Sunday, October 31, 2010

Apps I Travel With: Audubon Guides — A Field Guide to Birds, Mammals, Wildflowers, and Trees

Now, I'm not a birder.  But, Mary Ann is, and on our road trips, we're side by side 24/7 except when she gets out of the car to set up a photo shot or take a nature hike, while I stay with the heater and my word processor.  So for some years, she has studied birds with books and classes and mentors, while I ask "What was that bird?" to the expert beside me.

But still, the interest rubs off on me.  I bought the iBird Explorer Pro bird apps when it came out (actually upgraded from the Plus version) and considered it the standard for more than a year.  The reason I bought the Audubon guide was that it included trees, wildflowers, and mammals as well as birds.  I had been looking for a tree guide for some time, and even blogged about it here.

On this trip, we saw a woodchuck and on impulse, I tried the Audubon guide and quickly found his database entry.  There was a button at the bottom called "Sighting", so I clicked it and after the iPhone located my position, it entered the sighting.  Soon, I was entering all kinds of bird and mammal sightings.  I even used it to identify the "Common Blue Wood Aster" and various trees.  The App offers to sync to the server, using an account I had to set up, and not only does it update the app with new photos, it uploads my sightings to the website.

To be honest, I tried the "Life List" button first, but that's harder to use, so Sightings would have to do for me.

On the website, it can list your sightings in various ways, including a map. I left feedback at the site that I would like a way to export my sightings in some kind of XML format so I could capture sightings from iBird and Audubon and any other tool at hand and combine them.  They replied with the news that they were looking to improve that part of their site, so who knows.

In any case, the sightings added a game-like bonus to the birding part of it, much like signing in at places with foursquare.  The only problem from my perspective was that since I was doing all the driving, I often had to skip adding a sighting of some bird or coyote that I saw because it'd be fatal to try to manipulate the app while driving a curving mountain road in the dark.  Oh, well.  It's not like I'm a real birder or anything.

There was a repeatable crash in the app which I hope they fix soon.  Here's how:
Enter a generic search in the Common Name Search field.  Several species will show up in a list.  Touch one and then from the bird's page, touch the up or down arrow in the upper corner of the screen to go to the next bird on the list.  Boom.  App crash back to the home screen.  It makes it a little harder to compare similar species, but I got used to it.

It was so much fun using the Audubon Guides that I didn't use iBird at all.  Not that I'll get rid of it.  The more guides the better when dealing with a bird I just can't quite identify.  They also make a Android version and the list of field guides increases every time I visit their web site.  I'll probably get more.  After the new wears of of this one.

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