Monday, 10 August 2015

The ones that fail

This quiet summer spell has given us a chance to catch up on analysing the recordings that we've been sent from ChirpOMatic (our new automatic birdsong identifier). And as well as listening to the successful recordings, we've also analysed the reasons that the app has failed to identify some sounds, and we noticed a strange trend. The app cannot identify a bird if it can't hear it - but the reason for this is different for each of the three versions of the app.

The majority of failed British recordings are as a result of the wind blowing across the microphone - the wind creates a loud roar on the recording, masking everything else (a scenario familiar to anyone who has tried to video an outdoor wedding).

Typical British fail

The majority of failed German recordings are due to people continuing loud conversations while they record the bird. 

And the majority of failed Swedish recordings are because the bird was so far away and so quiet that it was masked by the sound of the internal workings of the phone.

Typical Swedish fail - this was not the quietest, but listen, you can hear him breathe!

There is quite a bit of overlap, particularly when it comes to talking over the recording. We have some excellent recordings of people calling their dogs, slurping cups of tea, making bird noises and one whole series of recordings of a family having breakfast while in holiday in Spain (I suspect the children were secretly recording). Here are a couple of other favourite fails:

So in conclusion, there are just a couple of simple rules to remember when using the app:
1. The bird needs to be the loudest sound. Talking is actually ok as long as it is quieter than the bird.
2. The bird needs to sing for a minimum of around 4-5 seconds. Two or three single chirps is not enough.

That's it!

Next time, I'll post some of the best recordings that we've been sent :).

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Quiet times!

Here we are in the quiet time! Birds fall quiet in mid-Summer - singing uses energy and also attracts predators, so it isn’t sensible to sing unless you have to. Once the breeding season is over, there is no longer a need to sing to attract a mate and protect territory, and on top of that, summer is the time to moult into fresh, new feathers so during this time the bird is slightly less nimble and less able to escape from predators. It’s best to keep quiet!

As developers of bird song apps, we are very aware of the quiet months. It’s a quiet time for us too!

Earlier this year we released our Chirpomatic app for Shazam®-style automatic birdsong identification. We released it in time for the peak birdsong season and we’ve been delighted with the number of recordings that we have been sent, both by email and uploaded to our website. We listen to every recording we are sent, and reply to as many as we can but sometimes we’ve been overun, so thank you to every single one of you who has sent a recording! 

We’ve also been looking into the reasons why the app sometimes fails to identify the bird, with some interesting results! More on that soon…

If you would like to find out more about Chirpomatic, tap here for the App Store.

The splendid photo of a moulting robin is by vil.sandi
Shazam® is the registered trademark of Shazam Entertainment Limited and is not affiliated with iSpiny in any way.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Chirpomatic update

The first update is out for Chirpomatic, our Shazam®-style app for birdsong! The biggest change is that the recording time has been increased to 12 seconds - this will help to catch a few more chirps of each song, or the repeated phrase of a song, and will give the app more to analyse. We are approaching the time of the year when birds fall silent while they moult, so the extra recording time will be particularly useful.

We'd like to say a very big Thank You to everyone who has sent us a recording, whether by email or uploading. Your recordings will be used to improve the bird song recognition, and also give us an insight on the use of the app and where things might go wrong. They are incredibly helpful - please continue to send them!

Updates to Zwitschomat and Kvitteromat are still with Apple but should be released very soon.

Shazam® is the registered trademark of Shazam Entertainment Limited and is not affiliated with iSpiny in any way.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Bird-safe mode

Summer is here, the birds are singing, and so are a multitude of bird apps on mobile devices. Playing bird calls on a mobile device or tablet may seem like a harmless bit of fun and even educational, but from the bird's point of view it is very different.

As soon as bird sounds start to play, nearby birds are distracted from feeding their young, and expend their energy looking for the phantom intruder. Most nature reserves discourage or even ban the use of mobile devices on their sites to protect the wellbeing and longevity of their birdlife. And it's also bad news for other birdwatchers who don't know if they are listening to a real bird or not.

But the problem is that it just isn't possible to use an automatic birdsong identifier without playing sounds loudly. You need to listen to your recording and listen to the matching sounds, to see if this is indeed the bird that you can hear.

That's why we came up with the idea of Bird-safe mode for Chirpomatic. When Bird-safe mode is switched on, you simply hold the phone to your ear as though making a phone call in order to hear the sounds. The best thing is that the sounds don't start playing until the device is next to your ear, so you don't miss anything. It is actually much easier to hear the sounds this way, so it is a win for the user and a win for the birds!

We are now going to add Bird-safe mode to our other apps as we update them, so that all our apps can be enjoyed with a clear conscience, without disturbing the birds or other birdwatchers!

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Chirpomatic: automatic birdsong identification!

We are delighted to announce our latest app, Chirpomatic, an automatic birdsong identifier!

Chirpomatic works rather like Shazam® does for music. When you hear a bird, quickly hold up your phone and start recording. After 10 seconds, the app will start analysing the sound, and will show you the top matches along with photos of the birds and notes to tell you  how varied the sound can be. You can compare your recording with the reference samples to check the identification.

The first version of the app covers bird calls and songs of parks and gardens in north-west Europe, and is currently available in English, German (Zwitschomat) and Swedish (Kvitteromat). We are already working on versions for North America, starting with backyard birds of the west coast USA, particularly California. If you would like to be told when the US versions are ready, you can sign up here.

The app works entirely off-line so you can use it wherever you are without worrying about network connections. The recordings you make are stored in the app so you can listen again, you can email them, or upload them to us. The recordings that you send us will be used to improve the app, and will also be made available to researchers.

As with all the iSpiny apps, Chirpomatic has been developed by myself and Alex Wilson. Alex is a specialist in machine learning and is currently completing his PhD at Oxford University. We also had advice from Dr Phil Howard, data scientist at a major games company.

We've been working on Chirpomatic since the end of 2013, but the road to a Shazam-style app for bird sounds is littered with highly publicised projects that failed to be completed, so we didn't announce it until we were absolutely sure that we would be able to finish it! And now we can celebrate!

If you would like to find out more about Chirpomatic, tap here for the App Store.

Shazam® is the registered trademark of Shazam Entertainment Limited and is not affiliated with iSpiny in any way.