BirdGuides' latest offspring, supplementing their popular CD-ROM and DVD guides, is this CD-ROM, detailing every rarity (defined as a species seen fewer than 150 times) seen in Britain since ornithological record keeping began.
Eschewing BirdGuides' earlier, proprietary, format, this release delivers web- style content to the user's browser. This is a marvellous improvement, allowing the user to easily resize text, move backwards and forwards, find keywords on a page, and utilise other features of software with which they are already familiar. (Further refinement, such as specifying all colours in the style sheet, adding alternative text to pictures and section-header graphics, and specifying all table sizes in relative, rather than pixel, terms, would enable the HTML code to meet W3C standards, and be more accessible to users of assistive technologies such as text-to-voice readers).
Each of the 240 species included is descried — though not in as much detail as in a field guide, or other BirdGuides products — and pictured. Most are also shown on video (the Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica), for instance, is not). The pictures are sometimes pixilated, or blocky, being "screen-grabs" from the moving images.
Almost 140 of these video clips — presented in "QuickTime" format — are of birds in Britain, identified by date and location, thus allowing twitchers to see film of the actual bird they have seen in the wild. This is particularly important for the most "mega" of rarities, the Slender-billed Curlew (Numenius tenuirostris). Local films are supplemented by additional material of the birds in their more usual habitats. There are over 330 videos in all. Most are silent, while some clips (e.g. White-throated Robin (Irania gutturalis)) have sound. It is frustrating to see birds such as the River Warbler (Locustella fluviatilis; sadly not the 1996 Doxey Marshes bird) singing their heart out on film, but not be able to hear them!
Oddly, the Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) does not appear, although the guide was published before the BOURC announced its decision not to accept the various sightings reported in 1999 and 2000.
Locally, Staffordshire has 23 species listed, plus the no longer accepted Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni); the West Midlands county, 9; Warwickshire 15, plus the no longer accepted Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) and Worcestershire 12, plus 2 birds no longer accepted, Eurasian Scops Owl (Otus scops) and Tengmalm's Owl (Aegolius funereus).
Navigation around the guide, often the Achilles' heel of Multi-media CD-ROMs, is extremely easy, with the user able to find birds alphabetically by common (but not scientific) name, or in systematic order, or by family. Alternatively, one may begin by viewing a list of species for a specific county.
When viewing an individual species, drop-down menus allow the user to find related species, as well as records of that species by county, and charts breaking down records by age, sex, location and date, which appear in "pop-up" windows.
Species descriptions also include notes on status and distribution, and the first known British record for each.
Users may also look up lists of references to the species' family, in British Birds or Birding World since 1971. These references include titles, dates and author names, but, sadly, it does not appear to be possible to search the database by those, so one can't for instance, call up all articles by WMBC stalwart A. J. Harthan, nor is there any way to find the British Birds reference listed under the Thrush family as "79: 277-281 Development of snail-smashing by Song Thrushes (C. J. Henty)" by looking for "snail" or "Henty".
An included help facility is well written and should enable the most unsure computing novice to get the best use from the guide.
With any product containing this level of detail, there are inevitably some errors or omissions, and, of course, new rarities are found or confirmed as time progresses. Purchasers of this guide are promised access, free until 2003, to an on-line update service, which should, according to the guide itself, include:
As of March 2002, though, this has only an (admirably frank and detailed, but not over-long) errata section, and an "under construction" message. Nottingham's 2001 Little Swift (Apus affinis), for example, which does not appear on the CD-ROM, could be listed in the website. [See postscript]
The CD-ROM is said to be compatible with all versions of Windows from 95 to XP, on a Pentium 200 or better, and Apple Macs from version 8.1 onwards. Although the CD-ROM does not require an Internet connection, a browser, with Java enabled, must be available. A screen resolution of 800×600 and 20Mb RAM of memory are also recommended minima. It ran without problem on my Pentium II, Win 98SE, system.
While not a tool for beginners, this neat little package contains a wealth of information and detail which will delight both the active twitcher and the experienced ornithologist, not to mention armchair birder (we all have to stop once night's really fallen!). Competitively priced, and offering more than a book of similar cost, the advantages of this unique guide far outweigh the (hopefully constructive) criticisms offered above, and it is highly recommended.
The BirdGuides website has more details, a species list, and facilities to buy on-line.
On 4 July 2002, BirdGuides issued this notice:
As yet, the regularly updated online database of British rarity sightings hasn't appeared on our website but we'd like to reassure all customers that it is on its way.
The reason it is taking so long is that we are extending the number of species in the database to include not just those species seen fewer than 150 times (as on the CD-ROM) but also all the other species whose records are judged by the British Birds Rarities Committee. Putting all those extra records (in excess of 15,000) onto the database is no mean task, but when it is done it will be possible to look up all past sightings of birds like White-winged Black Tern and Radde's Warbler by logging on to the BirdGuides website. There will also be additional facilities such as searching for rarity records from particular sites.
This service will be available by subscription only, but those who have bought our CD-ROM Guide to Rarer British Birds will have free access to this database for one year from the date on which it is made available. The database will be updated with all the new records published in the annual BBRC rarities report. Therefore, even though the CD-ROM has only the information published up to date to the end of last year, if you buy it now you'll have access to a database which will be more complete and up-to-date than anything available until the BBRC report in autumn 2004!
The on-line service is now available (as of late November 2002).
Please remember that opinions expressed are those of the individual reviewer, and not necessarily the West Midland Bird Club.
Ornithology in Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire & the West Midlands county, since 1929.
Fetched fromon Friday 24 May 2013 10:05:19
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