Smartphone Birding

In the past few years, smartphones have made big gains into birding since one small device can now be used to share information, take photos, record songs, and supplement or even replace printed field guides. There are so many birding apps and products available now that I thought it might be helpful to share some favourites.

Many of the major field guide publishers have created app versions of their books. While I’m always on the hunt for free or inexpensive apps, good birding ID apps can can get expensive, though they are well worth the price considering that you’re getting a whole field guide that takes up virtually no space, and weighs only as much as your phone. You get text as well as search functions, range maps, illustrations, and multiple songs and calls in the palm of your hand. There are also great apps, often free, not specifically meant for birders but which can be very useful in the field and handy to have.

A good list of bird apps can be found hereand there are some more in this past post here. Although the Collin’s Bird Guide app covers European birds, it’s my absolute favourite. I even use it for looking up species that can be found in North America. It’s well designed, with comprehensive information, and the functions and features are top-notch.

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A good North American equivalent is the Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America. The app hasn’t been updated since last May, so hopefully a new version is in the pipeline with updated taxonomy, new species, and some of the changes from the second edition of the printed book.

The BirdsEye app helps find nearby birds by showing you which ones have been reported to eBirdand also shows birding hotspots from all over the world. This was the app I used most during my Banff trip in January, because it helped me to find lots of new species and excellent birding locations.

Great to pair with the BirdsEye app is the eBird Mobile app, available for free at both the App and Google Play stores. The eBird Mobile app lets you submit your birding checklists from the field in an easy format.

Raptor ID app was just released in February by HawkWatch International and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The app covers 34 species of North American diurnal raptors with almost 1,000 photos, videos, range maps, links to interactive seasonal eBird maps, and vocalizations for each species.

The Merlin Bird ID app by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is the perfect app for young or beginning birders who are looking for an interactive way to ID birds. Users answer five questions about the bird in question, and then the Merlin app provides a list of possible matches. The app includes songs and calls, as well as multiple photos for each species covering 400 species across North America. The app is at the App and Google Play stores for free.

I like tracking my movements when birding to note the distance and length I bird. I’ve found that exercise apps are the best for this, and the two I use the most are MapMyRun and Strava.

For counting gulls at landfills or Snow Buntings in a field on your Christmas Bird Count circle, a tallying app can make counting a breeze. There are various apps available for iOS and Android devices. The one I use is called Tally Counter.

Orienteering apps are very useful for birding, especially if you want to know the latitude and longitude for adding to your eBird checklists or field notes. The free Coordinates Lite app is good for plotting both. If you need more in an orienteering app, try Spyglass, which has a high-tech viewfinder, milspec compass, gyrocompass, tactical GPS, speedometer, sniper’s rangefinder, and inclinometer among other things. For birding, use the apps to determine your distance from a bird or to find the precise location of a rare bird.

When I’m away from my laptop, I use the Inoreader app to keep up to date with the birding blogs I follow. Some other RSS apps are Feedly, Flipboard, and Bloglovin’ which are free and available for Apple and Android devices.

I don’t do much blogging through my phone, but I have the WordPress app downloaded for the times I’m away from my laptop. Blogger also has an app. I’ve found the WordPress app bit wonky but it’s good in a pinch.

Smartphones are perfect for recording bird calls for identification purposes and submitting sound recordings to databases like Xeno-Canto. You can use your phone’s default recorder, but for better quality recordings the RØDE REC app is $8.49 at the App store. For capturing high-quality sounds, try an external compact mic.

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A Clark’s Nutcracker photo I posted on my Instagram account

For birders interested in pairing optics and smartphones, digiscoping is an ever-growing activity. I’ve written an introductory post about this photography technique and the photo editing apps you can use to help improve your photos.

With a phone, social media platforms are always at hand making it easy to stay up to date with rare bird alerts, Facebook bird groups/pages, and birding Twitter accounts. Instagram is also a great app for sharing bird photos and seeing what others are posting. I post some bird photos to my general Instagram account and some of my favourite birding IGs are kojobirder, lovingfornature, petersownbirds, nickparaykoimages, and phoneskopebirding to name a few. You don’t need an Instagram account or a smartphone to follow someone’s account.

If you have any apps to recommend, please let me know in the comments.

Review: eBird Mobile App

New birding apps are coming out all the time. One app that looks new, eBird Mobile App, is in fact the Birdseye Log (or BirdLog) with a facelift.

Back in 2012, David Bell’s company, Birds In The Hand, released the BirdLog app. The app was the first and only app to send your birding checklists directly to your eBird account. The Birdseye Log app became so popular that the Cornell Lab and Mr. Bell reached an agreement last year to move the app’s management and development to the eBird team at Cornell.

The revised app, now called eBird Mobile App, can be used worldwide and is available for free on the app store. eBird Mobile sends information directly from your iOS device to your eBird account on the eBird website.
At the moment, the app is available only for iOS devices with the 7.0 update or later. The Android version is in the development stages and should be available soon.I downloaded the eBird Mobile app couple of weeks ago and enjoy it very much, so I thought I should write a review.
The home screen is very clean, fresh, and easy to understand. The first thing you do is tap the start button.

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When you’re ready to pick a location, the app pulls up your established eBird locations or hotspots based on your device’s location, using GPS. You can also create a new location if you’re in a new birding spot. Offline checklists are helpful if there isn’t cell reception.

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Here, I’m choosing a location from the map. If you decide to change your birding location, all you have to do is tap on any of the pin-points,

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After choosing your location, it’s time to set your date and time. Your start time will default to the current day and time, but you can easily change the day or even year if you like. Just scroll down the days, hours, or minutes to set your exact time.

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Once you’ve picked your location and entered the start time, you can record the species you see. The species are listed alphabetically or taxonomically (set your preference in the settings). You can spell out the species name or search by four-letter banding code. For example, the Snow Bunting’s code is SNBU and Black-billed Magpie is BBMA.

Every time you enter a count for a species, the app keeps track and adds to whatever you already have. For example, if  enter “5 BCCH” (Black-capped Chickadees) in the search bar, I then have five Black-capped Chickadees in my checklist. If I see four more later on my walk, I can enter 4 BCCH and then the checklist total will be nine.

Now say I miscounted the chickadees. All I have to do is enter negative numbers and that will subtract the extra birds and give a new corrected total.

You can also add species by tapping on the left-hand side of the bird’s name. You can increase the number of species seen, one tap at a time. This works well if you see only a few birds. However it’s not very practical when entering 1,000 Snow Geese or more. In this case, tap on the right side and you can enter the numbers by keyboard. With this function, you can also add comments to that particular species.

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At the end of your birding, enter the protocol information for your checklist — how long it took, how the observation was made (Travelling, Stationary, or Incidental) along with distance traveled, number of observers in the birding party, and if you’re listing all the birds you saw.

The app keeps track of how long you’ve been birding, but unfortunately not your walking distance (there are other apps that can keep track of that). If you have any extra notes about your checklist, you can add them to the comment box.

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All your checklists, including In Progress and Accepted can be found in the My Checklist part of the app (found on the home screen). You can delete inaccurate or test lists by swiping right to left on the right side of the checklist to show the delete button.

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If you submit a checklist and then decide you want to go back to edit it, the app sends you to the eBird website. This is my only quibble with the app. It would certainly be easier if one could edit the checklist in the app; however, it isn’t a big problem. If I do have to edit, I usually wait to do so on my laptop.

Play around with the app and you’ll quickly get the hang of it. Submitting a checklist from the field requires a cell connection, so if you have only WiFi you’ll be unable to enter checklists.

Since I have my new phone with me all the time now, the app makes it very convenient for submitting sightings to eBird. Just last week, I was horseback riding and saw a Rough-legged Hawk flying over our pasture — my first for the fall season. I was able to enter my sighting right from the field. The app is so easy to navigate that you can even use it on the back of a moving horse!

Overall, the app is wonderful and I highly recommend that birders download it on their phones. It’s free, easy to use, and you are contributing to the knowledge of bird distribution and abundance across the world.

You can find the app at the iTunes store here.

Review: The Collins Bird Guide App

Preparing last fall for my family’s trip to Europe last month, I researched field guides, websites, and apps that might be helpful for birding in France and Germany. I planned to take my iPad and iPod, but not my laptop.

I knew I was going to take my paperback copy of Birds of Europe (second edition) published by Princeton University Press, but a few days before we left I came across The Collins Bird Guide app which I though might be useful to use with my iPad. 

Thanks to Touchpress, publisher of the Collins Bird Guide app, I was able to get a review copy downloaded onto my iPad before our departure. I spent the flight to France learning the features of the app, and because I enjoyed it so much and found it so helpful for my trip, I thought I’d share my opinions and a little about how to use the app in this post.

The Collins Bird Guide app is based on the book, The Collins Bird Guide by Lars Svensson, Killian Mullarney, and Dan Zetterström, which is considered the standard European field guide.

The app is very easy to navigate through its three-tier structure which includes over 700 species and more than 3,500 excellent illustrations. The first tier, which is the home page, shows a list of all the families or species groupings included in the app — you can organize the list taxonomically or alphabetically with the app’s settings. The home page also has an introduction at the top of the screen on how to use the app with references to the maps, plumages, terminology, and more. At any point, you can move between the tiers by tapping on the “house” or “bird” icons at the bottom of the screen. Both the family groupings and the species accounts are on a continuous scroll, so it’s easy to keep scrolling through the app.

Here is the home page with all the family groupings:

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Click on a family group — this takes you to the second tier of the app. A list will open with all the species in that family which you can scroll through. Tapping on the family name above the illustrations exposes information about that family. For woodpeckers, the entry reads:

All but the aberrant Wryneck specialists in climbing and excavating nest holes in vertical tree trunks. Anatomical adaptations include strong feet and mobile toes (species with four toes have two directed backwards) and sharp claws, stiff tail-feathers which serve as support on vertical surfaces, also powerful awl- or chisel-shaped bill and “shock-absorbant” brain-case. Food includes wood-boring insects; have a greatly elongated tongue base for scouring and emptying deep insect burrows. Most species use drumming as a “song” (both sexes drum). Only the Wryneck is a long-distance migrant, others largely residents.

Here is the woodpecker family group:

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From the family page, touch a specific species and it will open to the third-tier — the species account. The species account includes multiple illustrations of the bird in different plumages, general information on the bird, range maps, the species conservation status, and audio recordings.

Here is the European Green Woodpecker species account:

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The illustrations are very good and the text is quite informative — the developers have taken all the text and illustrations from the body of the book and converted them to a digital format. To get the illustrations in full-screen, tap once. If you like, tap the screen again to remove the text and symbols. You can also pinch-to-zoom to enlarge the illustrations to see close-up details.

One of my favourite app features is the comparison function. This was useful with so many new-to-me species to identify. There are two ways to compare species. The first is accessible on the right hand side above the species text. For example, below you can see the comparisons for Eurasian Nuthatch include Algerian Nuthatch, (Western) Rock Nuthatch, and Eastern Rock Nuthatch.

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Here is where the comparison buttons are located (in red):

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The other comparison button is accessible at the bottom left of the app’s screen. Tapping on this allows you to create a customized side-by-side comparison of any species. You can do side-by-side comparisons of up to 12 species, but I found personally that two species is the best way to compare as the illustrations are still fairly large and the text is easy to read.

A majority of species in the guide come with multiple audio recordings. Songbirds have songs and calls included, while less vocal species — such as waterfowl, shorebirds, and game birds — usually are accompanied by a single recording.

There’s a search function that allows you to try to identify a species by selecting from a series of attributes including location and season, habitat, shape, size, plumage colour, family, bill colour, and more. The app then provides a list of species that fit that criteria.

Here I’m searching for species that frequent the highlighted map area:

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The app includes the option to keep a life list and to create any others lists. The lists I kept/created were my Life List, Year List, France List, and Germany List.

Tapping on the checkmark next to the species text will add that bird to your Life List (and there’s also an option to share your Lifer on social media). Then, tapping on the list icon next to the checkmark lets you add that species to any other lists you’ve created, or add a new list.  To view your lists, go to the search bar where they’ll appear under “My Lists”. The lists are arranged in the three tiers, just like the rest of the app.

One suggestion I have for any future app updates is for the app to total the number of species on each list and to let users add a date for when they see a particular bird.

This is the family groups page from my Germany List. I saw a species in each of the families that’s highlighted:

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Play around with the app and you’ll quickly get the hang of the layout and flow. The Collins Bird Guide app is excellent with an easy-to-use interface and intuitive design — of the seven bird identification apps I’ve tried (The Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America, Audubon Birds Pro, and Peterson Birds, to name a few), this one is easily the best, and it would be wonderful if there were a comparable app for North American Birds. I highly recommend this app to any birders living in or travelling to Europe — it’s terrific!

The app is compatible with the iPhone and iPad; and I’ve read that the developers are working on a version for Android. The app is $17.99 (US), $20.99 (CAN), or £13.49 on iTunes

Thank you very much to Touchpress for providing me with a review copy.

The Warbler Guide and App Winner!

Warbler-tour-smallI’m sorry for not publishing this on Christmas Day, but with the arrival of a new ram for our flock, Santa, and then helping out with our community Christmas Day dinner, the day got away from me.

Congratulation to Nicole R., the winner of this month’s holiday giveaway of The Warbler Guide, and the new Warbler Guide app.

Thank you to everyone who entered, you were all very close with your guesses.  A special thank you to Jessica from Princeton University Press for making the giveaway possible.

Happy birding in the new year with your new app and book, Nicole!

The birds in the quiz were:

1. Connecticut Warbler
2. Black-and-White Warbler
3. Tennessee Warbler
4. Black-throated Green Warbler
5. American Redstart
6. Blackburnian Warbler
7. Black-throated Blue Warbler

Here’s another chance from Princeton University Press to win a copy of the The Warbler Guide app (now out on iTunes), a copy of The Warbler Guide, and also a pair of Zeiss TERRA ED binoculars; click here for your chance to win theses great prizes.

BirdGenie Is the Shazam for Bird Songs

Some of you might be familiar with the music identifying app Shazam, which identifies songs by “listening” to the music and then matching what it hears with its vast database.

Later this summer, Princeton University Press will be releasing a new app called BirdGenieBirdGenie is like Shazam, but for bird songs — just hold up your smartphone, record the bird song you hear, and BirdGenie will identify it for you. The app has a 90 percent accuracy rate and will consist of two versions — eastern and western with 60 songs on each. After a while, more songs will be added to the app’s repertoire.BirdGenie

BirdGenie will be compatible with Apple and Android devices and sell for $2.99. You’ll be able to keep a log of all your recordings, learn about the species the app has identified, and add comments, photos, and other information to share with friends on social media.

No internet connection is needed for the app to work, which I’m really looking forward to, since I use an iPad (without a network) and don’t have a smartphone. I would use so many more bird/birding apps in the field if they weren’t so dependent on WiFi, so BirdGenie has me very excited about this feature.

To be notified when BirdGenie is up and running, sign up for the newsletter, follow them on Twitter @BirdGenie, or “like” them on Facebook.

I’m really looking forward to this app, which I’ve been offered from Princeton University Press, and will write a full review of it once it’s released.

Birding with an iPad, and a Giveaway!

More birders are now using technology such as tablets and smartphones, and there are many bird-related apps which can help ID birds in the field, submit checklists (eBird), and more. In this post I’m going to round up some useful bird apps, including my favorites.

Stay tuned until the end of this post for the giveaway details!

AppscollageField Guides:

Many field guides have been made into apps, which makes going birding much easier because you don’t have to lug around heavy books. In fact, with a smartphone or tablet, you can take an entire bookshelf with you. Most of the major field guides are available as apps and most offer multiple audio files for almost every species; the search function makes it very easy to search for birds. I have most of the following apps on my iPad, many of which are compatible on other iSO devices even Android.

— Sibley eGuide to Birds of North America ($19.99); I’m a fan of David Sibley’s illustrations, so of course the app is my favorite too. One of the features offered in this guide is the side-by-side comparisons for difficult to ID species. There is also a”lite” version which is free, which is a good way to see if you want to buy the full app.

— Audubon Birds ($14.99, often on sale); is a photographic guide, so if you are partial to photos vs. drawings, this may be for you. With the Audubon app you are able to submit checklists though the app to eBird and see what other birders have submitted.

— Peterson Birds of North America ($9.99, often on sale)

— National Geographic Birds of North America ($9.99); I don’t own this guide so I’m not very familiar with it. But from reading others’ reviews it seems to be a very good app and features 995 species and custom-created quizzes.

iBird (“lite” version is free, various full versions range in price); The iBird app is very user-friendly and great for new birders. iBird has guides for North America, and also Britain & Ireland.

BirdGuides (“lite” version is free, various full versions range in price); BirdGuides have UK field guide apps and also one Birds of Brasil app with over 1,800 species.

Apps for Learning Bird Song:

Larkwire ($2.99); a very user-friendly app which uses games to make learning bird songs fun. Larkwire groups together similar-sounding species and gives the listener a better chance to familiarize him/herself with the songs and calls of each species.

Bird Finding/Reporting Apps:

The BirdsEye app is for finding birds reported to eBird, and BirdsEye Log is for submitting your own sightings. They’re very good apps, and when I was in Ontario last summer working at Long Point, they worked very well for me. My only complaint is that the apps can’t find my location here in Alberta. I get a message saying “Low GPS Signal”. I don’t live in the complete middle of nowhere and we have good WiFi, so I’m a little disappointed that I can’t use these apps regularly at home.

BirdsEye (full versions range in price)

BirdEye Log ($9.99)

BirdsEye Hotspots ($4.99); BirdsEye Hotspots is another great app, which quickly finds eBird hotspots. Here is my review of the app. As a reminder, I received this app from Drew Weber at BirdsEye (who also writes at Nemesis Bird).

Birding eBooks:

Princeton University Press has recently made some of its most popular birding books available as eBooks on iTunes:

The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson & Scott Whittle ($18.99)

The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds by Richard Crossley ($19.99)

The World’s Rarest Birds by Erik Hirschfeld, Andy Swash and Robert Still ($27.99)

The Unfeathered Bird by Katrina van Grouw ($29.99)

Hawks at a Distance by Jerry Liguori ($12.99)

Birds of Peru by Thomas S. Schulenberg ($27.99)

Other Bird Apps:

Merlin Bird ID (free); the Merlin Bird ID app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is one of the newest birding apps on the market. Very good for beginning and intermediate birders.

Bird Codes (0.99); lists numerous bird banding codes

If I haven’t mentioned your favorite app, please let me know in the comments and I’ll add it to my list.

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Giveaway!

Jessica at Princeton University Press has been very generous in providing me with eBook copies of The Unfeathered Bird and the very new Ten Thousand Birds to give away. To enter the contest, just leave a comment in this post with the name of which of the two ebooks you’d prefer.

For second entry, head over to my Facebook page and “Like” it. lease mention below in your comment that you’ve done so. After two random draws, I’ll announce the winners on February 22nd.

TheUnfeatheredBird TenThousandBirds

Birding News #39

:: With 275 species, 16-year-old Aaron Gyllenhaal has broken the record for most species seen in Cook County, Indiana this year. And the year isn’t over yet!

:: The large population of moose in the Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, is changing the species of birds able to live in the park because of all the vegetation the moose are eating.

:: A dead California Condor was found floating in a dip tank used by firefighting helicopters near the Tehachapi Mountains

:: The Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 competition, sponsored by the Natural History Museum in London and BBC Worldwide, has announced the winners of the 49th annual contest, which includes 18 different categories, from birds and malls to “Creative Visions” and “Nature in Black and White”. You can see the winners, selected from tens of thousands of entries from dozens of countries around the world, here at the Museum’s special online gallery.

:: Playback of bird songs may harm birds by causing them to expend more energy than necessary

:: The Peterson Birds App (Field Guide to Birds of North America) is currently available for $2.99, which is 80 percent off the original price of $14.99 (I didn’t see an end date for the sale).

:: A rare Bonelli’s Eagle with a transmitter was shot and wounded by a Lebanese hunter, and an Israeli ornithologist fears that the capture and killing of “spy” birds is harming wildlife preservation in the Middle East

Great posts in birding blogs this week: 

:: From Chris at Birding is Fun: Osprey – A Unique Bird of Prey

:: From Dan at Bird CanadaMemories of Summer in Southern Alberta

:: From Nick at Saskatchewan Birds and Nature: Fall Birds

:: From Alex at Nemesis BirdLincoln’s Sparrow vs. Song Sparrow – PSU Fall Banding

:: From Tim at Bird Canada: Fall photography – making the most of autumnal colours

:: From Gordan at Birding AdventuresPima Canyon Wash – 13 Oct 2013

:: From Lillian at the Stoke Birding BlogSparrow ID Help Is on the Way! Here’s How to ID Them at Your Feeders

:: From Sharon at Birdchick: the latest Birdchick podcast