Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.
Issue link: http://bg.aba.org/i/753549
39 November 2016 | Birder's Guide to Gear technical know-how required to effectively use them, however, makes them less attrac- tive for widespread use than other options. Smartphone Apps A number of smartphone GPS apps are available for iOS, Android, and Windows phone platforms. App cost and functionality vary widely. Many apps are useful for both domestic and international use (including all of the apps mentioned in this article), making them effective for travel near and far. Free apps allow the user to mark and share waypoint coordinates via email or text, but they often don't provide much else in the way of route-tracking or way- point storage. Among these apps, Google Maps is probably the most popular, but its maps require a cellular connection to ren- der—something that may or may not be available while in the field. Several low-cost apps, such as MotionX GPS for iOS ($1.99), offer downloadable maps that can be used in the field without requiring a cellular connection. This re- quires forethought in terms of field prepa- ration to ensure maps are on your phone when you need them. MotionX GPS al- lows for excellent route-tracking and way- point marking. These data can be shared via email or text while in the field with an available cellular connection. More high-powered apps, such as Gaia GPS ($19.99), are available with a higher price tag. These apps allow for a wide array of downloadable map layers, including de- tailed USGS topographic maps that are excel- lent for backcountry use. These maps are of the same quality as those you would down- load for a handheld GPS unit and, when coupled with advanced route-marking, can provide nearly the same user experience as a handheld GPS unit. Essentially, this equates to spending a mere $20 to get some- thing that is very similar in field functional- ity to a several-hundred-dollar GPS unit. Many people are under the false impres- sion that if you are out of cellular range, your phone's GPS will not work. The GPS chip within a cell phone allows it to func- tion even in airplane mode, and the GPS function in a cell phone can be as accurate as, or even more accurate than, a handheld GPS unit. One of the main issues with us- ing a cell phone as a primary GPS is battery life. You'll likely want to invest in an exter- nal battery backup/charger if you plan to be out for several days or do not want to run your phone in airplane mode while in the field. For those of us who also eBird in the field, consider that you'll be using your phone for that activity, too, and plan for extra battery drain as a result. Once you get home, if you want to make pretty maps based on the waypoints you gather, your options will be more lim- ited using smartphone apps than with a handheld GPS unit. Smartphone apps are better suited for unit-to-unit sharing or in - dividual waypoint marking, and it is this feature that has a distinct advantage over handheld GPS units. GPS for Reporting and Sharing Sightings My Varied Thrush anecdote is a good ex- ample of reporting a bird sighting that could have been greatly enhanced with a smartphone app. If I'd had MotionX GPS on my phone at the time, I could have marked the waypoint and instantly texted it to my friend. With a single click on his end, he could have navigated himself di- rectly to the last known whereabouts of the bird. He might have missed it anyway (a real possibility when chasing rarities), but he would have been in a much better posi- tion to successfully find it. Sharing bird sightings on listservs or Facebook pages has been significantly enhanced with the use of Google Maps and similar smartphone apps. In May of this year, a Curlew Sandpiper showed up in a flooded field on the west side of Toledo, Ohio, during the Biggest Week in American Birding festival. My friend took out her iPhone, clicked the Google Maps link in the Twitter feed, and the "Google Lady" navigated us to the spot with ease. All we had to do was jump out of the car and scan the flock to find the bird. GPS for Record-Keeping Many of us keep field notebooks or eBird checklists to document sightings during birding adventures. Whether we're in our familiar patch or visiting an entirely new place, having a GPS on hand to mark in- teresting geographic features or interest- ing birds is a great way to augment field Sharing waypoints in MotionX requires just a few taps of your smartphone screen. The user can share via Facebook, Twitter, or email and can even include a photo. Recipients or viewers can easily view and/or navigate directly to the waypoint with a few clicks on their end. Using Gaia GPS or handheld GPS units, you can download high-quality topographic maps for field use. Trails are not as well marked on these maps, but Earth features are. When birding and hiking in a mountainous landscape, good topographic maps can help win the day when it comes to navigating tricky terrain.