When I first started on the walks with Miles I was only able to identify the most common birds. It amazed me how he could identify so many birds by birdsong and by simple observations such as the flash of the white tail feathers of the juncos as they took off. I found I simply was not seeing enough and remembering what I saw to build up the knowledge to identify them. So I got a camera and started taking photos so I could look at them later. Then came the problem of telling them apart e.g a white-throated sparrow versus a white-crowned sparrow.
Looking at technology to help I settled on the Audubon Birds app on my iPhone. For each bird there are photos, range charts, multiple birdsongs, and a description. On some of the photos it shows the bird’s unique features.
Other features I found very helpful include a tab called similar birds. For any bird, you can click this tab and see similar birds for comparative purposes. Another feature I use frequently is the “Find Birds with eBird”. If you select a location like Toronto you can see all the birds reported over the last several weeks and where they were spotted. You can also select a bird like the snowy owl and see where it was spotted in the area. The locations are always shown on a map that you can enlarge to get a more precise location. It also has tabs that show “hotspots” and “notable and rare” sightings. You can also zero in on a particular spot (e.g. High Park) and see recent bird sightings there. Because the phone has GPS you can record the precise location where you saw a bird and add it to lists like a Life List or Toronto birds. Of the 7 birding apps on my iPhone this is the one I use the most.
John Burns (birding photos at johnburns6 on Instagram)