoints from trips for future use. There is also 
the scope to create or import text from word and excel files, import webpages 
(I have a couple of Frank O'Connors web pages stored in my history for access 
later). Oh, and of course, the device also doubles as your mobile phone, you 
can check your emails on it etc etc etc.

Dare I further mention, for fear of a copyright lawsuit, that scans of the odd 
page from bird books that are otherwise too large to carry in the field are 
quite useful. You can save images as full size JPGs and zoom in to view them. 
Memory space is a good as you want it. I have a 2GB flash card which is more 
than ample.

If these systems become more popular, it would be extremely simple to create a 
PDA version of something like HANZAB, including bird calls and sell it. The 
elements are already there for someone to create their own poor-man's version 
but I would prefer to see something like this put together officially. For 
information, the Victorian Dragonflies website 
( is all but PDA-ready and when 
we've got the site better produced, I would intend creating a downloadable PDA 
version for field use. It is remakably simple to modify.

I'd be interested to know if anyone else is enjoying the same benefits of these 
systems and has any other software that they know about or could recommend.

All the best,

Simon Mustoe.


Simon Mustoe, Director

AES Applied Ecology Solutions Pty. Ltd
39 The Crescent
Belgrave Heights
Victoria 3160

Tel +61 (0)3 9752 6398
Fax +61 (0)3 9754 6083
Mob 0405 220830

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