AVISYS 4.58 FOR WINDOWS ( Review Updated 8-31-01)

INTRODUCTION

AviSys is a fast, easy to use, flexible, world-wide listing program. It comes with Tony White’s United States and Canada range data (including Canada’s newest province, Nunavut); allows use of Santa Barbara Software Product’s (SBSP) excellent world-wide bird range data (BirdArea); offers free downloads to convert BirdBaseentries and to add butterfly, dragonfly/damselfly, herps (reptiles and amphibians), and mammal lists for North America north of Mexico (without range data); a butterfly list for Europe; and allows creation of other lists (e.g.: banded, photographed, etc.). If you have Thayer’s Birds of North America (the best instructional program for ABA species), you can access its nominate routine (including Sibley’s Birds of the World if you have it). Although not perfect, AviSys, especially when combined with BirdArea, is the best listing program I have seen to date.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

AviSys requires a 486 or better IBM compatible computer with 8 Mb of RAM (more is recommended), and a current version of Windows. 

COST/OPTIONS

AviSys lists for $99.95. Its BirdBase conversion; and its butterfly, dragonfly/damselfly, herps, and mammal list downloads are free, as are most updates. BirdArea substantially increases the power of AviSys, which it is licensed to use and which becomes part of AviSys once installed. BirdArea lists for $59.95, and is well worth the cost. (When you buy AviSys; buy BirdArea!) Thayer’s Birds of North America with Sibley’s Birds of the World(now part of Birder’s Diary) list for a combined $145.00. (Thayer’s Birds of North America does not become part of AviSys.)

INSTRUCTIONS/INSTALLATION

AviSys, as with all good listing software, is complex. However, it is the only one with which I am familiar that provides a detailed, illustrated, easy to follow User’s Guide in hard copy. The significance of the Guide is not so much in teaching you to use AviSys (which is largely intuitive) as it is to facilitate your fullest use of it. While you can just dive in, a thoughtful analysis of the User’s Guide will reduce your need/desire to subsequently restructure your entries. This is not to say that AviSys is hard to load or use; it is not. It is to emphasize that the time spent initially thinking through how you are likely to use AviSys, will save you many fold that time later.

PRE-INPUT DECISIONS

A great strength of AviSys is its ability to customize data output. This is especially important if your data include Christmas Bird Counts, hawk or sea watches, Fourth of July Butterfly Counts, etc. You may also find customizing useful even if you just want to explore which feeders your birds (or which plants your butterflies) prefer.

You can use the included listings until you get a feel for AviSys, and then customize your own. However, if you wait too long, you could spend substantial time editing your data.

To design listings, you must determine the criteria (“Attributes”) you wish to explore. AviSys comes with a number of Attributes (male, banded, photographed, wetlands, etc.) to which you can add others (to a maximum of 5,099!). Thus, you can use pre-designed listings and/or reports, create simple ones (e.g.: what male birds have you photographed and when), and/or create complex ones (all breeding plumage male warblers seen, heard, and photographed April through June in freshwater wetlands in three, non-adjacent locations). The choice is yours.

AviSys can handle 15 “Data Sets” of which my wife and I currently use 10: one each for my bird, butterfly, dragonfly/damselfly, herps, and mammal lists; and one each for my wife’s bird, butterfly, dragonfly/damselfly, herps, and mammal lists. You also can create your own Data Sets (such as moths, bees, fish, etc). Thus, we can easily keep all our lists on AviSys. Likewise, you can create Data Sets for CBCs, World Series of Birding, species photographed, etc. Additional (beyond 15) Data Sets can be loaded into a different directory or onto a different computer.

But even if you do not use everything AviSys offers (and few will), you must make some pre-input decisions such as how to label where you bird (butterfly, etc.), how to relate (link) these places, what Attributes (if any) you want to include, and so on. Remember, changing your mind later may require extensive data editing. One of the few weaknesses of AviSys is its inability to highlight a group of entries to edit simultaneously. (Perhaps such an upgrade will be available ere long. Hint! Hint!) Regardless, once you have made your pre-input decisions, you simply select those applicable when entering or analyzing your data (as opposed to re-creating them each time).

Labeling your birding venues is done via the “Places” dialog which contains six, linkable categories: Sites, Cities, Counties, States, Nations, and Continents (including oceans). For example, I regularly bird Cape May Bird Observatory’s Center for Research and Education (CMBO/CRE), at 600 North Route 47, Goshen, Cape May County, New Jersey. Thus, I have entered “CMBO/CRE” in the Sites category and linked it to “Goshen” in the Cities category. This I linked to “Cape May” in Counties, to New Jersey, to United States, and to North America. Therefore, every entry I make for CMBO/CRE is automatically added to my Goshen, Cape May County, New Jersey, U.S.A., and North America lists (as well as my AOU, Lower 48, Life, and World lists).

Likewise, my wife and I are members (with Bill Glaser) of the World Series of Birding team Aircast Eagles, which limits its birding to the (remarkable wildlife sanctuary that is) Cape May National Golf Course. I also bird (butterfly, etc.) other golf courses. Thus, I have added Cape May National to my Cities category (linked to Cape May County, etc.), and have entered WSB (World Series of Birding) into a non-linking dialog entitled “Key Words” (which can hold 5,100 entries). This allows me to examine the species (birds and otherwise) I have recorded while golfing, during the WSB, and/or on or from golf courses.

The number of locations “Places” can hold is limited. But given the 5,100 permanent (recorded) entries Key Words can hold, plus the 5,099 entries Attributes can hold, the number of potential locations is more than adequate, even without the unlimited number of non-permanent (unrecorded) entries Key Word can hold. For example, I, along with fellow CMBO Associate Naturalist Judy Lukins, offer monthly birding workshops covering Cape May County. We often bird various locations on Cape Island; the area in Cape May County south of the Canal. One day this summer, we had Least Bittern at Cape May Point State Park (/SP) and at South Cape May Meadows (/SC). When I entered this species, I selected South of the Canal as the Place, and /SP/SC as Attributes. This recorded Least Bittern at both locations (you can select up to 6 Attributes at a time) in a single entry.

ENTERING DATA

AviSys has a fast, easy to use data entry system which opens to a main screen containing a two column list of species. You can switch from all the world’s species using Clements’ taxonomy, to those of North America north of Mexico using ABA’s taxonomy, to any other contained list. (AviSys automatically creates a number of lists, and allows you to create others.) You can select common or scientific names, and enter data via the “Initialize” function in File on the Tool Bar. This is useful if you have prior records with limited data (e.g.: species “X” seen in countries “A, B, C, & D”), or you do not want to enter all your data (at least right away). However, “Initialize” requires you to supply dates and places, which you may have to “create” depending upon the completeness of your records.

To enter a sighting, you have to find the species, which can be done five ways: 1) scroll through the list until you find it; 2) via “Hot Keys” which takes you to particular families (e.g.: Control + O takes you to owls); 3) via the “Jump” button, or a right mouse click, either of which takes you to tables of the families in alphabetic order (one for world species and one for ABA species); 4) via the “Find” button which accesses a dialog in which you type a portion of the name (common or scientific; using of spaces, hyphens, and apostrophes) and are taken to that species; and 5) via the “Band” button.

The fifth choice is by far the fastest way to locate birds in any program I have seen. It accesses a dialog in which you type a variation of the Bird Banding Laboratory’s 4 letter species code. If a bird has two names, type the first two letters of each (Cooper’s Hawk = coha). If it has three names, type the first letter of each of the first two names, and the first two letters of the last name (Red-tailed Hawk = rtha). If it has four names, type the first letter of each name (Black-and-white Warbler = baww). If it has more than four names (as do 19 species), the fifth name is ignored. This system can be used for all but two species of birds, D’arnoud’s Barbet and D’orbigney’s Chat-tyrant (because of the initial apostrophes), and for non-bird species via the “Create World Band Code Files” button in the “Utils” function of the Tool Bar. Originally, if a code could apply to more than one species (e.g.: Carolina, Canyon, and Catus Wrens), only one could be accessed. Now, if the code applies to more than one species, you are shown a dialog containing all candidate species from which you select the desired one.

When you double click a species, you are presented with an “Enter Sighting Date” dialog, then a “Places” dialog, and next an Enter Comments  (not to be confused with field notes) dialog from which you can select Key Words, Attributes, and add a comment of up to 48 characters. (If you begin a comment with a numeral, AviSysconstrues this as the number of individuals of that species seen.) Finally you are presented with a Record Confirmation dialog which allows you to verify/modify your data, and add up to 7,442 characters of Field Note text. (Should you try to enter the same sighting twice, a bright yellow “duplicate” warning message appears.)

One reason AviSys data entry is fast is that you can “fix” the Date, Place, and/or Comment buttons after your initial entry. (This bypasses the “fixed” dialogs.) If, for a later entry, you want to alter a parameter, you can. You also can change your fixed parameters or return to your originals. Another nice feature is “Sighting Record Streaming” which allows species identified by more than one person to be entered  into one Data Set, and then (immediately thereafter or later) be added to another Data Set. Thus, I do not have to enter my records into my Data Sets, and then re-enter our overlapping records into my wife's Data Set.

CORRECTING/VERIFYING DATA

AviSys is the only program I know that checks for previously made duplicate entries (in addition to warning you when you try to enter duplicate data).This feature has two options, one considers Comments; the other does not. If multiple entries differ only in their comments, the former will not consider them duplicates; the latter will. (Duplicates are simply identified so you can decide whether they should be deleted, edited, or retained.) Another nice feature is the “Journal” which lists all your current session entries. Thus, you can access “Journal” and Edit, Delete, add a Note, Print, and/or Export your current entries. If you want to make an edit more than once, make your first edit, and then double click each entry you also wish to modify. “List Recs” (discussed below) lets you view all or some of your entries, and to Edit, Delete, add a Note, Print, or Export them regardless of when made.

However, no program can prevent you from entering inaccurate information. This can only be done by being very careful and then checking your entries.

RANGE DATA

AviSys comes with Tony White’s United States and Canada range data, with all State and Province lists (including the recently created Province of Nunavut). AviSys (via license) can use SBSP’s BirdArea, (Cape May’s) Shawneen Finnegan’s excellent world-wide range data for all of Clements’ 9811 bird species and over 250 states and nations. AviSys provides easy to follow instructions to integrate BirdArea which, once done, becomes part ofAviSys. Integrating BirdArea updates, available about once a year for a modest charge, is easy via a web-site download.(You can make the changes manually in BirdArea, but it is much faster to use the download.) WithBirdArea installed, the Range button shows a list of every country (in world mode) or every state and province (not in world mode) in which a highlighted species is known to occur. 

The AviSys/BirdArea combination is the best listing software currently available!

No range data are included for the butterfly, dragonfly/damselfly, or herp lists. (Very little is available anywhere, and that is of questionable completeness and/or accuracy.) If you are interested in non-bird range data, they are contained in various field guides and web-sites. Examples of interesting web-sites  include:www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/lepid/bflyusa/bflyusa.html, and www.hsrl.rutgers.edu/Nature.pg2.html.

LISTINGS AND REPORTS 

The ability to manipulate data is the heart of any listing program.

The flexibility AviSys offers in customizing listings and reports is one of its great strengths (especially when combined with BirdArea). In fact, AviSys offers so many such options, to detail them all requires a book (theAviSys User’s Guide). However, below is an overview.

AviSys offers three Menu tools to create listings and reports: “List Recs”(Listing Sighting Records), “Reports”, and “Checklists”. Two other features (“Magic” and Z-LIST) are also helpful in manipulating and/or presenting your data.

LISTING SIGHTING RECORDS

“List Recs” lets you generate listings of your records (some or all of the data entered) based upon selected criteria. Each listing contains common and scientific names, where and when your identifications were made, your comments (if any), and a symbol if you entered a Field Note. You can limit your Date Range to any closed period. Buttons provide for automatic selection of “This Year” or “Last Year”, or you can select a “Seasonal” option for a number of years (you define the season). You can also limit your sightings to “Normal” (all entries within the selected time period), “First Sightings”, “First Sightings Chrono[logical]”, and “First & Last Sightings”. You then select the order of presentation (Species, Date, or Place), and applicable Keyword or Attributes. Thus, you can create listings as simple as “My 1997 New Jersey First Sightings” or (if your pre-input decisions permit) as complex as “all breeding plumage, singing Hooded Warblers encountered during the 1980s in Cape May County riparian habitats not on golf courses during northwest winds between 10 and 20 MPH”. (Why you would want to do this is your business.) The same can be done for your non-bird entries.

More realistic examples arise out of my noting species when I golf. After a round, I enter my sightings with the “attribute” /GC (golf course). Also, our World Series of Birding team (The Aircast Eagles) is confined to the (magnificent) grounds of the Cape May National Golf Course. When I enter these sightings, I use the Keyword WSB (World Series of Birding) and the Attribute /GC. Thus, I can create listings of the birds (and other species) I have identified on the golf courses for which I have entered data, including Cape May National, and/or during the World Series of Birding. 

When creating listings, you can also  edit or delete entries, add notes, and/or print or export entries to databases, spreadsheets, word processors, or a “Sighting Record Streaming” file. All this is fairly easy, especially after doing it once or twice. (Detailed instructions for exporting to Word, WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, and Excel are available at www.avisys.net/users.htm.)

REPORTS

The “Reports” options are: “Species Seen”, “Species not Seen”, “Checklist”, “Census - 12 Months by Month”, “Census - X Years by Month”, “Census - 10 Years by Year”, “State Summary”, “ State Checklist Summary”, and “World Summary”.

“Species Seen”, “Species not Seen”, and “Checklist” reports produce lists (grouped by families) which you can print on both sides of the page, and with as many columns as your printer (and eyes) can handle (a la folded checklists). However, selecting too many columns causes the names to overlap. (You can reduce this somewhat by varying the size and type of font.) A typical number of columns is 5, but AviSys reports 6 are regularly used. These font, column, and two sided printing features are  unique to AviSys. However, AviSys does not permit you to print individual pages. (Hint!  Hint!)You can also save these reports as a text file or have them appear on your screen in two, very readable columns. For example, you can generate “My 1997 New Jersey” report, or one showing all ABA birds you have (or have not) seen in the ABA area (of special significance if you submit records to the ABA). It is also helpful in identifying “target” species (hence, the “Species not Seen” option). For example, before we visit Texas, we generate “Species not Seen” reports that identify Texas species (of birds, butterflies, etc.) we have not seen at all, and those we have not seen in Texas. This allows us to focus on these species (greatly improving our chances of adding them to our life and Texas lists). To do this, we activate (a simple process) the Texas checklist included in AviSysAviSys then compares its Texas checklist to our life and Texas lists.

“Checklists” allows you to produce lists of birds known to occur in an area (if you have BirdArea), or which you create. A new AviSys web-site feature (www.avisys.net/clrep.htm) is a checklist library from which you can download various lists. (You can also send AviSys checklists for inclusion.) These can be used to produce field cards with two boxes or a space to record your sightings, can have species you have already seen “indicated” (by use of simple symbols), and, if so, whether you have seen them in the region selected. A corollary benefit is identifying species you have recorded for a region that are not known to occur there (helpful in determining whether you encountered an accidental, misidentified a species, or made a data entry error.)

If we intend to bird a particular area (such as Lost Maples State Park in the Texas hill country) for which AviSysdoes not have a checklist, we can create one using Lost Maples’ checklist, and save it in AviSys. You can then have AviSys compare this list to your life and area lists, and produce additional target species reports.

The “Census” reports (“12 Months by Month”, “X Years by Month”, and “10 Years by Year”) offers two options: “Incident” and “Quantity”. The former reports the number of times you have seen a species; the latter reports the number of individuals per species you have seen. The “Census” options provide multiple ways to look at and/or present data. For example, by selecting “10 Years by Year” and the Key Word WSB (World Series of Birding), I can generate a report showing every species our WSB team has had for the period selected. (Because we do not count individuals, each sighting is listed as “1”. If we had entered the number of each species seen, that would be shown. As such, this is an excellent tool for tracking records from Christmas Bird Counts, hawk or seabird watches, Fourth of July Butterfly Counts, etc.)

The three “Summary” report options, “State”, “State Checklists”, and “World”, produce single columns of condensed data of where you did (or could) see North American species, plus the number of species you have seen for each state, province, nation, various other regions/areas, and the world. The “World” option gives you a report of the continents, countries, states, and other areas/regions you have birded, and the number of species you have recorded for each, including the overall total (your life list number). You can limit this report to a time period (including “This Year”, “Last Year”, or “Seasonal”), plus any Attributes and/or Key Words you wish to select.

The “State Summary” option allows you to chose Date Range, Attributes, and/or Key Word, species details, and checklist markers. If you do not include species details, you get a report showing how many species occur in each state and province, how many species you have recorded in each, how many you have recorded in 10, pre-defined regions (e.g.: Central Canada, South Central USA, etc.), and how many species and “ticks” (the sum of your state and province species counts) you have recorded in ABA North America, North America plus Hawaii, USA including Hawaii, USA excluding Hawaii, the lower 48 states, and the Canadian provinces. If you include species details without checklist markers, you get a report with state and province abbreviations across the page; the names of the species you have identified along the left side; and “Xs” for each species you have seen in each state/province. If you include species details with checklist markers, “+s” identify the species known to occur in each state/province.

These are very busy (condensed) reports, containing over 61,000 data points per page. However, if you select the view (versus print) mode and click on the junction of a species row and state/province column, a horizontal box appears for the species and a vertical red line for the state/province, which greatly facilitates reading this report. (Regardless, the printed report is more readable than the preview version.)

The “State Checklists” option is very similar to “State” option when you include species details with checklist markers, except that it is not limited to birds you have recorded. Rather, all state and province species are included.

CHECKLISTS

As noted, in addition to the built-in state, province, ABA regions and areas, United States, Canada, lower 48 checklists, and all nations (if you have BirdArea), AviSys permits you to create checklists for any region you have defined in “Places”.

Thus, if you have a favorite County, National Wildlife Refuge, State Park, plot of land, etc., you can create (rather easily) a checklist for that region, so long as you know the species occurring there. Many areas provide checklists, as do various web-sites. You also can save a checklist into a text file (specific, easy instructions are on the AviSys web-site), back it up, and then send it to another AviSys user. Likewise, you can restore a checklist or import one from another source by reversing this process.

You can print your checklists in landscape or portrait, on 8½ x 11 or 8½ x 14 inch paper, and with or without spaces or two checklist boxes to mark entries. You can include markers showing the birds you have seen in the region and those you have seen but not in the region. The same applies to your other Data Sets. (There are web-sites and field guides that offer range information for these “critters”, albeit with varying degrees of accuracy and completeness).

MAGIC BUTTON

By highlighting a species and then clicking the “Magic” button (showing a listing icon; in the lower right corner of the screen), all your records for that species are shown. (The “?” key on your keyboard does the same.)

PLACE Z-LIST 

The “Place Z-LIST” feature (in the Menu’s File option and in Place’s Counties option) allows you to generate listings and reports for non-linked places (so long as you can select each Place when creating the listing or report). In other words, you can add multiple areas you want your listings or reports to cover (e.g.: Cape May, Cumberland, and Salem Counties; or all National Wildlife Refuges in your state; etc.), and is quite flexible. There is a good example in AviSys Help of how to use the “Z-LIST” where you want to track the distribution of species (not just birds) in a multi-county area without compromising your county records.

TAXONOMIC EDITING AND UPDATING

AviSys permits you to edit, add, and/or delete families and species. (Given that taxonomy is imperfectly understood, this can be essential in keeping a program from becoming obsolete.) This is done via the Edit function on the Tool Bar, and is relatively simple. However, moving groups of species requires deleting and then re-adding them where desired. Regardless, when significant taxonomic changes occur, AviSys provides a free utility on its web site (www.avisys.net) to make the changes. (You can also subscribe to Tony White’s quarterly state/province checklist updates for $15.00 a year: Anthony White, 6540 Walhonding Road, Bethesda, M.D. 20816. You are then given a code to access a utility to automatically update your state and province data.)

If you have updated via a download, run the Certify Nation Checklist Data function in Utils on the Tool bar. This checks whether there are birds in AviSys not in the new update, and visa versa.

Creating new Data Sets is also easy. For example, when I wanted to create mammals Data Sets for my wife and me, I 1) opened my butterfly Data Set, 2) selected “Add New Data Set” from File on the Tool Bar, 3) and began exchanging the listed species with mammals. Occasionally I had to add species (as opposed to change them by editing). If you do this more than twice in a given location, you have to use the “Renumber Master Checklist” feature in Utils on the Tool Bar.

The AviSys main screen contains a button labeled “Range”. This offers two options which collectively show the states and nations (if you also purchased BirdArea) in which each species is known to occur. In State mode, its displays a chart showing various North American regions (e.g.: North East, Central Canada, etc.) and States and Provinces in which the selected species is known to occur. In Nation mode, it displays a list (alphabetically or by region) of each nation in which the selected species is known to occur. In either mode, you can edit, add, or delete entries as desired. (It is important to be able to edit entries, without relying on someone else for updates, so their validity will not be dependent upon a company that may not update, or may go out of business. AviSyspermits you to do this, and gives specific instructions with its web-site updates, when applicable).

ACCESSING THAYER’S OFFERINGS

A new upgrade allows you to access the nominate portions (including Sibley’s Birds of the World) of Thayer’sBirds of North America directly from AviSys. This free web-site upgrade adds a button (with a red film icon) to the bottom center of its main data entry screen. When you highlight a species and click this button, you are presented with a “BNA CD Selection” option from which you can access photos, range and distribution maps, videos, and vocalizations (to the extent available) for that species. You can also access Birder’s Handbook and Sibley’s Birds of the World from this option (so long as you have the latter which now is part of Birder’s Diary but not part of Birds of North America). In addition, AviSys permits you to enlarge each illustration, and to simultaneously view multiple images. (However, viewing more than two without a large computer monitor is not very functional.)

TECHNICAL SUPPORT

AviSys offers technical support via its web-site (www.avisys.net), phone (toll free for the first 120 days and never a charge for the help), and e-mail (support@avisys.net). In addition to its Users GuideAviSys comes with an illustrated, context sensitive help feature (F1 offers help for whatever is on your screen), as well as an indexed help button on the main menu.

BACKING UP DATA

If you are unwilling to back up your data, do not even contemplate listing software. As the saying goes, you have either had a hard drive crash or you will.

While all listing programs let you back up data, the ease with which they do so varies. Backing up each Data Set in AviSys is relatively easy.

If you use multiple Data Sets, backing up onto 3.5 inch disks can be tedious as you have to back up each Data Set. However, you can back up your entire AviSys folder onto a single Zip or Jazz disc in one step. (This is because AviSys was designed from the ground up, as opposed to being based upon a pre-existing data base program.) I not only do this, but I then transfer a copy onto another computer as an extra back up precaution.

When restoring a Data Set, insert the appropriate disc, click the Utils button on the Menu, click the Restore Data button, and follow the on-screen instructions. If you select the wrong Data Set (birds versus butterflies, for example), you will replace your Data Set with a wholly unrelated one. (AviSys repeatedly warns you if you are about to do this, but we humans are very good at circumventing warning.)

In summary, AviSys combined with BirdArea is the best listing program currently available. They provide many options, including designing your own listings and reports, and a new feature that allows you to directly access the main portion of Thayer’s Birds of North AmericaAviSys offers a free download of butterfly, dragonfly/damselfly, and herp lists, as well as frequent updates (www.avisys.net). You also can create additional Data Sets, such as for mammals, species photographed, etc. There is no range data included for its non-bird lists. (Little such data are available anywhere, though various web-sites and field guides offer some.) AviSys is Y2K compliant, but only permits entries through the year 2030. On a scale of 0 (truly worthless) to 10 (the outer limit of human ability), I rate AviSys at 9 and strongly recommend it (especially when combined withBirdArea).

Mike Hannisian

8-31-01