We sat down with Metova Director of Technology, Zach Little, to learn more about his passion for birding – including his rare finds, and the places around the world his hobby has taken him. We also ask if he thinks there is a place for technology in birding (yes) and if he prefers Mac or PC (neither).
A graduate of the Arkansas Coding Academy, Zach’s focus is on Android development work for one of Metova’s largest clients.
What is birding?
Birding is a lot of things for different people. For me, Birding is about getting out in nature and identifying species of birds.
What are some of the places that birding has taken you to?
South Africa, Namibia, Gulf Coast, I have driven a road trip from Arkansas to Nebraska, to South Texas and back, Himalayan Mountains in both India and Nepal, jungles of Thailand. Western Ghat mountains of India. Birding can happen anywhere, but there are hotspots that you try to get to.
What is one of the more rare birds you have seen? And where was it located?
Genuinely rarest (critically endangered): Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Estimated fewer than 1000 left. They are also small, and mix in with thousands of other birds that look similar. I have seen it twice in some salt farms in Thailand.
In birding there are also birds you can see that aren’t necessarily rare, but are not supposed to be where you found them. I was the first to spot a Baikal Teal in Delhi India in I think 2012. It has only been seen there about a dozen times. It is common in other places, but rarely is ever in that part of the world.
Are there any rivalries within the birding community?
People like to see has the longest list, there are folks that try to get the most birds seen in the US in one year, or people who have the largest life list. But for most people it isn’t like that.
Do you also collect feathers from birds?
I do not collect feathers. There is a group of birders who id birds based solely on feather, but I prefer to see the live bird, in its habitat.
Is birding a technology-free area of your life, or do you think that tech may have a proper place within birding?
I use various technology while birding. I typically use my phone to make lists, to see where other birders are, and to research and prep for trips. The best place to get information is eBird, which is the largest citizen science project in the world. Birding also pushes camera technology, which I often use as well. One area where I think that tech would help the most would be in machine learning and being able to better predict what birds should/could be seen at any given location. There is also a lot of tech around sound recording and playback.
What sort of projects do you handle at Metova?
I mostly work with Sirius XM, and handle everything from Android develop lead, to project management.
Android or iOS?
Mac or PC?
What emerging technologies are you excited about?
I am excited about the benefits of machine learning and artificial intelligence, but it also scares me. It has the potential for life changing positive impacts, but also the potential to cause harm in our world.
I also can’t wait for the day I can hop in my car, fall asleep and wake up at my destination. Self driven cars excite me.
Have you ever come across a bird in an unexpected time or place?
Yeah lots of times. I mentioned the Baikal teal earlier that was seen in Delhi India. But I have seen others.
Do you know the history and/or origin of chickens?
The wild species of bird that modern chickens evolved from is mostly the red junglefowl, I have seen this bird in the wild, and they look just like a road island red. But they have different behavior.