Maine Audubon: Apps make birding by smartphone easier, more accessible

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FALMOUTH — Maine Audubon is taking advantage of specialized apps becoming available that make birding by smartphone not only easier, but more accessible to a wider audience.

The organization is offering a special workshop on the topic at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7. The cost is $10 for members and $15 for nonmembers. Call 781-2330 for more information.

Doug Hitchcox, the staff naturalist at Maine Audubon, will lead the session.

Hitchcox said the impetus for the workshop is that there’s an “increasing shift in resources for birders (toward) being digital and especially smartphone-based … that (allows) birders and naturalists (to) really improve their skills by being able to use.”

Maine Audubon has done several sessions like this before, Hitchcox said. Those sessions focused on birding in the digital age and covered topics from using listservs and Facebook to learn about bird sightings and using to record sightings.

“A smartphone can enhance birding in two ways,” he said this week. “First, through the ease of use and portability. The reduction of books down to apps saves on weight and space, for example,” but apps also offer much more, with most including audio recordings of the songs and calls of various bird species.

“I’m not even sure I could fit all of those books in a single backpack, let alone my front pocket,” Hitchcox said. Among the bird guides available, for free, are the Audubon Bird Guide, Sibley, National Geographic and Peterson.

“I mostly use all of the apps that we’ll be covering in this program,” he said. “There are so many available now, especially the field guides, that the one (an individual) uses will often be a matter of personal preference.”

Hitchcox added, “A smartphone can definitely introduce more people to birding. There are apps that can direct you to birds that have been seen near you and some that will even identify the birds you are looking at. Merlin, made by Cornell, can help you identify a bird by answering five simple questions or by uploading a photo of the bird,” for instance.

Even with all the features a birding app can offer, Hitchcox said that sometimes it’s better and more important for beginners to use more “basic tools to learn their birds. A real field guide, an actual book, that you can thumb through and see species and families, will definitely help beginners learn rather than just (relying on) an app tell them what is what.”

Overall, he said, “It will always be important for people to connect with nature, whether that be through tools on a smartphone or while completely off the grid. That connection leads to an appreciation of the resources and (wild) life that is around us, many of which we need to survive.

“Unfortunately, I think we have taken many of these things for granted recently and with increased threats on our environment, like the recent censoring of the (Environmental Protection Agency), it will be increasingly important for us to be able to interpret what is happening to (and in) the natural world.”

In addition to the birding by smartphone session next week, on Saturday, Feb. 4, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Maine Audubon will also be celebrating the 23rd annual National Bird-feeding Month, which was started “to encourage people to take up bird feeding and enjoy the benefits of having access to birds,” Hitchcox said.

During the day Saturday Maine Audubon will offer informal talks on topics such as selecting the right feeders and food for different species, the importance of providing a source of clean water, baffling those pesky squirrels and more.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Birding by smartphone makes the activity easier, more accessible and more enjoyable. Maine Audubon in Falmouth is running a workshop Feb. 7 for those who want to learn more.