Species selection

OK – the first topic I’d like some feedback on is when you’ve come home from a day out in the field and you want to make a record of what you’ve seen (thinking birds at this point), how would you go about listing what species you’ve seen?

Do you use common names or scientific names as a preference? Does the taxonomic breakdown of species into orders, families and genera mean anything or nothing? Have you already jotted down a list on paper or do you work from memory?

For me I work from memory, and to some extent the “family tree” of taxonomy can help because I sometimes think “well there were lots of ducks, which ducks were there…” and running down the list of all the ducks together will spark my memory in a way that just looking at an alphabetic list won’t. Although that said I’ll often just think back to the chronological sequence of events (I generally walk rather than sitting in a hide for hours at a time) and so the species I see might just come in a random-ish order, in which case just typing in the common names probably works as well as anything for me.

I have implemented a system which gives three different approaches, and it looks like this :

Ignore the top bit – thats just where the species will go once selected. The bottom section has a freeform text box at the top, and a tab control at the bottom with two tabs – “Taxonomy” and “List”

You can use this in three different ways.

i) Just start typing – as you start to type the name of the species in the text box (common name or scientific name), a popup will list all the matching species, for example

In the above example I typed “arc” and the program knew three species starting with “arc”. If I typed on until I had “arctic t” then arctic tern would be the only option left. You can either press tab to use the suggested species, you can click on the one you want from the dropdown, or you can continue to type the whole name out. In a lot of cases I think this is the easiest.

ii) Pick from the taxonomic list – if you know that you’ve got a load of geese to enter and you know your way around the structure, an easy way to enter the lot quickly is to use the taxonomic tree.

OK so my screenshot isn’t the best example but say you’ve seen a load of different swift species today (chance would be a fine thing), navigate through the tree till you reach the genus “Apus” and all four species are there for you to simply double-click on each one and they get added.

iii) Pick from a list – if you’re not a big fan of typing and would rather scroll through a list you can use the third option – pick from the complete list of british species sorted either by common name or scientific name :

Clicking on the column heading will sort the list by whichever column you choose, and clicking the same column again will reverse the sort order. Once you’ve found the species you want you can double-click on it in the list, or single click and hit the select button.

So… what do you think? Would one or all of those methods be useful? Is there an alternative that I’ve not considered? (NB the button with the chevrons is there to hide the species lists if you decide you just want to use the auto-complete text box and have more space on screen to see your species)

One suggestion put forward already is to be allow the user to assign a three character shortcut key to each or any species, for example “GSW” for greater spotted woodpecker, so you only need to type those three characters rather than type it all out or find it in a list. I think thats a great idea so will be working on that shortly.

If anyone would be interested in trying out a prototype of the mechanism above to see how easy or otherwise it is to enter your list let me know and I’ll look at creating a standalone installer for people to try.

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