But I think if any song can touch the heart, then one should value it
– Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong
I’ll ask the interweb
– Lance, Detectorists
A few years ago I read about Amy Liptrot when she lived on Orkney, was preparing a book, and using a GPS sky app. I investigated
and found there are quite a few available, mapping and identifying the stars. I considered using one but felt it wasn’t worth it when English skies are prevailingly cloudy. I haven’t read her book, The Outrun, but know the story.
I’m not opposed to technology, it’s great in so many ways, but I’m suspicious with something new. That traces back to crash after crash with Windows 95, I never used 98, moved briefly to 2000 then upgraded to XP. I used old systems on the basis that you don’t know what you’re getting, invariably there are problems, and newer versions grow in size. Wait for people to shout about it, coders to correct it, and I’m in no hurry. XP was quite good and from that point onwards the gap between Windows and Apple narrowed. Apple used to be better but today there’s not much difference. I never get a crash now, but remember how it was.
I’m similarly wary about apps, not so much for reliability as the effect of installing them. Every piece of software scatters files around your hard drive, tablet, or phone; which means if you decide not to use it you’ve created unnecessary clutter which is one reason why devices degrade. There are ways of cleaning up after uninstalling, but they’re not wholly effective and it’s better to be disciplined. Not sure, don’t load it.
A friend told me about BirdNET two years ago and it didn’t excite me. My aging phone is slower than it was and the battery charging has declined badly. That’s annoying. The battery in my aging tablet is fine, whereas phones are neglected; I read about this with Apple as deliberate technology because it encourages a new purchase. Anyway, I installed BirdNet, like it, and will share the story.
You may know about birds quite well in which case don’t bother. I don’t, either visually or in terms of song, habitat, or migration. I love bird song but haven’t paid much attention to it although there’s a book – Why Birds Sing – I want to read. Mating and territory obviously, but there’s speculation they also sing to enjoy it. You would, wouldn’t you? Imagine pouring out that lovely blackbird sound.
You pay close attention to bird song as you carry and use BirdNET. You tune in, that’s how to describe it, when your attention is normally elsewhere. In spring and summer I like wild flower walks, and will supplement this with bird song walks. It’s not completely accurate, but it’s good. I heard a flurry of song and didn’t know the birds so made two recordings. The first reading said robin maybe (I told you my bird knowing is limited) and the second said robin definitely. Two recordings, both detecting the same song; the difference was how close I was and how loud they were. That’s impressive.
It works by sending it onto the interweb to use artificial intelligence and (so called) neural networks. A computer recognises sound signature and melody, and users provide feedback. Was that correct or not which if enough people do it becomes a significant resource; the intelligence adjusting and improving. It’s not matching with a sound database, but technology related to ChatGPT.
I walked again at the robin patch and as I approached thought ah yes, that’s the robin patch. You feel embedded in the place. It becomes alive, as a nature encou
nter, even on a modest local walk. If there’s no signal you can save the recording and ask the interweb later, but the delight of the experience is when you do it in the field. Robin definitely – and BirdNET then provides a link so you can read about the bird.
I write like this is a magazine column. With research, references, and a lot of time. If you like it, perhaps you would support me.