Not about everything

January 31, 2014

Open Street Map: good or too many?

Filed under: app,internet,nature — takaita @ 13:27
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In the old days I bought maps everywhere I came. Then I used them there. Then I saved them in a box. I have boxes full of old maps.

But now times are changing. There are easy devices with GPS. Since about one year I have a tablet-with-GPS. And I love it. My tablet only has WiFi connection, so whenever I am away from WiFi there is no downloading of maps. And maps are mostly needed when away from WiFi.

The solution is of course very simple: offline maps. It needs a couple of GigaBytes but then turning the GPS on opens a zoomable map. I am especially fond of MapsWithMe. Maybe simply because it was the first that made me satisfied, maybe there are other or even better apps available.The lite version is free and the maps are free. Actually I liked it so much that I bought the pro version – the first and so far the only app I paid for. For a lot less money than I used to spend on paper maps each year.

Besides the tablet mentioned above, recently some new Android devices have entered my household. Luckily it is possible to share apps that are bought. I bought MapsWithMePro on what I would call my family-account. I created a Google account with the only purpose of sharing stuff in my family. Sharing family-wide events, contacts and also apps. And because Android devices support multiple Google accounts, each family member can also have an individual account with individual stuff. The good thing is that an app bought with the family-account can be installed on each device with that account.

So, it is time to throw away the boxes with old maps. It will save some space.

But. The boxes are replaced with GigaBytes of maps. Maps are freely available from Open Street Map. Great project. Many apps use it. And there is also a bit of a problem. I now have three different apps using Open Street Map for its own purpose. And each uses its own collection of maps. That means that in stead of 3 GB of maps I have to store 9 GB. And maybe more, if I want to have more parts of the world in my apps.

Apart from MapsWithMe, I also use OsmAnd (a navigation app) and ObsMapp (for recording nature observations, see for example this blog entry). And each has its own Open Street Map format and requires me to download the those maps.

It would be so much easier if only a single set of maps was required. It would save space on my SD-card and it would save download and updates. Maybe it is too much to ask.

April 8, 2013

A box full of exuvia

Filed under: dragonfly,nature,odonata — takaita @ 19:39
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Every year is the Dutch Dragonfly Study Day. It was nice to be among people who share the same love for dragonflies. People who sometimes are a bit strange. For example someone brought a lot of empty larval skins to give them away. I loved the box full of Aesha viridis. It is a rare species, but maybe not so rare if one knows where to find the skins.

Aesha viridis, exuvia

November 17, 2012

Long exposure bird photography, II

In the past I have written about “Long exposure bird photograpy” with some self-made examples which were meant to be sort of funny. But I never came to show some self-made examples which I really like. So here they are. Shutter times are resp. 1/10 and 1/15 second.

July 20, 2012

Collective mapping of species on the web, current state of affairs

Call it spottings, sightings or observations. Many of us go out in nature and notice birds, flowers, butterflies. We take photos and ID it ourselves or have it ID’d from the photo by others. We can put up the photo for admiration on many sites.

But it can be better. We could put the observations on a map. If many do so, we could together create a species distribution map. And even see how the distribution of species changes over the years.

I love this idea, and I do participate myself. I like the result of our common effort. What I do is go looking for dragonflies. Mainly around where I live, but also in other places where I happen to come and can spare some time. Yes, I have specialized myself. There is always so much to see that one has to be selective. Of course occasionally I record a butterfly, a bird or a plant. But my focus is on dragonflies.

Banded Demoiselle example
Banded Demoiselle, distribution map NetherlandsAn example of our common effort would be the fine grained distribution map of the Banded Demoiselle in the Netherlands. This map is the result of over 12,000 observations from the start of this century till now (July 2012) and shows observations in just over 3,000 square kilometer blocks. It is taken from (a Dutch project where people can record their observations for the Netherlands).

But the Netherlands is only a small country and it would be nice to see a map of Europe. That is harder to get by. The Dutch site from the previous map has a sister site in Belgium and an international site which is mainly used by Dutch and Belgian participants on holiday. But also some people from other countries contribute (it is available in about 20 languages).
Banded Demoiselle, distribution map on
That international site ( produces a map for the Banded Demoiselle: It is clear that the Netherlands and Belgium are much better mapped (the rest of Europe has a total of about 750 observations of the Banded Demoiselle).

For some other countries I know where to get similar maps (with another focus). For the UK on, Germany has a similar project with European pretensions. For Denmark there is Naturbasen.

Maybe there are more maps to find. If you know one, please let me know.

Banded Demoiselle, distribution map on

Banded Demoiselle, distribution map on Libellen Europas (GER)

Banded Demoiselle, distribution map on Naturbasen (dk)

A global view
There is only one (public) place I am aware of which offers a global view of species observations. That is the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) where all kinds of datasets end up. The GBIF distribution map of Calopteryx splendens is below (from One obvious problem is many empty spaces. Nothing from France and Russia for example. And another big problem: On this map it looks like the Banded Demoiselle is present in Spain. That is however a mistake. Not sure how wrong data ended up in GBIF, but it certainly spoils the fun.

It is not the first time I see clearly erroneous data in GBIF: I have seen recording of the Dwarf Damselfly (Nehelennia speciosa) in the Netherlands on GBIF while that species has been extinct in the Netherlands for 100 years or so. I have traced the errors to a source where damselfly larvae have been ID’d by an institution which clearly lacked the experience (then – the recordings are from the 90’s) to see how extraordinairy such a claim is.

Banded Demoiselle, distribution map on GBIF

More projects
There is Project Noah, which does quite some advertizing now and then. The big problem is that is produces no species distribution maps, it is unclear where the
data go (if they go anywhere) and there is no systematic verification on the recordings. A fixed species list is missing, so searching for “Calopteryx splendens” will return different results then searching for “Banded Demoiselle”. It just depends on what the user entered.

Another project is iNaturalist, which is heavily connected with flickr. I could not find any information about where data go. But it can generate a species distribution map. Although, the map for Calopteryx splendens only showed four locations when I checked. This project at least works with a fixed species list and generates maps.

Some conclusions
There is a lot more to say about such projects, and there are many such projects. But I have tried to keep it short. Some conclusions at the end.

* On a local scale it can work quite well, although that shows only in a few countries in NW Europe (and maybe in the USA). That means that there are enough participants to create a sensible species distribution map.

But I think that going local is the only way it really can work. It is necessary to have experts to check incoming observations, and global experts are almost impossible to find. Even if an ID can be verified, it is hard to know if a location makes sense. Calopteryx splendens is not present in Spain, and if someone claims so in an observation, there should be extraordinary evidence.

* Joining the maps together on a worldwide scale, isn’t working very well. GBIF is disappointing: information from most locations is missing and in some cases existing information is wrong.

December 28, 2010

My first twitching experience

Filed under: biology,bird,nature — takaita @ 09:13
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Birdwatchers (or twitchers) have it easy. Personally I am more into dragonflies. Of course there is information available about which species can be found where. But then still the area is a lot larger then the dragonfly, which means some searching and luck or experience.

Birdwatchers do it differently. Whenever there is a rare bird, they come from all places to “spot” it. Some even have a deal with their employer that they can leave their job to spot a new species for their list. They get notified on their mobile phone, by email or whatever means there is for instant communication.

This time I read about an invasion of Bohemian Waxwings. A bit of a rarity. Several individuals were spotted in my city, on walking distance from my home. So I walked there. There was only one left, but so easy to find.

People watching a Bohemian Waxwing

Permanently a small group of people was standing and staring. The people can be spotted from far away. And on arrival they kindly pointed to the top of the tree where the bird was. I took a photo as well.

Bohemian Waxwing

October 17, 2010

Damselfly Valentine

Damselflies copulate in the form of a heart. Valentine is about love too. So why not offer some of my photographs of damselfly couples as a very special valentine card?

Here are some. Order them from Redbubble.

Love Dance

Emerald Couple

Hold Me

November 17, 2009

A butterfly photo which makes people angry

Filed under: nature,nature photography,photography — takaita @ 08:00

One day I was out in nature and saw a butterfly. Nothing special, just a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), a species which even I have photographed many times. But I could not resist taking some photos of this one. At first nothing special.

IMG_0207 IMG_0227

But then I decided to get creative. There is not much to be creative about when photographing a butterfly. I don’t know. I set the camera on manual focus and just tried some things. I sort of liked one of these photos, desaturated it a bit and uploaded it to a upload-your-photos-and-comment-on-other-photos site. That was last June. Nothing special happened then. One person said he liked it, another wondered why the focus was so weird. As I am not very active commenting photos of others, I don’t get many comments in return. That is only fair.

And then some months later the photo gets some more comments (wel actually only 2). That is as such a bit remarkable, because comments are usually written on recently uploaded photos. The interesting thing about these comments is that it seems as if the commenter has been made angry by this photo. One commenter suggested that I made this photo without looking through the lens, that I was trying to annoy people with uploading that photo. Another suggested that I should have thrown the photo away, as anyone would have done. Both could have easily ignored the photo (which is what people usually do when they don’t like it).

What is it that makes people angry about a photo of a butterfly?

July 22, 2009

Some pretty damselfly photos

Just to show to the world some of the Damselfly photos I made this year. If you are really impressed: click on the photo and order a print. But it is fine with me if you just enjoy looking at them here.

Red-eyed damselfly
Female Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas). The rain left some drops on her wings.

Green Emerald Damselfly
Female Green Emerald Damselfly (Lestes viridis). The sunlight shines on the grass from behind.

Emerald Damselfly
Male Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa). Holding on to grass on a very windy day.

Common Winter Damselfly
Female Common Winter Damselfly (Sympecma fusca). A new generation has emerged. Winter Damselflies get through the winter as an adult, reproduce early in spring. The last of them can be seen until half June. Then the new generation emerges halfway July – this is one of them.

March 13, 2009

The Robin is a curious bird

Filed under: biology,bird,nature,things to do — takaita @ 22:30
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The Robin is a curious bird. I only found out since the time I usually carry around a camera on my walks.

European Robin

Currently I am more into dragonflies than into birds. Mainly because dragonflies are easier to photograph, but also because there are fewer species of them which makes them usually easier to identify. But because the dragonfly forum which I frequent, is on the same site as a bird forum, I sometimes read go to read that bird forum. Especially in the winter when there is not much to do at the dragonfly forum.

That bird forum is interesting. When I was young I had some interest in birds and bought a quality bird guide (from my own hard-earned money) in order to identify the species I saw. I still have that guide, but it is totally out of date. It seems that every species in that guide now has been split into several species or subspecies. Of course that is mostly done to satisfy the need of the bird watchers. They love to have a check behind as many species as possible. Did you know that there is a special word for this kind of people? They are called “twitchers” and it is not easy to become a fully accepted twitcher. There is a long trajectory, in which you first see only common species, then find out that there are rare species too – which you apparently start seeing everywhere until you realize that you are just fooling yourself (and others) and return to seeing common species everywhere with only very occasionally a rare species (after which that sometimes gets eaten).

An essential part of bird watching is bird listening. I remember reading a story on mentioned forum about someone who though he had seen an extremely rare species (at least for the Netherlands).  Because many bird species migrate between their summer and winter residence, bird listeners spend a small capital on microphones and spend days and nights on locations where these migrating birds fly over and occasionally come to the ground to feed. With these microphones they try to identify migrating birds by their sound. I don’t know how hard that is. I have trained myself to recognize about 10 or 20 bird species by their sound. It always makes me happy to hear the first Chiffchaff again in spring – and it can surprise me sometimes that others don’t notice. But the real twitchers take that to another dimension with their microphones. So this person wrote on the forum about a sound he heard, which was familiar, but then he swa the bird and it did not look like the species it sounded like. Then he remembered that there was this species which sounds like the familiar one, looks a bit like another (also familiar) species, but is very, very rare. Did he see that very very rare species? He could not be sure, because he heard nor saw it again. But he wrote a long story on the forum with remarkable details such as how many meters away he saw the bird (he measured it very precise, something like 84.5 metres), wrote about the sound he heard and what he thought about it at that moment and then what he thought when he saw the bird and if he could be sure if the bird he saw was the same one as the bird that made the sound. I was impressed. True, not everybody on the forum was as impressed as I was.

Anyway, these kind of stories are what keeps me interested in the bird forum. People want so much to see some rare species and at the same time are aware that they are probably mistaken when they think to have seen one. This tension between desire and self-control and an effort to be ‘scientific’ gives many contributions on this forum a great suspense.

The Robin is a curious bird. I only found out since the time I usually carry around a camera on my walks. First time was when I took the photo displayed at the top. Walking in the dunes I noticed a Robin. I prepared my camera in a reflex, but mosty expecting that the bird would have flown far away by the time I had it in focus. To my surprise it did not fly away, but kept sitting there, seemingly watching me.

Last week I must have remembered that moment, when I was in a city park which has some pretentions to be natural, and saw another Robin no too far away. The thought came to me that I should just stay there with my camera ready until the bird would come to watch me from a bit closer. Half to my surprise that was exactly what happened. The bird came to me to have a closer look. And this was the result.


October 30, 2008

Long exposure bird photography

Filed under: bird,nature,nature photography,photography — takaita @ 20:46
Tags: , , ,

The “Gesellschaft Deutscher Tierfotografen” (Society of German Animal Photographers) has a prestigious yearly photography contest. Recently the 2008 results have been published: the “Europäischer Naturfotograf des Jahres 2008” (European Nature Photographer of the Year 2008).

You will understand that I want to be mentioned there too one day. So I looked at the winning photos closely. One thing was interesting: many winning bird photos were long exposure photos, but taken in daylight. Moving birds, a blurred image. I am not sure if I can explain it well, it is the best you will just look at it. Check out this photo, and this and also this one, and you understand what I mean.

This is inspiring photography. This is something to try myself. I took my camera, set it on ‘shutter priority’ at 1/5 or 1/20 seconds and went to the nearest park in my city. There are no rare birds over there, just some gulls and pigeons, ducks and such. You can imagine. That does not matter, this is not about the species, this is about the revolution in bird photography. A revolution I did not start, but of which I certainly want to be part of.

And here are my results:

Long exposure bird photograhy

Long exposure bird photograhy

Long exposure bird photography

What do you think? Am I going to be the next winner of this contest?

(Additionally, I did some more of this and some results aren’t that bad: see here)

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