Using A Field Computer


The portable battery operated computer, showing Gallery of Illustrations, the EnjoyBirds equivalent of a "color plate" from which the correct species is picked.

The idea behind EnjoyBirds is that a portable computer may now have become the field ID tool of choice, combining the intelligent selection of a computer query, with the capacity of local books for visual and habitat information, and the sounds of an indexed tape or MD player. 

At left is shown one example, used now as a field notebook for four years, weighing 2.6 lbs., bought in 1999. This model (Mitsubishi Amity CN) was actually discontinued even before I got it, but it has been to most of the places mentioned on the ecotourism pages (see bottom choices). The screen (here showing thumbnails of all the birds in NH in winter) is 4x6 inches, and is ideal for click-picking the correct identity bird.

This specimen's particular rechargeable Lithium battery lasts about 2 hours.  It still runs Windows 95 quite happily. And why not? If it works, use it!

The bad news is that this rugged computer has not been available for sale for four years, through some quirk of Mitsubishi’s clever marketing strategy. The good news is that NOW there are at least five other brands of smaller, more reliable full computers (not PDA or palm-anythings) now available with the more reliable Windows XP system.  Every week there are announcements of computers with color screens and sound systems, where hard disc storage, weight and battery life become more compatible with the needs of field birders.  The prices have always slightly exceeded $ 2,000 USD are now dropping below that mark as well. 

Interested? You can start with a Google search or with MobilePlanet’s web site.  Off-CD use of the EnjoyBirds software is available.  You can easily attach larger keyboards, mouse or LCD screen to most.

People have warned me since I bought this Amity model to expect damage from field use, especially when they see the condition of my BOOK field guides.  But so far, this is actually the ONLY computer I have owned that never has locked up. Close the lid and it “goes to sleep” in about 25 seconds. Open it up and press “ON” and you are right back in the EnjoyBirds program where it left off. It is too bad nobody can buy one anymore! I have searched Ebay, etc.

The full advantages of the EnjoyBirds program is that you only use the pictures, maps and sounds for each different birding spot and season. On such a computer, you really have a custom book with most common sounds.

The one great drawback of all LCD computers is the battle for screen brightness with full sunlight.  In sunny situations, it really is necessary to shade the screen to read it properly, or to use the computer from inside a car or building, as shown above.  I have NOT tried it below about 35 degrees F., and would expect problems if it were to get at all wet.

The sound system is well suited for earphones, and, thankfully, cannot be directly with speakers used for attracting bird species by song playback.  This latter practice should really be reserved for RESEARCH purposes.

Try to become skilled at finding and identifying each bird species.  It is pointless to artificially produce agitated territorial songbirds so you can exercise your techno-power over them!  Try a little YIN with nature; leave your YANG back at your desk job.  Please use earphones, and give other birders a break, too.

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