Version 13.7, August 2017
Welcome, and thanks for giving Scythebill a try!
Scythebill is software for keeping track of a birdwatcher’s sightings across the world. It can keep track of your life lists and generate reports, follow taxonomic updates with ease, and much more. Perhaps most importantly.
Scythebill supports both the eBird/Clements checklist (including all subspecies and groups) and the IOC World Bird List. Its fast species entry, including over 7000 alternate names, lets you enter sightings in a flash - even with “sp.”s and hybrids. And you can easily import sightings or export to eBird. It even lets you add additional, extended taxonomies, so you can keep track of mammals, insects, or anything else that lives.
Scythebill is not a phone application or a website. This is intentional. Birding websites can and do disappear. And while it’s great having apps for entering sightings in the field, phones are not long-term storage! I’ve been birding for 25 years already, and plan to keep going for decades. Birders need their sightings around for the long haul.
Scythebill was built to be both powerful and easy-to-use, and many users have downloaded and used it before this manual was written. But before you get started, a few basic ideas might help you familiarize yourself with Scythebill.
Scythebill stores all of your records in a single “.bsxm” file - not in the application - so you can download, upgrade, or even delete the Scythebill application without affecting your data. You can also have multiple record files on a single computer (for multiple users). The very first time you open Scythebill, you’ll need to create that records file, from this screen:
Note: the screenshots here are taken (mostly) on MacOS. But Scythebill works essentially the same on MacOS, Windows, and Linux, so these screenshots apply across the board.
If you haven’t used Scythebill before, you’ll either want to click New file… or Import records... If you’ve got records from Avisys or eBird that you’d like to start with, then you can use the import button; this is described thoroughly in a later section. Here, let’s assume you’re just starting from scratch, and you’ve clicked New file… Pick a filename - and remember, this is not a file for just one day’s sightings or one trip’s sightings - this is one file for all of your sightings.
Once you’ve saved the file, Scythebill will remember this and re-open the file every time you open Scythebill. (If you ever need to find this file, and can’t remember where you saved it, use the Open containing folder option in the File menu.) If you need to have multiple records files, you absolutely can - just use the New... option in the File menu - but this is only really necessary when you have multiple birders sharing one computer.
So, when reopening Scythebill, you’ll skip this screen and go right to this one:
This screen lets you:
All of the features of Scythebill are described in detail later in the document; if you’re looking for a thorough explanation, this section isn’t it! But if you’re looking for a fast overview, and you’re the kind of person who wants to jump in and figure things out yourself, you’ve come to the right place.
… then, if necessary, tell Scythebill about the new location:
… enter some (completely optional) information about your visit as a whole:
… then, finally, add species, attach photos, and enter additional details.
Once species are entered, you can get a variety of reports about your species from the Show reports page:
From here, you can set up rules to view a slice of your sightings, you can also print, export to several formats (including a spreadsheet), edit single records, or bulk edit large numbers of records.
You can also browse all of your records in two different pages. In Browse by species, you can browse and jump around all the birds of the world:
This page also lets you edit sightings, move sightings from one species (or subspecies) to another, delete sightings, and add single sightings.
Finally, the Browse by location page lets you browse and jump around built-in and custom locations:
You can use this page to quickly get lists of your sightings per location. You can add, remove, and edit locations, move locations around, and add, delete, and edit sightings. You can also explore the built-in checklists, and create spreadsheets for your upcoming trips. And you can even build your own checklists in a flash.
Scythebill comes with a full list of 255 countries, as well as all three-and-a-half thousand states/provinces of the countries of the world, and also:
Picky details: “Country”, “state/province”, and “county” is defined in occasionally surprising ways. A number of Scythebill “countries” here are not independent countries - like Pitcairn Islands or New Caledonia. If you really care, “country” here means “location with an ISO-3166-1 two-letter code”, and state/province means “subdivision of a country with an ISO-3166-2 code”. Scythebill’s “states” are called territories, parishes, governates, emirates, districts, departments, cantons, regions, unitary authorities, and so forth.
Not at all coincidentally, these are the same definitions used by eBird.
These countries and states come pre-grouped into continent and ocean regions which - again, not coincidentally - map nicely onto standard bird reporting regions. And Scythebill knows about reporting regions that don’t exactly map onto continents - ABA, AOU, Western Palearctic, Southern Africa, and USA (48 states or 50 states).
Picky details: for countries that cross listing regions - the United States, Russia, Turkey, and Indonesia, states are pre-sorted into these regions for you. So you’ll find three “United States” locations - one in North America, one in the West Indies, and one in the Pacific Ocean. And while most US states are inside the North America “United States”, Hawaii and Guam are in the Pacific Ocean “United States”, and Puerto Rico is in the West Indies “United States”.
Scythebill also makes sure that islands and exclaves that are politically part of a country are located in the right region. So:
Scythebill also lets you define arbitrary hierarchies of locations inside these built-in locations. If you don’t much care about keeping this level of detail, don’t bother! But if you do, you are perfectly welcome to have a location of:
Scythebill will keep track of each of these lists automatically.
Scythebill also comes with built-in checklists for 342 of those regions - nearly all of these countries, all of the states of the United States, the provinces of Canada, the states and territories of Australia, and 7 regions of Indonesia, and lets you define and share your own checklists.
Scythebill comes with both the eBird/Clements checklist and the IOC World Bird List. But you don’t have to choose which one you like! At any time, you can use a menu at the top of the Scythebill window to switch from one taxonomy:
… to another:
That’s it! Everything you’re doing will immediately switch to the new taxonomy.
Upgrades of eBird/Clements and IOC come automatically with new versions of Scythebill, and automatically upgrade your sightings (though you may have to reconcile some splits).
Scythebill has historically been - as best as I can tell - faster than any other application at delivering taxonomic upgrades. eBird/Clements updates have been released in about 1 week, and IOC updates usually within 1 or 2 days! And Scythebill taxonomic upgrades automatically update all of your old sightings (more on that later).
Scythebill also includes 25+ as-yet undescribed species in both the eBird/Clements and IOC taxonomies (though some of these have in fact been described since the respective taxonomies were last updated).
Finally, when using the IOC taxonomy, you can choose to have common names displayed in one of 20 languages.
Scythebill uses a simple and powerful method to speed data entry. Instead of making you memorize abbreviations or scroll through long lists, just imagine an abbreviation, type it, and you’re done!
For example (if you’re a North American birder), can you remember whether “bwwa” is a Blue-winged Warbler or a Black-and-white Warbler? It doesn’t matter - type it, and both will appear. Or, actually more - that’s also a valid abbreviation for the African Brown Woodland-Warbler, the Asian Blunt-winged Warbler, and more.
That could be overwhelming. But Scythebill uses its built-in checklists and your sightings to make it simpler. If you say you saw a “bwwa” in New Jersey, you’ll see that list up top, with Blue-winged Warbler first.
If you enter “bwwa” in China, you’ll see Blunt-winged Warbler at the top:
In Kenya, Brown Woodland-Warbler jumps up.
And in Nigeria, it’s Black-capped Woodland-Warbler.
In each case, the most likely species are up top.
And Scythebill learns from your own sightings - even the time of year of those sightings - to figure out which species are most likely in any one place or time.
Scythebill also knows about alternate names - with 7,500 alternate names for its species, so should you remember Gavia immer as “Great Northern Diver”, a simple “gnd” brings it up:
This also works for locations. So, “quny” will bring up “Queens” in “New York”:
In all cases, you enter a species or an (existing) location by:
If you’re not concerned with exactly what abbreviations work, do skip this section… Mostly, it’ll just work.
Put simply, take any number of letters from the start of any of the words, in order, and that’s a valid abbreviation.
Let’s take some examples. First, Black-and-white Warbler, starting from reasonable to rather silly, but all “legal”:
Now, San Francisco, California:
One more thing… I found I could never remember whether I entered mountains as “Mount” or “Mt.”. Or whether “Saint Vincent” would be “St. Vincent” instead. So Scythebill lets you enter abbreviations either way.
Whether you entered Mount Kinabalu or Mt. Kinabalu, you can find it as “mtki” or “moki”.
Whether you entered Saint Thomas or St. Thomas, you can find it as “stth” or “sath”.
If you’ve got questions, you can reach Scythebill by any of:
Do know, however - the Scythebill “support team” is just me… I’m usually quite good at responding quickly, but if I’m travelling or otherwise out-of-contact, it might take a little while.
If you should ever want to express your gratitude at having this software made freely available, I don’t accept donations or payment, but I’d be thrilled to have donations made on behalf of Scythebill to a conservation organization. If you don’t have one in mind, consider one of these, all of which have global scope in their efforts
Scythebill can always be downloaded from http://downloads.scythebill.com.
Scythebill can run on Windows XP, or newer (that includes Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10). 1 GB of memory is recommended, though it probably works with less. To install:
Many thanks to BitRock for making their installers freely available for open-source software!
(If you see an error “Problem running post-install script”, this is apparently harmless.)
If you’ve ever forgotten where you’ve installed Scythebill, don’t forget about Spotlight, part of MacOS that makes it really easy to find things you’ve misplaced!
You can use an ordinary JAR file to run Scythebill on just about any modern operating system - from the well-known ones like Mac, Windows, Linux, to less well-known ones like IBM AIX, HP-UX, eCS-OS2, you name it… It does requires a Java installation (Java 6 or later), and is missing many of the niceties of the native applications above.
Scythebill periodically “phones home” to see if an update is available. When one is available, you’ll get a screen like this one:
Click OK to open a web browser and read the full release announcement. That page has links to download the new version, or you can always visit http://download.scythebill.com.
After downloading, make sure you’ve quit Scythebill, saving your work if any first. Then:
If the new version of Scythebill comes with an updated version of the eBird/Clements taxonomy (about once a year), you’ll be prompted with a screen like this one (this screen being an example from the Scythebill 9.3.0 release in 2013):
As this page says, all of your records get updated automatically.
If the new version of Scythebill comes instead with an updated version of the IOC taxonomy (about 4 times a year), and you use IOC, then Scythebill will send you through a similar process.
If you’re unaffected - either because you haven’t recorded any affected species, or because you’ve already chosen subspecies, then this page is a lot simpler, just telling you that the upgrade has been a success. If you’ve got a larger list (like mine), and you’ve not consistently kept track of subspecies (ditto), then you’ll have a bit more work - but not much!
Scythebill’s checklists are then put into play - they may make it clear which of a species pair (or 16-way split!) might apply. If they can be used, you’ll get a dialog telling you what Scythebill can do:
In this example, 17 sightings are affected by the upgrade, and of those, only 6 can’t be fully resolved. If you want to handle this all manually, click No. If you want Scythebill to handle it automatically, click Yes.
After clicking OK, you’ll be taken to a screen that lets you resolve all of the remaining splits.
Note: These updates are necessary even if you only use the IOC checklist, as Scythebill’s primary storage is against eBird/Clements.
This screen has a list of all the new splits to resolve. Select each split, select one or more sightings, and then use the rightmost panel to resolve the split. In the above page, Venezuelan Tyrannulet was split into Venezuelan and Specious Tyrannulet; my 1991 sighting was nominate Venezuelan. So to resolve that, I’d:
Repeat as necessary. If you’re not sure, you can always leave these sightings alone for now and resolve these splits later, with the technique described here.
To enter a group of sightings from the main menu, click on Enter sightings.
The first page asks you to enter a date (day, month, and year), a start time, and a location. It’ll look like this:
The date field is always pre-initialized to “today”. You can enter as much or as little of a date as you want. If you don’t have a day, just clear out the day field. You can enter a sighting with no day, month, or even year.
Hint: you can enter a two-digit year into the year field, and Scythebill will make a pretty good guess as to whether you meant the 1900’s or 2000’s.
The start time, if you want to enter it, should be the time you started birding. If you live in a location that uses AM/PM, 12-hour time, there’ll be an AM/PM option - otherwise it will be 24 hour time. You can leave the minute field blank, or just leave the whole thing blank if you want.
For the location field, if you want to pick an existing location (either built-in to Scythebill or one you’ve added yourself), then use the “Choose-your-own abbreviation” feature of Scythebill to pick the location:
If you want to edit an existing visit, you can use the “Or choose a recent visit” popup here. This menu includes the last 10 visits for which you’ve entered sightings. Or if you simply enter a location, date, and start time that matches existing sightings, you’ll be able to edit that recent visit.
If you want to add a new location, then:
Example: You want to add “Santa Cruz”, the city in California. Scythebill knows about “Santa Cruz” in California (the county, not the city), as well as Arizona, Argentina, and Bolivia. But this is the first time you’ve recorded anything in the city. So type “Santa Cruz” into the location field, hit “Esc”, and click Next >. It’ll look like this when you’re done:
You picked the name of the location on the previous screen; now it’s time to tell Scythebill where this location is.
Hint: If you want to change the name of the location once you’re on this screen, you’ll need to click on “< Previous”, and then change it..
Example 1: you’ve been to Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz County, California.
Scythebill has done a lot here for you:
Example 2: you’ve been to Bolsa Chica in Orange County, California, but also want to tell Scythebill that this beach is in Huntington Beach.
If you want to enter multiple levels of hierarchy all at once, just click “even more specific” multiple times. Whenever you’ve got a location ready to enter, Scythebill shows you a summary of the location hierarchy at the bottom of the form, as seen above.
Again, Scythebill has automatically found the location’s county, latitude, and longitude (this time, using eBird’s location data), and displayed a map.
And don’t worry, if you make a mistake with location entry, you can easily edit it later.
As seen in the two examples above, Scythebill can automatically place locations for you using Google and eBird. When it finds results, Scythebill will use them to pick a county (and even a state/province) for your sighting, and a latitude/longitude.
Loading these results does require an internet connection. Scythebill does not send any information about you to either Google or eBird - specifically, it does not send or store any cookies.
Scythebill looks for information by looking for results from both Google and eBird, then merging those together.
If there’s just one result, the “geocoding” feature will immediately display it. (And if that result is poor, you can click “Ignore Google result” or “Ignore eBird result”, and Scythebill will drop it.)
If there’s more than one result, you’ll see a Multiple results from eBird: or Multiple results from Google, eBird: menu, and you can choose one of the results:
eBird sometimes finds multiple results, in which case you’ll see a Multiple results from eBird: menu, and you can choose one of the results:
If Scythebill can’t find a location with either Google or eBird, you can try editing the name - every time you edit the name or change the “is in…” location, Scythebill will search again (after a brief pause).
If Scythebill found a location, and a latitude and longitude, but the latitude and longitude aren’t quite right, you can simple click on the map to change the latitude and longitude. Use the plus (+) and minus (-) buttons to zoom in and out for fine-tuning.
If you look on the above screens, once there’s a latitude and longitude, Scythebill offers a “Search nearby” button. Click that and you’ll get a new drop-down menu, which merges answers from Google and eBird hotspots. The locations are ordered from nearest to furthest, and each one tells you whether the result comes from Google or eBird. Pick one, and the location will switch to that exact location (including name, latitude, and longitude). If you’re an avid eBirder, and want to select exact eBird locations for the simplest importing possible, this will be a great help!
If you want, you can tell Scythebill what type of location the new location is. (This is only for your own bookkeeping.) The commonly used types are:
… and you can also mark locations as “State/Province” or “Country” - but it’s usually not necessary, since these are built-in to Scythebill.
After picking a location, you can enter visit data - information about your visit applicable to all the sightings. Some of this information is specific to eBird, but some is useful even if you’re not submitting sightings to eBird. All of it is optional - you can skip it by just clicking Next >. Here’s what the screen looks like:
At the top, a comment field lets you enter any notes you’d like to enter for the visit.
Next is eBird Observation Type. This lets you choose one of a multiple of eBird protocols sighting types. (An article here describes some of these observation types, but it is sadly very much out-of-date.) Only two of these are allowed if you have not entered a start time (or you aren’t entering sightings for an exact date):
Others may also be chosen if you have entered a start time:
Note: not all of the eBird protocols can be submitted directly to eBird at this time - they simply don’t support uploading them. The Pelagic protocol will be reported as Traveling; Banding and Nocturnal birding will be reported as Historical; and Nocturnal Flight Counts will be reported as Stationary. I’ll eagerly change this if and when eBird supports uploading these protocols, but in the meantime you have to edit such checklists inside eBird after uploading them.
Each observation type has a set of allowed fields and required fields, so as you change observation type, you’ll see fields appear and disappear, and see fields be labeled in bold with a red asterisk (like so: * Duration) - which means the field is required for that observation type.
Hint: The “Historical” observation type lets you enter all fields, with no fields required. If you’re uploading to eBird, it’s essential to pick a proper observation type, but if you’re just using the data for yourself, “Historical” is a fine default!
The fields that can be entered are:
And if you’re planning on uploading this data to eBird, you might want to check the … and export to eBird checkbox at the bottom right of the window - more on that later.
Now that Scythebill knows when and where you were, and you’ve entered information about the visit, you can enter what you saw. If this is an existing visit that you’re editing, the page will have all species already entered from the visit, and you can add new sightings or remove existing sightings.
The very quick summary is:
If Scythebill has a checklist for this location - or one of its parents, you can also turn on checklist entry, in which case you’ll get a full list of all the species, and can page through and select species.
What follows is the full details!
Screenshot and overview:
At the top of the page, you’ll see a menu for choosing whether to use a checklist (here it’s turned off), a checkmark for noting that you’ve entered a Complete list of sightings (for eBird), then the location and date, followed by a field for entering the species name. After that are three buttons:
Below this is a block of text about the current species (or subspecies). It shows:
Below that area comes the main species entry table, which has five columns, from left to right:
The species detail options are:
Finally, there’s a row of buttons
As described above, you can attach photos to a sighting either by:
Photos can either be files or web pages - though the only way to attach a web page is by dragging the web page’s URL from a web browser (Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera, and so forth all should work). Dragging photos does not currently work on Linux.
Once a photo is attached, just click on the photo’s name to open it. If the photo is a file, and the file has been moved, you’ll get a warning dialog and can relocate the file.
Scythebill doesn’t actually care that what you’re attaching really are photos - you can attach any file or website.
Before you click Done, if you’re using eBird, you’ll want to pay attention to two more options.
First, there’s a checkbox for Complete list of sightings? When this is selected, eBird knows that anything you didn’t enter simply wasn’t there; without that, eBird can’t make that assumption.
Second, there’s another checkbox for … and export to eBird? When this is selected and you click Done, you’ll be able to save a CSV file that’s ready for upload on the eBird Import a file page.
When your sightings are somewhere that Scythebill has a checklist, it’ll offer the choice of checklist entry. Just change Use [Location name] checklist? to Yes, and a full checklist will appear below. You can switch back and forth between standard entry and checklist entry as often as you want.
If you happen to be birding where Scythebill’s checklist includes rarity status, there’ll be one more option in the “Use checklist” menu - Yes, with rarities. By default, checklist entry does not include any rarities or extinct species (though they can be manually entered). Choosing “Yes, with rarities” includes rarities (and extinct species).
Checklist entry looks and works very similarly to non-checklist mode - but there’s a column of check-marks on the left, and no red “X” to remove a species:
To add a species, either:
With the other keyboard shortcuts, you can whip through species entry just using up- and down-arrow keys and the spacebar, and right-arrow and Tab keys to enter details.
To remove a species, you can click on the checkbox, double-click a species name, or use the space bar with a species selected.
If you want to add a species that is missing from the checklist (or enter a “sp.” or hybrid), use the species-name field and click Add species. If you want to enter two subspecies of a single checklist species, then:
The species entry field here uses the same “Choose-your-own abbreviation” feature as everywhere else in Scythebill, but includes some additional niceties specific to data entry.
As noted elsewhere, it automatically sorts the list of matches based on the location. It even goes one better and takes advantage of the time of year! With my list, if I enter “e” in San Francisco in April, the first entry is Dark-eyed Junco. But if I enter “e” in October, the first entry is Elegant Tern!
Scythebill also will let you short-circuit to subspecies (or eBird/Clements groups). Below the top result, Scythebill will add the most likely subspecies based on your prior entries. For example, if I enter “dej” (for Dark-eyed Junco) in California, the result just below is “Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)” (if I’m using eBird/Clements):
Finally, remember Scythebill also knows about alternate names for species entry. If you enter “gnd”, you’ll see “Common Loon (Great Northern Diver)”, or “Great Northern Loon (Great Northern Diver)”, in the eBird/Clements or IOC taxonomies.
Subspecies are entered by first entering the species, then choosing the subspecies from the Subspecies column.
You can enter two subspecies of the same species as well. For example, if you’d seen both the collybita and tristis subspecies of Chiffchaff on the same day in the same place, then enter Chiffchaff and choose collybita in the subspecies column; then enter Chiffchaff again and this time choose tristis.
Scythebill supports both “sp.” entry and hybrids, so these sightings aren’t relegated to unreliable memory. Other bird listing software either doesn’t support this at all, or requires manual taxonomy editing; this seems a fairly unique feature!
“Sp.” (pronounced “spuh”) is used for this inevitable moments when a sighting can’t be identified to just a single species. Think of notorious identification problems - in my neck of the woods, the unidentifiable-if-not-singing Pacific-slope and Cordilleran Flycatcher pair is particularly thorny. Scythebill lets you enter such pairs. And it lets you enter hybrids as well.
Hybrids and sp’s will be reported to eBird, and will appear on reports, but they don’t “count” for list totals.
Hint: Instead of clicking Sp. in step 2, just hit the forward-slash key - “/”.
Hint: You can even issue reports to explicitly find all your records of hybrids or sp’s. Use the “Sp./Hybrid” report option.
Scythebill includes a few shortcut keys to make navigation much faster when entering species.
Just after you’ve added a species - with the cursor still in the field to enter the next species’s name - type a number. The cursor will immediately move to the number field, and you’ll set the number for that species. Once you’re done, hit the Enter key, and you’ll jump right back to the species name field.
And while the cursor is in the number field, you can use several shortcuts to quickly toggle the checkboxes. Hit any of the "h", "p", "i", "f", or "m" keys, and you'll immediately toggle:
Also, when you’ve got the cursor in the field to enter a species name, you can press Shift-Alt-Right Arrow (Command-Option-Right Arrow on Macs) to jump to the species table, automatically expand the selected species’ detail form, and move the keyboard focus directly to the first checkbox in that area.
And when you’ve got the focus anywhere in the species table, you can press Shift-Alt-Left Arrow (Command-Option-Left Arrow on Macs) to jump right back to the species entry field.
Together, these let you enter species, add details, and enter more species quickly. For example:
When the focus is in the table (you should see a big ring around the table to let you know), you can:
Now that you’ve entered some sightings, let’s walk through the reports page, accessible by clicking Show reports on the main screen.
Here’s a screenshot, showing a report for everything I saw in Peru in 2000. (It was a pretty good trip - over 500 species, including some pretty good ones):
There’s a lot going on in here. The main parts of the screen, which we’ll walk through one at a time, are:
Scythebill lets you choose from 12 different kinds of rules together to pick your sightings.
Location rules let you restrict sightings by where they happened:
Usually, you’ll just want to use “is in” to limit the report to species you saw in a particular location.
But you can change is in to be:
Location also supports several “magic” location names, widely used by birders for listing:
There’s also a number of “magic” location names to reunify countries that are split across geographic boundaries, or geographic regions that are split across political boundaries:
Date rules let you restrict sightings by when they happened:
In this example, Scythebill will find all sightings that happened in the month of June, in any year. You can set any or all of day, month, or year.
There are six options for what sort of date rule to use!
First records (lifers) rules let you zero in on sightings that were lifers for you - whether for the world, or your local patch.
This rule can be configured in two ways. First, you can choose the location that you’re focused on - by default, the whole world, but this can be any country, state, or even local patch. Second, you can choose whether you want those “lifers” highlighted or included:
In either case, you’ll get a lifer count at the top of the report.
If you output a spreadsheet with this rule included, lifers will be marked with “Y” (for “yes”) in a Lifer column.
This rule is most useful when combined with other rules. For example, if you wanted to find out how many lifers you got on a trip to Peru in 2000, you’d have three rules:
… and it’d look like this:
Heard only rules lets you find sightings where Heard Only is selected or not selected.
IUCN Redlist rules let you find sightings of species that are endangered, etc… For example, here I’ve got a report rule that will find your sightings of species that are Endangered or worse, which would be Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild, or Extinct.
By default, Scythebill will not include all sightings in report lists, but sightings marked as either “Not established” or “Uncertain ID” will be dropped from numeric counts. Status rules can override this. You can choose one of the following types of status rule:
Breeding code rules let you select from the four broad types of breeding codes:
You can select is, is not, and is at least among these categories.
Photographed rules let you find sightings where the “Photographed” flag is selected. (That flag is automatically selected when you add a photo to a sighting, and automatically deselected when remove the last photo.)
Sighting Notes rules let you find sightings by free-form text associated with that sighting. You can search either for:
Visit Comments rules let you find sightings by the free-form text associated with the visit. You can search either for:
Sex and age rules let you find sightings
Family rules let you restrict your sightings to just a single taxonomic family. This is particularly useful for some of the “special” reports (discussed later), like “Big” days or “total ticks” - in which country have you seen the most hummingbirds?
Subspecies rules are useful for those of you out there who’d like to ensure that sightings are assigned to a subspecies when possible. There’s two choices:
Last but not least, Sp./Hybrid rules let you find sightings that are “sp.” or “hybrid” sightings. This is particularly useful for resolving splits and other differences between taxonomies.
You’re not limited to just one rule.
To use multiple rules, click the small plus sign (+) at the right. To remove a rule, click the small minus sign (-) to the right of the rule.
You can choose, for each rule, whether that rule should be an And or an Or rule. Any sighting must:
So if you want “Endangered species I saw in Ecuador or Peru, but only in 2000”, then that would be:
The order of rules does not matter. Here’s what that report looks like:
Once you’ve selected rules, you can scroll through the list of recorded species.
Scythebill will only show species if at least one sightings matches the rules you’ve chosen. Scythebill also shows family totals (5/11, etc.) if it has a checklist for that location, or for world lists.
If you select a species, Scythebill will show you all the matching sightings (again, only those sightings that match the rule).
If you select a sighting, Scythebill will show you the sighting details, and let you edit in-place. You can set any of the sighting fields here, even if changing that value means the sighting doesn’t match the report rules anymore! Sightings that don’t match the report rules will still appear in the report until you click Update report…, so there’s no need to worry about sightings disappearing out from underneath you. (This button doesn’t appear unless you’ve made an edit that would call for this button.)
Example: You’ve generated a report of sightings from 2002. One is incorrect, and should have been in 2003. You make that edit and click Save. The 2003 sighting is still visible - so if the edit was a mistake, or needs more changes, you can fix it. Now, you click Update report… The 2003 sighting disappears.
If you’ve made a mistake in your edits, click Revert before clicking away.
If you want to see (and maybe edit) information about the overall visit that includes that sighting, click Visit data...
You can edit more than one sighting at a time. Select multiple sightings by shift-clicking to extend the selection, or command-clicking (MacOS) or control-clicking (others) to add additional sightings one-by-one. You’ll get a screen like the following example:
This screen lets you set most (but not all) of the fields of a group of sightings. (Specifically, you cannot currently edit the notes field at this time.)
Note in this example that the day and month fields are blank, but the year field and all other fields have a value. It’s this way because all of the sightings are in the same year, were not “Heard only”, etc. - but they are in different months and days-of-the-month.
Set all the fields as needed, then click Save to make those changes and Revert to ignore those edits.
You can also edit all of the sightings for an entire report, across all species! Click the Bulk edit… button at the bottom of the report window.
Example: You’ve entered a lot of sightings in Peru from 2000, but then realize you actually took that trip in 2001! Just:
Once you’ve generated a report, you can:
The next few sections will describe each of these features.
Clicking the Export… menu, and choosing … to a spreadsheet brings up the following dialog:
In turn, these options are:
Once you click OK, Scythebill will you prompt you to save the spreadsheet, with a default name based on the report rules. When you save it, Scythebill will automatically open the spreadsheet in the default program installed for spreadsheets (if you have one).
The spreadsheet has the following columns:
Reports can be saved for importing into eBird. To import, you’ll need to:
Even if you use the IOU list for your own record keeping, Scythebill will always export to eBird with the eBird/Clements taxonomy - which is what eBird uses. Scythebill will also automatically send eBird/Clements groups but not subspecies - again, matching eBird’s support.
Scythebill will only send a record to eBird if it:
The first two rules are to comply with eBird’s sighting policy; they want detailed data, and can’t do much with data missing this much information. (I’ve been told that there is a way to import sightings with vague locations or dates; I’m looking into it.)
Scythebill will send hybrids and sp’s to eBird. eBird supports some but far from all possible hybrids and sp’s, so some of these will need to be ignored from within eBird.
Scythebill will send visit data for the “protocol”, number of observers, duration, distance covered, and area covered fields, and will use the “Complete list of sightings?” checkbox as well when entered.
eBird has a 1 megabyte limit for imports. Scythebill will automatically split the export into multiple files (ebird-export.csv, ebird-export-1.csv, etc.) when you’re getting near the 1MB limit.
Reports can also be saved in Scythebill’s own CSV format, which provides a high-fidelity way to extract your sightings with all the data attached. Click the Export… menu, then … to Scythebill.
(This isn’t the best way to backup or transfer your sightings, though - use the “Save as…” menu for that.)
I’ll admit it… Scythebill cheats here. It doesn’t directly print - instead, it creates a simple file and asks your web browser to print it. In practice, this works quite well, and saved me a ton of time.
Clicking the Print… button brings up the following dialog:
In turn, these options are:
When you click OK, Scythebill will open up your web browser and show you a print dialog. Scythebill is absolutely not loading or sending anything to the internet here - it’s only using the web browser as a convenient tool for printing.
Most birders have a few lists they care deeply about - whether it’s your local patch, your world list, a year list, or anything else. Scythebill can remember these reports so that they’re always at your fingertips.
After defining a report, just click Remember… Pick a name for the report (Scythebill will guess one for you), and that’s it! From this point on, when you go the main menu, you’ll see reports. Here’s four I’ve got:
You can delete a list by clicking on the red X. Or go straight to the report page by clicking on the report name. The report totals are always up-to-date, and flipping between the eBird/Clements and IOC world lists updates those totals instantly.
The Browse by species page lets you look through all of your sightings by species, rapidly seeing what you have (and haven’t) seen. It also lets you edit your sightings, add and remove them, and move them between species (or subspecies).
When you first click Browse by species, you’ll see a page like this:
From top-to-bottom, left-to-right:
The main species browser has one column for each major taxonomic level. In the leftmost column are all the Orders of birds (given by scientific name). When you select an order, the next column to the right shows all the Families in that order (given by English name and scientific name). And when you select a family, you’ll see all the species in that family (again, by English name and scientific name).
Note that Scythebill doesn’t use genera as another column in the browser, though you can certainly see it in the scientific names of the species.
If you’ve chosen to display groups or subspecies, those will be in columns even further to the right.
If you don’t keep track of orders and families, remember, the Jump to button will take you directly to the species you’re interested in!
Once you’ve selected a family, the list of species will look like:
Each species is shown either in bold or italics. Bold means you have entered records of this species. Italic means you haven’t. Below the (scrollable) list of species is a box with a brief summary of the range, IUCN Red List status, and alternate names - in this example, the endangered Titicaca Grebe, also known as Short-winged Grebe, found only on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. (And as you can see, I haven’t seen it.) The “Range:” text is underlined to show that it’s a link - click it, and a page will open in your browser with an interactive world map (like this one for Greater Crested Tern).
You can also see the Add sighting button is now enabled, since a species is selected. If you click Add sighting, Scythebill will add a new, entirely empty sighting - no date, no location, and select that sighting so you can enter details.
If you select a species, you’ll see the full list of sightings, like here:
These are sorted from oldest (at the top) to newest (at the bottom).
If you change the Show… menu to show subspecies, there’ll be an extra column when using the IOC taxonomy; here’s a sighting of the “leucogaster” subspecies of Northern Slaty Antshrike:
… and one or two extra levels in eBird/Clements; here’s a sighting of the “leucogaster” subspecies of the Marañon “group” of Northern Slaty-Antshrike:
You can also change the Show… menu to just show groups. This will have no effect unless you’re using the eBird/Clements taxonomy - the IOC taxonomy only supports subspecies.
If you select a single sighting, you’ll get details about the sighting and a chance to edit it.
This panel lets you edit all fields in the sighting, including date and location, and lets you attach photos to the sighting.
If you want to change the location to one that already exists, just use “Choose-your-own abbreviation” to pick that location. To enter a new location, then:
If you’ve changed anything about the sighting and would like to discard it, click Revert. Otherwise, click Save or just click anywhere else to keep those changes. Click Visit data… to open a dialog letting you see (and edit) information about the overall visit.
You can select multiple sightings by either:
Once you’ve done this, you’ll see a panel like the following:
This is the same screen as shown when editing multiple sightings of a single species in Show reports, so follow the same instructions here .
In “Browse by species”, you can only edit multiple sightings of a single species at one time; if you need to edit multiple sightings across multiple species, you’ll have to do that with the Bulk edit… button in Show Reports.
The “Browse by species” page also lets you move sightings between species and other species (or subspecies).
You can do so either with drag-and-drop or with Cut and Paste.
To move one or more sightings from one taxon (a species, a subspecies, or an eBird/Clements group) to another, just:
Of course, you don’t have to paste - so you can use Cut… to delete sightings as well.
The Browse by location page lets you:
When your first click Browse by location, you’ll see a screen like this:
Up top is a typical Scythebill “Choose-your-own abbreviation” field; pick a location, click Jump to, and you’ll jump directly to a single location.
There’s also a tree on the left - here, you’re just seeing the top-level continents and oceans. Click to a select a location, and double-click to expand so you can see that location’s contents (all the locations within). Or, once any location is selected, use the up and down arrows to change the selection, and right arrow to expand and left arrow to collapse.
Once you’ve selected a location, you’ll see a list of everything you’ve seen in that location. Here, I’ve selected North America, and expanded it:
At the top of the species list is a Visits entry; if you select that, you’ll get a list of all the visits. Up above the species list, you can see a species total (1216 species that I’ve recorded in North America, including Central America and the West Indies). You can also see a list of locations within North America, and a number of those locations have green checkmarks - . Every one of those locations is one with a Scythebill checklist (342 different checklists in all)!
Let’s see what happens when I select the United States checklist:
You can still see a species total - 616 - but now there’s two more numbers. The United States (counting Alaska, but not Hawaii) has 8 endemics. There’s also 143 species on the United States checklist that would be lifers for me. Many of those are “category 5” vagrants (in ABA lingo); selecting “Hide rarities?” shows a more realistic 43 lifers.
Also, instead of just seeing a list of all the species you’ve seen, you’ll also see:
You’ll also notice that the family headings have numbers attached. These show how many species you’ve seen in the family and how many are possible. In the above picture, I’ve recorded 46 waterfowl out of 63 total possibilities.
There’s also a few more options specific to checklists, which I’ll describe later in the checklists section.
Now, select a species, and you’ll see a list of all sightings of that species in that location, with the most recent at the top:
Finally, select one or more of those sightings, and you’ll get the standard sightings editing window discussed in earlier sections:
When you select the Visits entry, you’ll see all the visits you’ve made to that location:
… and then if you select one of those visits, you’ll get a chance to edit its visit data, or jump straight back to editing all of the sightings for that visit with an “Edit species…” button.
That’s a very quick overview of browsing; following sections will talk about using these pages to edit.
Once a location is selected, you can edit it with the fields at the bottom of the page:
From here, you can change the name directly.
You can also Edit… the location, which will bring up a window to let you edit the name, the latitude/longitude, or the description of the location. Simply clicking the Edit… button will start Scythebill’s “geocoding” support, so you can use it to attach latitude/longitude to existing locations.
You can also Delete… the location. Deleting locations does not delete sightings. Any sightings will simply get moved to the parent location. In the above screen shot, deleting “Hayward Regional Shoreline” would reassign all of those sightings to “Alameda (County)”.
Note that these editing options are not available for built-in locations, whose name and type are permanent, and cannot be deleted.
You can add new locations right from this screen. Select the desired parent location, then click New… . You’ll get a dialog box for entering the new location:
You want to add a location for Point Reyes in Marin County, California, USA.
You can delete locations, too. Find the location in Browse by location, then click Delete…, then click OK.
This does not delete any sightings! It will simply reassign any of the sightings currently assigned to that location to that location’s parent.
You cannot delete built-in locations (like the countries, states, and US counties). You also cannot delete locations that still have child locations; you need to first move all of its children elsewhere, as explained in the next section.
If you’ve added a location to the wrong parent, you can fix that here as well. Select a location, and drag and drop it onto the new parent. If the new parent is off-screen (either above or below), just drag the location near to the top or bottom of the screen, and Scythebill will start scrolling the window for you, slowly at first and then faster.
You can also select multiple locations at once and move them all to a new parent, but they must all start as children of the same parent location.
One caveat: you cannot have two locations with the same name as direct children of the same parent. So, for example, if you accidentally added “Point Reyes” to California and another “Point Reyes” to Marin County, you cannot add the first one inside Marin County as well. If you run into this duplicate location problem, then (for this example):
This action doesn’t delete any sightings - you’ll have just one “Point Reyes”, and all sightings will belong there.
You can rearrange locations that contain “children” - all the children will come along for the ride. However, you cannot delete locations that contain children locations. If you need to delete such a location, you have to either move the children locations out from underneath it first, or delete all the children first.
The Browse by location screen is mostly for editing locations, but you can also add, remove, and edit sightings.
To add a sighting, simply select a species inside any location, and click Add sighting. (This is most useful for locations with checklists, since they’ll let you pick species you haven’t seen there yet.) This will give you a new sighting of that species in that location, without any date or other information.
To remove sightings, just select one or more sightings of a species and click Remove sighting…
To edit sightings, again, select one or more sightings, and change values of sightings. If it’s more than one sighting, you must click Save explicitly for anything to be saved.
Scythebill comes with built-in checklists for 342 of its built-in locations - virtually all of the countries of the world, all of the states of the United States, the provinces of Canada, the states and territories of Australia, and 7 regions of Indonesia. It also lets you define and share your own checklists.
The built-in checklists - which are defined for both the eBird/Clements and IOC taxonomies - provide a list of species recorded in that location, and also identify whether species are endemic to a region, an introduction, an escaped (but not yet established) species, locally (or globally) extinct, or if they are locally rare.
Note: “rarity” is now defined for the vast majority of the world. Where defined, it typically means “would require review before the record would be accepted”, so think “vagrant”, not “endangered”. This tracks the judgement of rarity committees where they exist (and have publicized their declarations), independent checklist sources where they exist, and my own judgement in the portions of the world where I couldn’t find any such information.
Checklists improve the “choose-your-own-abbreviation” feature when entering sightings - ensuring that even though Scythebill has world taxonomies, you get the locally plausible species first - but are most visible in Browse by location. As noted above, whenever you see a location with a green checkmark - - then that location has a checklist.
You can also select multiple locations at once to merge those checklists! Just control-click (command-click on MacOS) additional locations, and Scythebill will immediately show you a merged checklist. Species will be listed as endemics if they are found only in that combined set of countries.
And whenever you select such a location, you’ll get a new dropdown list near the top, just left of “Save as spreadsheet…”:
This list has six options:
For each of these options, you can select or deselect “Only rarities…” to remove any checklist species that are rarities; the lifer count will immediately update to reflect that choice.
The last of these options - New for a custom report… - lets you rapidly answer some fairly complicated questions about checklists. For example, let’s say you care about your Western Palearctic list, and you’re looking to see what species in Spain (or any other country with a checklist) would be new for that list. To do this:
You can use this feature to answer questions like:
When you’ve got an especially interesting checklist, click Save as spreadsheet…, and you’ll get a spreadsheet limited to just those species. This makes it easy to work up a “target list” for an upcoming trip.
If you find errors in the built-in checklists, please let me know.
Checklists can be saved as spreadsheets, which makes a convenient format for printing or otherwise manipulating the contents. Select a location with a checklist, click Save as spreadsheet…, and you’ll get the following dialog:
These options are:
In all cases, the choice of “Show everything”, “Your potential lifers”, etc. will be honored, and only those species will be included in the spreadsheet.
Scythebill also lets you define your own checklists for locations. These behave just like built-in checklists except:
Best of all, Scythebill makes it easy to add checklists - if you’ve got a checklist on the web or even just a few trip lists, you can have a custom checklist in Scythebill in a few minutes!
To get started:
You’ll get two ways to start your checklist (in this example, I’m building a San Francisco checklist):
Start with your sightings gives you a checklist of just the species you’ve already seen in that location. This is a fine choice if it’s a location you’ve heavily birded, but it’s obviously useless for places you haven’t been to. Once you’ve started there, you can edit your checklist to add species you haven’t recorded yet but know to be present, or remove mistaken entries (see below).
Use copy-and-paste auto-magic is much more powerful. Instead of using your sightings, you’ll use existing published checklists or trip reports. It just needs to be something you can copy-and-paste. And it doesn’t even have to be just one source - if you’ve got five trip lists to a location, you can rapidly build a checklist that merges the sightings from all those lists.
If you click “Use copy-and-paste auto-magic” , you’ll get a page like this:
This page is just a big text box. When you paste in a checklist (for this example I’m pasting a 2007 San Francisco checklist), Scythebill will be ready to go.
Hint: before getting started, you might choose a taxonomy - eBird/Clements or IOC - that most closely aligns with the document you’ve found. It’ll give Scythebill the best chance to find as many species as possible. Whichever taxonomy you use to create the checklist, you’ll be able to use it with your preferred taxonomy.
Click Start, and Scythebill will scan this document, looking for any English or scientific names it can find in the mass of text. When it’s done, it’ll strip everything it found out of the document, and leave you with what it couldn’t parse into the name of a species:
Scythebill found 389 species. (“Carduelis tristis” is left behind because this is a 2007 checklist, and American Goldfinch is now Spinus tristis - but it found the common (English) name anyway.)
At this point, you can click Try harder, which will search once more, looking also for alternate names.
Searching for alternates found only one new species (and even that wasn’t new - it had found it by the scientific name in the first pass). This wasn’t especially useful here, but it’s invaluable for lists using non-standard names.
At this point, you can scroll through the remainders looking for any names that were still missed, and get ready to add those manually - in this case, there were just two. (Common Moorhen and Sage Sparrow, both of which were split since that 2007 checklist was released.)
You can also paste in a new checklist or trip report, to augment this one, and merge the species from that source with the first one, now by clicking the Add more button and Try harder.
Once you’re satisfied with everything extracted here, click Create a checklist, and you’ll have a chance to edit the checklist results (Or, if you’re just not satisfied with the results, click Cancel.)
The text analysis here is smarter than you might guess. Instead of looking for exact matches, it ignores hyphenation, spacing, capitalization, “gray” vs. “grey”, and more. If you find names you think should have been found, let me know! But also: the automatic detection here is strictly limited to species found in the parent checklist, if one exists. So for San Francisco, only species on the California checklist would be considered. For Capetown, only species on the South Africa checklist would be considered.
Once you’ve clicked Create a checklist (either from auto-magic checklists, or from your original sightings), you’ll get a chance to edit the checklist:
This is a large table of all the species you’ve placed in the checklist.
If you want to add species, choose a species in the field near the top, and click Add species.
To remove a species, click the red X on the right on that line.
To update the species status - Introduced, Escaped, Extinct, Endemic, Rarity - use the drop-down menu in the third column. Note that values here automatically default to the status in the parent checklist - Rock Pigeon is an introduced species in California, so that same default is chosen for the San Francisco list, and Snowy Owl is a statewide rarity. (You’ll have to manually select site-specific rarities as needed.)
When you’re satisfied, click OK. (Or click Cancel if you’ve decided not to - but you will lose your work.) The checklist will be saved in your sightings .bsxm file not in Scythebill, so you can upgrade Scythebill or move your sightings file to another computer without losing the checklist.
You can always come back and edit the checklist:
… and if you want to get rid of the checklist, click Delete checklist… from the Edit checklist page.
Once you’ve created a custom checklist, all it takes to create a file suitable for sharing is to
Now share the file - email, your own website, DropBox, Google Docs, anything you want. (Checklists are small - the San Francisco list is only 29k).
Hint: These checklist files are ordinary CSV files that you can open in any number of programs like Excel, OpenOffice, or Apple Numbers. Just ignore or delete that first column (which has a Scythebill code), and you’ve got a spreadsheet of common (English) names and scientific names.
When you get checklist files and want to import them, just:
If you already have that checklist, you’ll get a warning:
Once imported, you’re free to edit that checklist and share your edited version.
Scythebill’s built-in checklists can’t be edited from within Scythebill. Instead, fixes come in new versions of Scythebill. This ensures that all users benefit from corrections, and that taxonomic changes make their way to everyone.
That said, I still need your help! Many users have used the Verify against checklists… item in the File menu to find problems and send them my way, and the checklists are much stronger as a result. If you want to help even more, you can use the Correct checklist… feature.
When you’re done, you’ll have generated corrections I can quickly and easily apply to Scythebill and include in the next version. If you’re doing this, though, there’s some basic ground rules.
First, records should generally be official, in some way. Many countries and states have an official body that maintains a checklist. Please tell me what source you’ve used for the records. I don’t doubt your first-country records, but if they haven’t been submitted and approved officially, I’d rather not include them in the checklist. Do not use Wikipedia or Avibase; neither are official (and copying from Avibase without permission is not cool).
Second, please be careful and consistent with the status field.
Third, please make sure you have permission to use the checklist. For checklists made publicly and freely available by the official body, this is usually clear. As open-source freeware, I need to be very careful about intellectual property, and avoid anything that could endanger my ability to distribute Scythebill.
Few of you will come to Scythebill without any old sightings. If those sightings are all written down in notebooks, Scythebill’s fast data entry will get that data in fairly quickly. But if that data is already in computer files, you can get it into Scythebill much, much faster.
Scythebill supports four main import formats:
These imports all pretty much get imported into Scythebill the same way, so the next section will talk about how to use the imports in general, and afterwards, each of these formats will be discussed.
To start an import, use the Import sightings… option in the File menu (from anywhere). You can import any number of files, any number of times. Or - if you’ve just started using Scythebill, click the Import records button from the first window. You’ll get this screen:
Click to choose your format, then pick a file to import. If everything neatly lines up, that’s it - you’ll get a confirmation of the successful import, and you’re done! But you may need to give Scythebill a helping hand for species or locations it can’t identify automatically.
If Scythebill can’t identify a species, you’ll need to resolve it with a window like this one:
In this example, an import refers to Long-tailed Antbird - but that species has been split multiple ways, and nothing has that name anymore. (Scythebill does automatically find species if it matches an alternate name it knows, but only if that’s an alternate name for exactly one species!) Choose a species (or a sp. or even a hybrid), then click OK. The page tells you how many species you have to resolve in total and how many you’ve handled already - here it’s 1 of 4, so there’s three more species after this one.
You can also click Drop species, which means that Scythebill will fail to import any of the records for that species. But it’s not so bad - Scythebill puts all of those failed entries into a new CSV file, so you can look through them and manually enter anything Scythebill couldn’t handle.
If Scythebill can’t identify the location, you’ll tell it about it with a window like this one:
If you’ve used location entry before, this is exactly that - Scythebill has a name already, and you need to tell it where that location is. You can read how to do this earlier in the manual.
Some import types - like BirdLasser - may give Scythebill a latitude and longitude without a name. In that case, Scythebill will try to identify that location using latitude and longitude, and give you a screen like this:
Here, someone’s been birding right on the border of Argentina and Brazil (so Scythebill can’t figure out what country is involved, just the continent!). But there’s a whole host of possible locations identified using Google and eBird; you can choose one of those, or manually enter a location name, as described earlier in the manual.
If Scythebill has a possible match for a location, you might see a window like:
… which will let you either pick an existing location, or enter a new one.
Once you’ve identified the location, either a Next or an OK button will become clickable (depending on whether there’s more locations to identify).
Finally, once all species and locations have been identified, you’ll get a window like this one:
Everything has been imported successfully, and is ready to be added to your records file. You can still back out - click Cancel, and the import will be ignored. Click OK to accept the import.
If you clicked Drop species, or if some rows simply couldn’t be handled (perhaps because a Date field contained something that Scythebill couldn’t understand), you’ll get a window like this telling you of partial success:
In this case, almost all sightings were successfully imported, but I clicked Drop species for one species with two sightings. Both of those sightings are stored in a separate CSV file, so you can easily look at those rows and manually enter the data if desired. Again, you can always click Cancel to drop the import.
You might, on occasion, see a window like this:
This warns you that it looks like you’re importing a lot of sightings that you’ve already imported! You’ll most likely want to click Cancel. This protection is really useful for saving you from an annoying and tedious cleanup job. You can also click Import anyway, which will give you duplicate sightings, or Overwrite duplicates, which will drop any of your existing sightings in favor of the new content (really handy if you’ve made some edits outside of Scythebill and want to keep them).
After you’ve imported, I highly recommend using Verify against checklists… (in the File menu). You may find errors in the Scythebill checklists (and if so, please send them to me!), but you may also find mistakes in your original data, or even better, some “armchair ticks” when your data hasn’t kept up with the latest taxonomic changes.
eBird is, of course, a popular destination for uploading sightings. And because of that popularity, many, many programs support uploading to eBird. Scythebill takes advantage of that by letting you import not only files you download from eBird, but also files you upload to eBird.
Scythebill supports four different eBird formats - but it figures this all out on its own, so you don’t need to tell it which of the formats you’ve supplied:
Avisys was one of the oldest pieces of commercial birding software, though it recently (August 2015) ceased operations. The most recent version does support exporting directly to eBird, and those files can then be imported to Scythebill as eBird imports, but Scythebill also supports using its built-in CSV export format.
Start by using Avisys’s List Records option, then click List. After that, click the Export button. Choose a "Comma-delimited, ASCII file”.
After that, Avisys will ask three questions:
Take the exported file (name it ending in either “.csv” or “.txt”).
If you don’t care about Avisys “field notes”, continue with Scythebill’s import page. Otherwise, you’ll need to produce a second file with the following instructions:
Back in Scythebill, after clicking Import from Avisys…, choose the first export file generated by Avisys. You’ll then see a dialog:
If you created a field notes file, click Yes, and locate that file. If you didn’t, then click No and the import will proceed.
Scythebill understands some of the Avisys flags - male, female, immature, heard-only, and photographed. Other attributes are still preserved in the “Notes” field in Scythebill, so you call still query for them on the reports screen, and bulk edit from there when helpfull.
Avisys’s location lists in general did not supply a full, modern set of locations, so Scythebill’s taken a few necessary liberties:
After importing, it’s always a good idea to use Scythebill’s Verify against checklists feature, especially when you’re importing from an older export with an old taxonomy to catch issues caused by species name and taxonomic changes.
A note of caution: Avisys failed to export place names and species names containing double quotes (“) correctly. When left present in the export, some records may fail to import, but the overall import should still succeed, and Scythebill will produce a file containing exactly the failed records.
BirdBase/BirdArea was another mainstay of the birding community, and it has also recently closed its doors. Scythebill directly supports BirdBase CSV exports, so those users have an easy home for all their data. You’ll want to use BirdBase’s Display feature with an Output Destination of “Data exchange file”. That’ll give you a CSV file, which you can open with Scythebill using the Import from BirdBase… button on the Import screen.
Generally, the import should proceed smoothly - Scythebill will correctly import data like species counts and “uncertain” sightings - but there are a few things to know.
First, the "S1" through "S4" custom flags cannot be directly interpreted by Scythebill. But they are kept in the Notes field. You can use Show reports to find all notes containing those strings, and then bulk edit to set a Scythebill field like "Heard only" en masse.
Second,the Home, Region, and Local options of BirdBase are added as "BirdBase Home", "BirdBase Region", or "BirdBase Local" locations when those BirdBase flags are set, so this data should be preserved.
BirdBase’s location lists in general did not supply a full, modern set of locations, so Scythebill’s taken a few necessary liberties:
Finally, BirdBase did not properly escape double-quotes (“) in description fields. Some description fields may be partially truncated because of this (but the rest of the data should be imported without issue).
After importing, it’s always a good idea to use Scythebill’s Verify against checklists feature, especially when you’re importing from an older export with an old taxonomy to catch issues caused by species name and taxonomic changes.
Scythebill supports its own custom import format. This is useful for a few reasons:
The imports are in CSV format (that’s “Comma-separated Values”). The easiest way - by far - to get a properly formatted CSV file is to create a spreadsheet in Excel, OpenOffice, Numbers (or any other spreadsheet program) and save as a “.csv” file, but you certainly can use a text editor if you’d rather.
Scythebill CSV files require a header row. I can't promise to forever keep the order of columns exact, so if you're going to write code parsing these files, look for the values in the header row, rather than hardcoding indices. (This also means you don’t have to care about getting the order right if you’re tweaking your own spreadsheet content - but you do have to get the column header names correct.)
Scythebill also uses the UTF-8 character encoding. (If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry too much - this is an option you can select when you save a spreadsheet as a CSV file, and it affects how non-English characters are understood.)
Exports and imports use either the eBird/Clements or IOC taxonomies - whichever you've selected at the time of the import or export, that's the one Scythebill uses. (This also means that if you re-import, you should have the same taxonomy selected.)
The column headers are:
Extra location fields: the following headers can add additional information to a location, but only the first row per location that has this info is used, and it’ll be entirely ignored if you already have a location with a matching Country/State/County/City/Location 1/etc...
Extra visit fields: the following headers can add additional information to a visit, but only the first row per visit that has this info is used, and it’ll be entirely ignored if you already have a visit with a matching date/start-time/location combination:
The order of these columns does not matter (at all). All that’s necessary is that the header row have the correct title for each column.
It’s also necessary that the date be in YYYY-MM-DD format, and nothing else.
That’s a lot of fields, but if you want to get your own data into Scythebill, you need far, far less. The only required columns are:
… and for that matter, you don’t even have to have values in the Date column; it can be an empty column. You can even leave values in the Country column empty too! If you are including countries, then Region is a really handy column to include, though; without it, countries Scythebill can’t interpret all end up in North America. Any other columns you supply will be used; any extra columns you have (which don’t match a name above) will be ignored. In all cases, it’s the header text - the first row of the CSV file - that is used to identify columns, not the content of subsequent rows.
Here’s an extremely minimal example of the format, with just a common name, a date (missing from one row), and a country.
Common, Date, Country
Ostrich, , Kenya
Wrentit, 2010-03-15, United States
If you need more data - comments on the sighting, more specific locations, etc. - then add more columns by adding extra entries in the header row, then extra data in each row as needed.
Here’s an even more minimal example - just a list of common names!
Common, Date, Country
Imported this way, you won’t have a date or a location attached to any of these sightings - but it will get your lifelist started if that’s all the data you have.
Scythebill can import file exports from observado.org, waarneming.nl, and waarneming.be. I’d describe this import as beta-level - for one, it seems like the CSV format used by these sites is evolving.
When exporting, please make sure that “simple CSV” is not checked. I’d also recommend using either English or Dutch as the language (the language affects the exports, which is a bit unfortunate).
Scythebill can also import CSV files exported from BirdLasser, South African software for entering field sightings. These files sometimes come with just a latitude and longitude for each sighting, so Scythebill leans heavily on eBird and Google support for discovering location names. Scythebill will automatically derive data like distance travelled and time spent in the field from all of your various locations.
This support is relatively recent at this time (added in Scythebill 12.7), so please let me know if you have problems or if it works well for you.
Scythebill 13 added support for extended taxonomies - so finally, you can keep track of more than just your bird sightings.
Unlike eBird/Clements and IOC, these taxonomies are not maintained by me! It’s enough work keeping these two avian taxonomies up-to-date (as well as the hundreds of checklists).
Extended taxonomies come in two forms;
(You can easily convert from one to the other: load as .btxm and export as .csv, or vice versa.)
Extra taxonomies can be most easily added at any time by visiting http://www.scythebill.com/download.html#extended , and downloading one of the “.btxm” files found there. Each of these represents a single extended taxonomy. (As described below, you can also build your own from a CSV file.)
Once you’ve downloaded that.btxm file, use the Manage taxonomies… item in the File menu; you’ll be taken to this screen:
Click the Add a new taxonomy… button, then open the .btxm file you just downloaded. That’s it! The taxonomy will now be included within your main sightings file, so you don’t need to hang on to the .btxm file.
This does mean that if you use multiple sightings files (for multiple people), you must import the taxonomy into each sightings file. But it also means that when you move your sightings file from one computer to another, you don’t have to re-import the taxonomy to use that sightings file, and you don’t have to worry about backing up the extended taxonomy anywhere. (Please do worry about keeping your sightings backed up!)
Once you’ve added a new taxonomy, it is immediately available in the Taxonomy menu at the top of every screen:
Just switch to that taxonomy, and everything changes to it. So, for example, if you switch from “eBird/Clements” to “Mammal Watching”, then:
In general, you can only operate on one taxonomy at a time: Scythebill does not support generating reports simultaneously across multiple taxonomies (not yet, at least). But there is an exception - you can enter species across multiple taxonomies in one go, as explained in the next section.
When entering sightings, you can switch between taxonomies and enter sightings across all of them in just one go. For example, let’s take an afternoon in San Francisco. A Barn Swallow was flying over North Lake:
But a family of Raccoons were also present; so switch to the mammal taxonomy:
As you can see, your Barn Swallow sighting has disappeared from the screen - but it’s not forgotten. Look up on the top right, and you’ll see “0 species, 1 other taxa”; that’s a hint that even though there’s no mammals yet entered, there’s 1 “non-mammal” entered.
Here’s the screen after adding a Northern Raccoon:
Now, it’s 1 species, 1 other taxa.
You can freely switch back to one of the bird taxonomies and enter more birds, or switch to a third taxonomy and add, say, butterflies. And they’ll all get saved with a single click of Done.
Scythebill’s importing works for extended taxonomies too! You can import sightings using:
You currently cannot import to extended taxonomies using:
(If you have sightings for an extended taxonomy in one of these formats, just let me know.)
In all cases, the critical thing to remember is that Scythebill uses the currently chosen taxonomy to perform the import. So, if you’re using the Avisys CSV format, and you’ve used Avisys to store mammal sightings, then you need to:
If you happen to have the wrong taxonomy selected when you start an import, the likely outcome will be that Scythebill can’t figure out any of the species in the import, and you’ll see a screen like this one:
Just click “No”, switch the taxonomy, and try again.
Standard Scythebill exports and reports all work as they do for birds. Just select the taxonomy in the taxonomy menu, go to Show reports, and export either as a spreadsheet or a Scythebill CSV file.
(Note that you cannot export to eBird, for reasons that should be fairly obvious!)
Extended taxonomies are limited in a few ways at this point, some of which will definitely change in the future, and some of which may change in the future. (These limitations start with the most onerous and conclude with the most trivial, in my estimation.)
Extended taxonomies do not currently support checklists. There certainly won’t be any built-in checklists - that’s inherent in the concept - but you also can’t write your own custom checklists.
There’s also no support for generating reports across multiple taxonomies at once. So, if you go on a trip and record birds, mammals, butterflies, and dragonflies, you’ll have to save 4 reports to see the full story.
Another issue that will affect some taxonomies more than others is that Scythebill offers the same set of fields across all taxonomies - so, yes, there’ll still be a “Heard only” field for your butterfly sightings. I acknowledge the nonsensical nature of this, but have no short-term plans to fix.
Finally, Scythebill doesn’t offer any support for editing an extended taxonomy inside Scythebill. Instead, export as a CSV file, edit in a text editor or a spreadsheet application, then re-import. This might be added in the future, especially for very simple edits (like fixing names, tweaking ranges, etc.).
Scythebill supports a simple CSV format for taxonomy import that can be generated by any spreadsheet. There’s a few rules to follow, though!
The first few rows must include the following information:
Each of these rows has two columns. (I’m showing them here with commas separating the column, but that’s for the CSV output. In a spreadsheet, that’s two columns.)
An example of the start of a taxonomy file:
Name,Mammal Watching January 2016
Credits,Jon Hall mammalwatching.com
The ID row is used to permanently identify that taxonomy, across versions, so users won’t end up with multiple copies of a single taxonomy, and Scythebill can support upgrading sightings from one version of a taxonomy to the next. Keep it short, but clear, and don’t put a date or version number in the ID! (And the ID is never shown to users, so don’t worry about that.)
The name is what’s shown to users, and should probably include a date or version.
Finally, the credits are essential for recognizing the work that goes into building these taxonomies! The credits are shown to users when they first import the taxonomy, and in the About… page of the Scythebill app.
After this preface, you’ll need one header row, then all of the taxa from this taxonomy.
The header row must have the following columns (sequence and capitalization doesn’t matter):
And that’s it! Note that - yes - you must have orders and families, and Scythebill does not support specifying Phylum, Class, or any smaller breakdowns like “Infraorder” or “Subfamily”, etc. You also must have scientific names; no “common name-only” taxonomies.
There’s a slew of optional columns, too:
You don’t have to specify family, order, genus, or even species on every line. Those can all be left blank, in which case Scythebill will automatically assume the value from the prior line.
You also can choose to indicate a new order, family, or genus either by giving it its own row, or just by switching to a new order, family, or genus on the same line as defining the new species. So both of these are fine:
But common names are always attached to the smallest taxon defined on that row. So if you want to give orders and families their own common names, you must give them their own rows:
Cetartiodactyla,,,Even-toed ungulates and whales
,,Balaenoptera musculus,Blue Whale
Also, some taxonomies may come with the common name and alternate common names all in one column. Scythebill saves you from manually editing that, too: if you don’t specify an Alternate column, Scythebill will automatically look for commas, slashes, or blank lines in the Common column, and use the first such name as the primary common name, and the rest as alternates.
The rows must be in taxonomic order: you cannot have species from the same order, family, or genus appear in multiple locations.
Scythebill will also fix up capitalization of all scientific names, so don’t worry if the import you’re starting with has some taxa names in all-caps; just leave it, and it’ll be fixed on import.
A final note: the CSV file must be in the UTF-8 character encoding. (If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry too much - this is an option you can select when you save a spreadsheet as a CSV file, and it affects how non-English characters are understood.)
This is a complete example of a valid taxonomic import, for reference:
Cetartiodactyla,,,,Even-toed ungulates and whales
,,Balaenoptera musculus,,Blue Whale
,,,brevicauda,Pygmy Blue Whale
… which in your spreadsheet would look like this:
Note that subspecies are defined on their own rows, and “Common” names omitted for subspecies that don’t have their own names.
Once you’ve got a taxonomy imported successfully, you can export it from the Manage taxonomies… screen either as a “.btxm” file or a “.csv” file.
If you’re trying to export the taxonomy so that you can share it with other users, you’ll want to export it as a “.btxm” file. These files are designed for sharing between users - they’ll import cleanly, without any worry, and will be tagged with a Scythebill icon.
If you’re trying to export the taxonomy so that you can edit it and re-import it, or just display it in a spreadsheet, you’ll want to export as a “.csv” file.
Once the taxonomy is in good shape, if you’d like to contribute it to the wider Scythebill community, please contact me, and I can host it. Just send me the .btxm file after exporting the taxonomy (see the previous section for how to do so).
But - and this is really important - I need to know that I have permission to do so from the original author of the content. (I do not want to receive cease-and-desist letters from angry attorneys.) So, when you send me a taxonomy, please make sure that it:
Also, when I’m distributing a taxonomy on your behalf, I’d prefer to have permission to publish your email, so that when users find issues, they can contact you directly.
Of course, if all of this is too much of a bother - or if you want to use a taxonomy that will not allow redistribution, then you’re still free to build your own extended taxonomy and use it privately.
If you don’t need an extended taxonomy anymore, visit the Manage taxonomies… page, make sure the appropriate taxonomy is selected and click Delete this taxonomy…
Scythebill will confirm that you want to delete the taxonomy; after you click OK, Scythebill will delete the taxonomy and all sightings for that taxonomy. There’s no “undo”!
Just “add” the taxonomy once again. Scythebill will automatically upgrade your sightings. In the event of sufficiently significant changes, Scythebill may need to save an exported list of the sightings that could not be upgraded (for example, because a species is entirely missing from the updated taxonomy). Those sightings will be saved as a Scythebill-CSV format export file, and can be re-imported using the Import sightings… item in the File menu. You’ll get warned - and have a chance to cancel - any time the upgrade isn’t entirely automatic.
At this time, please export the taxonomy to CSV, edit that file, then re-import. (The lack of support for “upgrade” does make that especially onerous, which is why “upgrade” will be added soon!)
You certainly can add a bird taxonomy - say, the British List. However, Scythebill won’t see this is a “bird” list - just as any other extended taxonomy. So, for instance:
A few of Scythebill’s reports don’t fit into the Show reports screen, and can be accessed with Special reports on the main page.
The “Big” days and years screen lets you rapidly find your top big days and big years - days and years where you’ve seen the most species.
Up top, a menu lets you choose between “Big day” and “Big year” options.
Below that, the same options from Show reports let you limit the set of big days or years (for example, to find your best big days in a single location).
And below that, on the left, a list of your best big years/days. In the screen above, a top big year - 1,949 species - occurred in 2000. Select one of those dates to see the full list. And if you want to get any of that content into a document or email, etc., just select list entries and use “Copy” from the Edit menu.
Some birders have started working on (and competing on) "total ticks" listing. A total ticks list adds up all of the totals from subregions into one big total. So, for example, a "state" total ticks list for the ABA Region requires you to:
These numbers are tedious to compute; Scythebill makes it easy. Select Total ticks from the Special reports screen:
The menu at the top lets you choose between “Country”, “State”, and “County” total ticks.
Below that, the same options from Show reports let you limit the set of sightings included. If, for example, you want “ABA area” state total ticks, then choose Location, is in, ABA Region, then “State” total ticks.
Below that, Scythebill shows the total ticks count: in the screen above, that’s a combined 9,577 species on the country lists for all countries.
At the bottom, two buttons let you take further actions with your total ticks results:
Finally, the world lifer map is a very simple toy for seeing how many lifers await you around the world in color-coded form. (Birds only: it relies on the Scythebill checklists.)
Above, you can see my needs: some time in India, China, and Indonesia would be very helpful! (And Brazil, Colombia, and Peru are simply species-rich; I’ve spent a lot of time in South America, but still… so much to see!)
Mouse over any country to see a total number, or use the “Zoom to... “ menu in the upper-left to limit to one part of the world:
Most of Scythebill’s preferences are automatically stored (choose an option once, and Scythebill will remember that for later), but a few need to get explicitly chosen on the preferences screen. Just click the Preferences button on the main page.
When using the eBird/Clements taxonomy, Scythebill lets you choose from 42 different internationalized options!
Some of these are global translations; but some are limited to species found in that country. Read more about these translations on the eBird site.
When using the IOC taxonomy, Scythebill lets you choose from over 25 languages for bird names:
Most of these are fairly complete, with 90-95% of names available in a translated form, but a few are much less fully available - Estonian, Hungarian, and Portuguese are all between 55% and 65% complete.
Note: If you’re using Linux, I have had reports that some of these translations may not appear correctly, and simply cause errors. (On the other hand, I’ve had no problems when I’ve tested on Linux.) I believe this has been fixed, but let me know if you still see this. I haven’t had reports of problems on MacOS or Windows.
Alternatively, you might prefer scientific names to common names. Or you might never want to see a scientific name if it can be helped. Another preference makes that easy. You can choose one of four options:
Some birders think introduced species are fine to count; others think that’s a waste of time.
Some birders think a “heard only” owl is worth a tick; others won’t consider counting a bird until they’ve seen it.
Whatever your preference, it’s a shame to skip entering a sighting just because you don’t want to include it in your numbers. Scythebill makes that easy:
These preferences don’t affect whether the sightings show up in reports, or whether they’ll be exported to eBird, etc. They only affect the total species (and family) numbers Scythebill reports.
Scythebill can automatically backup your sightings weekly or monthly to a folder of your choice. Choose one of those two options, then pick a folder for your exports by clicking the Choose a directory… button. I personally strongly recommend that users choose a backup directory using a cloud provider like DropBox or Google Drive. These services are free and will keep your data safe (and secure); storing your backups on your local drive will not help you if your disk crashes or something worse happens. Backups are automatically compressed as Zip files to minimize disk usage.
Scythebill won’t create a new backup unless something has changed since the last backup.
You can click the Backup now button to force an immediate backup of your current file (assuming you’ve chosen a directory, as above). You can also open up the directory where your files are backed up by clicking the directory name.
This section gives Scythebill users a set of “recipes” - instructions for very specific tasks that may not be immediately obvious. These are quick overviews - for detailed instructions on using the part of Scythebill they mention, read the part of the manual that discusses that page in detail.
In any Show reports or Browse by species, find and select the sighting, and enter a new location. Click Save.
Or in Browse by location, find the sighting, and drag-and-drop it onto the new location.
In Show reports, pick a report that covers all sightings that need to be edited. Click Bulk edit…; enter a new location, and then click OK.
Use Browse by location, and drag-and-drop the location to a new parent. (You can drag multiple locations all at once.)
You cannot have two locations with the same name as direct children of the same parent. So, for example, if you accidentally added “Point Reyes” to California and another “Point Reyes” to Marin County, you cannot add the first one inside Marin County as well. If you run into this duplicate location problem, then (for this example):
This action doesn’t delete any sightings - you’ll have just one “Point Reyes”, and all sightings will belong there.
You can rearrange locations that contain “children” - all the children will come along for the ride. However, you cannot delete locations that contain children locations. If you need to delete such a location, you have to either move the children locations out from underneath it first, or delete all the children first.
Go to Browse by species and find the sighting. Either drag-and-drop or cut-and-paste the sighting from its original species onto the new species.
Alternatively, you can use Enter sightings to edit the sightings from that visit and just remove one species and add the correct one.
You can do this just the same way as changing the species of a single sighting. Alternatively, you can select the sighting from any page, and use the subspecies chooser at the top of the sightings detail (just below Change to:):
Go to Browse by species and select all of the sightings. Either drag-and-drop or cut-and-paste the sightings from their original species onto the new species (or subspecies).
The IOC and eBird/Clements taxonomies have many differences! Scythebill makes it easy to rapidly go through your entire list and account for those differences.
This is also a helpful technique if you didn’t immediately finish handling all the various splits that came with a major taxonomic upgrade.
You can delete sightings from almost any part of the program. Select a sighting (or multiple sightings) in Show reports, Browse by species, or Browse by location, and use “Cut” from the file menu (or Ctrl-X on Windows/Linux, Command-X on MacOS).
You can delete a lot of sightings at once by:
To copy a lot of sightings from one file two another is, start with the first file (the source of all the sightings):
Now open, the second file, and make sure it’s got the same taxonomy selected as the first file:
That’s it. if you accidentally try to import back to the first file, Scythebill will warn you that all sightings appear to be duplicates.