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iPhone application from Audubon Guides helps name that bird

Ah, nature. It’s so full of whatchamacallits.

For many people, no labels are necessary when a flower catches the eye or a bird flits overhead. It could be a cuckoo or it could be a sparrow. It’s background.

For others, the problem isn’t lack of interest, but memory. By the time most of us are back home flipping through a bird book, our minds will have played tricks with the plumage. He is sure it was an oriole; she is just as sure it was a woodpecker.

A new iPhone application from Audubon Guides can settle the dispute. But before reading the obituary for printed guides, publishers should be assured this new app is no replacement for a good book, particularly the exquisitely illustrated and written works by David Sibley.

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Beyond speed, the brilliance of the new North American birds phone app is the audio. For most entries, from albatross to wren-tit, you can listen to the bird calls. Listening to the audio of woodpeckers is much easier than figuring out what a print author means by a “low chup, and an excited zeeee chuppity chup.”

The phone photos are good, but unlike a good bird book, the app does not necessarily illustrate differences between sexes or between juvenile and adult, never mind providing under-wing perspectives.

Though the program might supplant field guides, which would you rather drop in a marsh: an iPhone or a paperback? The Audubon series that brought us the bird program also offers apps for mammals, trees and wildflowers for $9.99 each. Also available: regional and state apps that cost less, including a California wildflowers program for $4.99.

When an interesting bird flies by, I’ll use the Audubon phone app. If I see a bear, I’ll look it up later.

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-- Emily Green


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