Birder's Guide

NOV 2017

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 21 of 51

Merlin Bird ID App short walk around. You should be able to find many of the species that aren't marked with an uncommon or rare tag. The "Family - Most Likely" sort is our recommended option for most birders. This keeps families in the expected order, with waterfowl at the top, while sorting by frequency within the family headings. You get important clues about which birds you are most likely to encounter, showing species like American Kestrel and Peregrine Falcon above Gyrfalcon (unless you are one of the lucky few liv - ing where Gyrfalcons are common!). It's a Community Effort The real magic of Merlin lies in the countless checklists submitted to eBird, improving the suggestions Merlin offers each passing day. The images and audio featured for each species are pulled in from media uploaded to the Macaulay Li - brary, also through eBird checklists. Bird- ers all around the world directly contrib- ute to the success and accuracy of Merlin every time they enter data in eBird. Merlin's Photo ID feature similarly is a community effort, benefiting from thousands of birders to narrow down the possibilities. Perhaps you are on a trip to Lake Yo- joa in western Honduras and you have your field guides on hand, but you are planning a long hike and don't want to drag along anything heavy. Open Ex- plore Birds in Merlin, search for your location and date, and you'll be ready to go with a shortened list of species that you might encounter, all powered by live eBird data. These custom bird lists are available for any location in the world, and for species covered by the Bird Packs you are just one tap away from identifica- tion hints, images, and sounds for each species. Thanks to millions of eBird obser- vations, Merlin can sort the species in the list by frequency, calculated by the percentage of complete checklists that report a particular species. The "Most Likely" sort shows the most commonly reported birds at the top and the rarest at the bottom of the list—an excellent way to get a quick idea of which birds you might expect to encounter on a ing and new tools from Google. We're now in the era of deep learning—a type of algorithm inspired by the structure and function of the brain—with access to amazing technology that allows any- one to translate text by pointing their smartphone at it or self-driving cars to read road signs, and we can harness these same technologies to identify birds. The team at Cornell is now able to develop software that once required specialized computer vision researchers and then package this software so it can operate on mobile devices without an internet connection. How does photo ID work? Explain- ing exactly what the computer "sees" in a photo is something expert researchers couldn't answer. The basic answer is that the computer learns what each species (and the various plumages) looks like by processing millions of images. Training Merlin takes about a week of computer processing time. Results are best with at least 100 images of each species, al - though 1,000 or more is optimal. The Photo ID feature is possible be - cause of the community of birders who contribute images to eBird, which are ar- chived in the Macaulay Library. As more images of a broader range of species are contributed to eBird, we will be able to add more species to Merlin, improve accuracy for spe - cies already covered, and apply this technology to more use cases. Explore Birds Near You With Merlin's Explore Birds feature, you can tell which birds you are most likely to see—anywhere in the world. This makes learning and iden- tification more ef- ficient, because you can rely on the col- lective expertise of n Harris's Sparrow photographed in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Photo © Ian Davies/Macaulay Library 20 Birder's Guide to Gear | November 2017

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