Making local expertise count
BirdSpot is a software for collating bird species records. It runs on Windows operating systems (NT, 98, XP, 2000, Vista?) and was written using Visual Basic 6.0. Since its first public release in 2003 it has accumulated about 56,000 species records from published sources in print or electronic media, museum specimen records and unpublished observations.
Trip-lists are "complete" (no species left out as uninteresting) lists of species seen at a particular location by an observer (or a group, although the database uses a single main observer). The locations themselves are specified by their names and more importantly their latitudes and longitudes in decimal degrees. This enables the software to produce simple spot maps. A trip-list also includes a measure of time spent in the field. This time estimate may be useful in future analysis where differences in effort may be accounted for.
The second kind of reporting is what most casual bird-watchers are familiar with. They may be of a species that they consider interesting on account of their location, time of the year or activity. These records are useful for identifying patterns of distribution of rare species or for keeping track of nesting and other activity patterns.
Data submission and compilation
BirdSpot does not require Internet access but data that has been entered may be shared with others using the exporter utility that produces a small text file that can be emailed. Recipients of the text file can merge the data into their own personal BirdSpot databases using the importer tool.
The majority of BirdSpot users merely make use of it is as a lookup tool to generate a checklist for an area along with their reporting rates, find species records or to obtain leads to references. It is also possible to run some grid-based visualizations. Species records may also be exported into Google Earth KML files.
License and freedom
Please note that the software is FREE. This does not just mean that you are free to download it, you are also free to analyze the data and publish scientific papers, you are free to combine it with other information and produce derivative works and you are free to use the source code likewise as long as you continue to grant the same freedom to others. Remember that repeatability and verifiability are features of science. It may not be easy to verify if someone identified a bird right, but you can certainly look at reliability measures such as number of independent observations, nearest records, habitat similarity and so on.
Making the analytical methods and the data accessible to all makes for good science. Conclusions that can be drawn from data may change as data accumulates. Differences may be noticed when data is compared across epochs or geographies. It makes sense to ensure that primary data is available over the long run. Maps in field guides do not allow this kind of analysis, however the same kinds of maps can always be generated from primary data.