Natural Perspectives: iCan't get enough of birding apps on iPad

I bought myself an iPad 2 about three weeks ago and became instantly addicted. I should point out that Vic and I are long-time PC people, not Apple people. Well, we used to be anyway.

Vic switched his desktop computer from a PC to Mac this year, so he's become a convert. But neither of us are iPhone people. We both have a Blackberry. For me, the Blackberry is just a tool. I use my Blackberry for email more than phone calls, but don't use apps on it to any great extent. The iPad 2 is a whole 'nother ball of wax.

I loved my iPad from the minute I opened it and began swiping the touch screen. I began downloading apps as fast as I could find them. Weather predictions, earthquake maps, navigation tools, gardening apps, recipe collections — you name it.

Then I found apps for reading books. After downloading free Kindle, Google Books, and Overdrive apps, I signed up for a library card from the Newport Beach Public Library. I learned how to check out books electronically onto my iPad. The Newport library has far more ebooks than the Huntington Beach Public Library.

I also downloaded many free books from Project Gutenberg, which has scads of old titles that are out of copyright. I'm currently rereading Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" on my iPad.

That book certainly helped shape my life as a conservationist when I read it for the first time during my college days. His espousal of a minimalist, non-materialistic lifestyle is one that would serve everyone well during these days of frantic consumerism as we spend our way through the days leading up to Christmas.

I became so enthralled with my iPad and what it would do that I began carrying it with me everywhere. I took it with me to Starbucks so I could read or do emails while sipping a venti mocha decaf. I took it with me to lunch at Fritzankotters on Warner Avenue to enjoy a sandwich. I took it with me to Izzy's Bagels in Fountain Valley to enjoy a breakfast bagel.

I leave my iPad on my nightstand so I can check the weather, news and earthquake maps first thing in the morning. On some mornings, I stay in bed for a couple of hours, just reading. Oh my, I can't put the thing down.

And then I found apps for birding. I downloaded iBird and eBird, thinking that Vic would enjoy them. I had no idea that those apps would reignite my passion for birding and bird photography.

I learned how to upload my own bird photos to iBird. Last weekend, I joined the hordes of bird photographers at the Bolsa Chica walk bridge at the south parking lot. We were treated to the sight of brown pelicans diving for fish right in front of us. Click, click, click went dozens of shutters simultaneously.

Both birding apps have bird calls and songs installed. Vic has borrowed my iPad to take to the birding classes he teaches so he can play bird calls to his students. Either app can be used in the field to help identify birds as well. One keys in the features noted, and the app narrows down the possibilities of what species it might be.

The eBird app led me to the eBird website, which can be accessed from any computer. This site is run by the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. They created eBird in 2002 to encourage citizen scientists to log in their birding data.

Birders note the number of each species at a given site and enter it into an online form. I went to Carr Park this weekend and counted all of the birds there, logging in the data on my iPad while surrounded by hundreds of geese and ducks. The data went instantly to the eBird website and became available to anyone who had the eBird app.

As more and more birders have become involved with eBird, their app for the iPad and iPhone has become more useful. There are online bird lists at eBird for hotspots such as Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach Central Park, and the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. These lists are updated every time a birder enters in their sightings, which is nearly every day.

Using the eBird app, a birder can see what has been sighted at any given location within the past four weeks. One also can access historical data for the past 110 years. But for our area, records generally are available for only the past 30 years.

Another one of the uses of eBird is collection of historical data. As birders enter their historic birding records into the eBird website, the information becomes more valuable scientifically. Researchers can track movements of populations over time using the data.

I have kept birding records off and on since 1970. Out of curiosity, I wondered if I still had those records. Amazingly, I found them in the first place I looked. (That would particularly amaze you if you saw the chaos of my home office.) I plan to enter my sightings from when I first began birding in Colorado. Those birding records date back nearly 42 years!

I have also begun logging in our current bird sightings from our yard, which I can do on the iPad while sitting in my comfy rocking chair or even while outdoors.

Currently, only eight other people from Orange County are logging in their yard bird records. One of them is Steve Morris of Huntington Beach, who holds this year's record for most bird species seen from his yard with 138 species. He also has submitted the most daily yard records with 93 checklists.

Morris is No. 2 in the county on eBird in terms of number of bird species sighted, with 258 species. Dwight Murdy is currently first, with 260 bird species sighted this year in Orange County. Dick and Pat Cabe of Huntington Beach are also highly ranked on both numbers of species sighted and number of checklists submitted.

So far, Vic has not logged his sightings into eBird. I'm going to encourage him to do so, because the more data that goes into eBird, the more valuable the records become to science. But he's going to have to log in his data from his own computer. He isn't getting his hands on my iPad.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach environmentalists. They can be reached at

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