We're lucky as bird watchers to have so many excellent choices among the field guides. Some of us have a single favorite that we always use, but I suspect most of use buy and use more than one. I have every field guide I've been able to get my hands on. I'd do that even if I weren't the editor of a birding magazine. I have to admit that getting new field guides (and other nature books for that matter) given to me for review is one of the perks I really like about this job.
When pullUin Software launched its Handheld Birds field guide (branded by the National Geographic Society) for use on handheld digital devices like the Palm Pilot, the bird world took great interest in it. Was this going to be the future of field guides? Were printed field guide books going to become as obsolete as the typewriter?
Digital field guides are way cool. They are multi-media creatures with sound and often video! They are incredibly portable and, did I mention how cool they are? But they also have some limitations or drawbacks. They require power to operate. They are expensive. Only a single small window can be viewed at once and this can be difficult in bright sunlight.
Just as we have traded pay phones (and in some cases home land-line phones) for cell phones, and record players for MP3 players, we may one day trade our printed-on-paper books for digital "readers." But it ain't happening this week or next, Mr. Roboto.
Book publishers in general—including some field guide publishers—have begun to create electronic elements for their books. My Young Birder's Guide to Eastern Birds has an add-on download of 160 species and photos from birdJam for use on an iPod. Ted Floyd's new Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America comes with a DVD of bird sounds of 138 species. So the trend is clear: even print guides are becoming more multi-media.
In early 2007, Jeffrey A. Gordon and I were asked by Houghton Mifflin to create a digital component for the new Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America. Our very first recommendation was to NOT try to jam this Peterson field guide in its entirety into an iPod or other handheld digital device. Instead, we decided to create multi-media content that would augment the field guide's content and that would be viewable to anyone with a computer, an iPod, or a digital video player.
I was fortunate to be working with an experienced partner. Jeff shared a lot of his knowledge about video production, having already created a couple of interesting nature video projects on his own.
For visuals we relied heavily upon the artwork in the Peterson guide and on several of our talented photographer friends—Thank you Bill Schmoker, Robert McCaw, Kim Steininger, Mike McDowell, Garth McElroy, Jeff Bouton, John Riutta, Jason Husband, Martin Dollenkamp, Julie Zickefoose, and Liz DeLuna Gordon.
We really got a lot of help, too, from the good people (especially Jim Berry and Marlene Mudge) at The Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History.
Although we shot a lot of video of people for this project, we did not include a lot of video footage of birds. We were fortunate enough to get video clips from Roger Peterson's son Lee Peterson, and from former President Jimmy Carter. Portions of our video work are featured on the Amazon.com website.
These video podcasts were a lot of work but I found that I enjoyed this new (for me) mode of creating content. Good content is good content no matter the medium. Once I got the hang of the software we were using, and once we figured out the most efficient way to get from a script draft to a finished episode, I really liked the creative nature of the work.
The videos are free for anyone to download or simply to watch, streamed to your computer. They are divided into four categories: Family Overviews, Species Profiles, Tutorials, and Biography.
The Family Overviews take a very general look at the members of specific bird families: Ducks, Geese, & Swans, Hummingbirds, Owls, etc.
The Species Profiles are—you guessed it—profiles of individual, well-known North American species: Greater Roadrunner, Northern Cardinal, Peregrine Falcon, etc.
The Tutorials are designed to help readers get more out of the field guide and cover topics such as bird identification, bird topography, bird songs and sounds, and so on.
The Biography category has two biographical profiles of Roger Peterson, one covering his life before and up to the publication of his landmark field guide in 1934, and one about his post-field-guide life.
Magazines (like Bird Watcher's Digest) are not much different than printed field guides when it comes to searching for new modes of content delivery. At BWD, we've always tried to look ahead to the new opportunities that technology provides us. And that's one of the reasons I jumped at the chance to work on these video podcasts.
I hope you'll check out the video podcasts (hey! they're free!). If you like them (or don't) let me know.
iversary. Time she surely do fly.