Birdwatcher’s Diary – Journaling the Easy Way

Total Score:  28

As a newly hatched (pun intended) birder, I do not have any preconceived notions about how to collect sightings.   From the research I have done, I can tell you that I find the Birdwatcher’s Diary  for iPhone or iPad app easy to use and frankly fun. I cannot even imagine doing this on paper.  On the other hand, more appropriately, can see the advantages of an electronic version.  They say the best camera is the one you have with you.  I would think we could easily make the case that the best bird journal is the one you have with you – and since my iPhone is a constant companion, it inspires me to collect.  There was a major update in August 2012 which added a lot of new functionality.

  Price Rating = 5     $12.99 for iPhone and $14.99 for iPad.   Before you go into sticker shock over the cost, consider that it is comparably priced for similar birding software and would be approximately the cost of a paper journal.  For those reasons, I gave it the highest rating.  The developer did not clutter it with ads, which could have reduced the price.  I consider that a positive.   If that wasn’t enough, 50% of the profit is donated to charities related to birds and bird preservation.

Ease of Use Rating = 4     Some features are incredibly easy to use and some take a little more training.    There is an extensive online manual.  I suppose it is logical to assume that a full-functioned app will take a little while to learn all the features.  It is now optimized for the iPad.  I prefer to use the iPhone for capture and the iPad for reading the manual.  You may have other preferences.  What this app does really well is offer you support.  You can watch the video to learn how to use it and you have a good manual for reference as well.

 Readability Rating = 5     The fonts are easy to use.   Sometimes with long bird names, the font gets a little smaller, but it is still good.

 Will You Use It Rating = 5     If you are a birder, you will enjoy using this app and seeing not only your lists, but also the maps associated with your sightings.

 Downsides Rating =  0     The only downside I found was I lost some data when I imported a list for my state.  I am not taking off any points for that because if I had read the manual before I got started (always a good thing) I would have downloaded the list earlier and not lost anything.

   Consumer Review Rating = 4     There are close to 30 reviews at the time of this writing and are almost all positive.

  Why Do You Need This App Rating = 5     From a birders perspective, you could identify the birds and jot down all the pertinent info into a paper journal.  You can do that in this app as well.  You could mark the general coordinates for your sighting – the app can give you the longitude and latitude (assuming a WI-Fi connection).  The app allows you to roll that data up into a spreadsheet and export it to you PC and avoids rekeying.  For those features alone, I would suggest that you need this app.

It might also be a way to introduce children to birding.  Most kids love technology and the ability to observe nature and capture the results on an iPhone seem almost irresistible.

How does it work? 

As I have mentioned before, this is a full-featured app, I will cover the most basic of the features.

  1. When you start an outing, the first thing you do is set the location.  You can choose from locations you have already visited or click the plus button to create a new one.  If you create a new location, you can fill in the basic info fields and if you have GPS abilities and cellular coverage, click capture coordinates.  If you don’t have a connection, you can choose to find your location on a map.
  2. Now that you have your location, you can report a sighting by tapping on the name of the bird.  There are, of course, hundreds of names of birds.  This software has made searching easy by giving you added functionality on the alpha sort screen on the right of the screen.  If you click “H” for example, it will come up with sub-headings of HA, HE, HO, HU, IB, JA, JL to help you narrow down your choice.  The birds are sorted alphabetically by last name (example:  Crane, Sandhill), but you do have the option to change it to first name if that works better for you.
  3. When you see the bird you want, you just click on the space beside the bird and a pair of green binoculars appears with a number beside it.  To increase that number, you just tap it again.  You barely have to take your eyes off the bird.  If you saw a flock of birds you don’t want to tap 15 or 20 times.  You can tap the calculator button to add the quantity you saw.  You can also use this calculator to reduce the number of birds you saw if you clicked too many times.
  4. If you only hear the bird you can click beside the bird name to record the sighting and then quickly tap the binoculars again and an editable screen comes up with a check box for “heard only”.  If you click that box an ear icon appears.  If you then see the bird, you can click on the ear again to uncheck that box.   You can also use this feature to delete a sighting.  Also on the edit screens you can see sighting notes.  Tapping in that field brings up a keyboard.  You can type any notes you like, or to save you some time, you can click on the insert phase button to see a list of frequent phrases you might likely use.  It also allows you to add your own phrases and reorder the phrases.
  5. The normal display mode is the “All” mode, but if you click the green binoculars at the top you can see only the ones you have seen on that outing.  This is handy if you aren’t seeing any new species, just increasing the numbers of the ones you’ve seen.  If a new bird shows up, just change back to “All.”
  6. The red binoculars are for the birds you have not seen.  This comes in handy when you start with a target list of birds.
  7. Using the file folder option at the bottom of the screen, you have various options for saving your data.  At the end of each sighting event, you can archive the sightings permanently to your iPhone.  Then you can clear them for the next time.  If you want to see these sightings you can hit the recall button to see a list. The app can also display a map with the exact locations of your sightings.
  8. You can also create life lists, monthly lists or create your own criteria.
  9. You can also output this data in multiple formats and even in the specs needed for eBird.  Reading the manual will help you choose the best format for you.  With the updated in August 2012, you can now upload to eBird while in the field.
  10. You can also select specific lists for birds in a state or a country.
  11. You can learn more about these features by watching this video.
  12. New functionality added in August 2012 also includes support for cloud storage using Dropbox, support for Bluetooth keyboards, ability to display multiple photos and more prompts and warnings to help you access features. A good product just got better.

An extensive online manual can be downloaded to iBooks or other generic eReaders.  That is the handiest way to view the manual.  It is available in the app, which is good for a quick look-up, but the ePub format presents nicely and gives you the ability to search.

During my testing period, I did not explore all the features.  The ones I found delighted me, and I look forward to learning more about this full-featured app.  Please forgive me if I didn’t use the appropriate birder language.  I am new at this and did my best.  Some of my enthusiasm for the app certainly comes out of my excitement about my new hobby.  If having the app made it more enjoyable, isn’t that what this is all about?

One more caveat.  This app does not include photos or bios for the birds.  I did find this feature in more expensive birding apps.  For a new person like me it would have been handy.  After a bit of trial and error I actually found that some Roger Tory Peterson printed books served me well.

Devices:   Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.  It requires iOS 3.1 or later or the iPhone version and 4.0 for the iPad.    It was developed by Steven’s Creek Software.



5 thoughts on “Birdwatcher’s Diary – Journaling the Easy Way”

    1. It should, but I just tried to set the LAT/LON for New Zealand and I couldn’t get it to work. I’m probably doing something wrong, or maybe the LAT/LON finder just knows I’m not in New Zealand.My suggestion would be to contact the app developers to confirm it. They are really nice people and would be happy to help you.

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