In some ways, the iPhone is the Swiss Army Knife of the digital age. In addition to using it to make phone calls, you can use it as a book, an Internet browser, a video and still camera, an audio recorder and even as a notepad for recording your observations. And those are just the things you can do with the standard apps that come with the phone.
Birders can make use of all these standard tools in the woods, but they can also customize their phones with add-on gadgets and software apps to do even more. Spyglass, an app designed for outdoors enthusiasts, contains a compass, sextant, GPS and other navigational tools that can help a birder to precisely document the location of a sighting. It even includes a binoculars function, though the 5X zoom isn't as good as what you could get with conventional binoculars with optical magnification [source: iTunes, Karpen]. Camera manufacturers now offer add-on optical telephoto lenses that fit onto iPhones, so a birder can shoot fairly high-quality digital images [source: Photojojo.com]. With an add-on microphone such as the Edutige i-Microphone, a birder can boost the sound of bird calls and record them clearly for later study [source: Schmoker].
But amateur ornithologists will benefit especially from iPhone apps designed specifically for them. There are two basic types:
- Digital field guides include searchable databases of bird species and are illustrated with high-resolution images that help birders to identify a particular specimen. Some also include audio samples of bird songs, range maps and information on bird behavior.
- Online logging tools for birdwatchers allow enthusiasts to systematically record sightings and find the correct logging codes, and even make it possible to peruse data gathered by other birdwatchers.