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Non-birding Apps for Birders. Your Ideas?

What non-birding apps do you use while birding? In the most recent Tools of the Trade column (Birding, August 2015, pp. 58-61), I wrote about twelve categories of apps not intended for birding, but that are really handy in a birder’s mobile-device toolkit.

I’m sure I didn’t include all the ideas out there. So here we open the comments up for our readers’ suggestions. To get the discussion started, I’ll introduce two apps I didn’t include in the print article: Storm and MarineTraffic.

But first let me point out an alternative to the County Finder app mentioned in the print article. Drew Weber at BirdsEye reminded me that BirdsEye Hotspots (iOS, $4.99) tells you what county you are in, as well as the county of any eBird hotspot. It’s a less expensive alternative to County Finder. Note that this is not the “regular” BirdsEye app, but their dedicated hotspots app (

Here are two more ideas for non-birding apps for birders:


Storm ( (iOS, free) is a new app from the developers of Weather Underground. It’s a heavily graphical, live display with many optional layers of weather data: surface wind, jet stream wind, storm trajectory cones, live lightning strikes, and much more. I know weather apps are ho-hum, but Storm is a bit different and will likely set a new standard for highly visual, real-time weather apps.

This static screen capture doesn’t do Storm justice: the little arrows are animated to show the wind movement, as are the real-time lightning strikes and storm trajectory cones.


The second app is untested waters, but hang in there with me for a moment. The idea is an “AIS” app, which stands for Automatic Identification System. AIS is a live tracking system used to identify ships. Why would a birder care? As of March 2015 all commercial fishing vessels are required to have an AIS transponder. And where there are commercial fish boats, there are usually hordes of gulls … and maybe a jaeger or rare gull.

When I was birding in St. Augustine, Florida, I’d go to my shoreline scoping spots and hope to be lucky and time my visit with a nearshore fish- or shrimp-laden vessel. Ideally it would be returning to port, dragging hordes of noisy gulls in its wake. And that’s when I’d regularly get stellar views of nearshore jaegers.


mapBut I never knew ahead of time if a fishing boat would be in the area. So the idea is, with AIS now required and mobile-app accessible, one can check an AIS app ahead of time to see the position and course of the local fishing fleet. The recommended AIS mobile app is  MarineTraffic ( (iOS, Android, or Windows, about $4), which you can also access off your laptop for free. Cool eh? I’ll let you know if it works.

With MarineTraffic, you can set a filter to show fishing boats (here, orange), which usually have hordes of gulls and an occasional jaeger in tow as they return to port.

Please share some of your ideas for non-birding apps in the comments below!

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Diana Doyle

Diana Doyle

Diana Doyle writes the Tools of the Trade column in ABA’s Birding magazine, where you might have noticed that her hometown seems to change with every issue. That’s because she lives full-time aboard a 34-foot catamaran.
Diana Doyle

Latest posts by Diana Doyle (see all)

  • Derek

    How well does the BirdsEye Hotspots app work for determining the county? I have BirdsEye East, and used to change the bird list area function and its suggestion of where I am to determine which county I was in; however, I’ve noticed that it often gets “stuck” in a county when I’m driving, and often suggests that county as the one I’m in even if I’m a hundred miles down the road.

    • Diana Doyle

      From the folks at BirdsEye: On the hotspots app there is a little reload button that refreshes the data based on the current map view. If you’ve centered the map on your new location and press load, you will always be updated on the county you are in.

      • Diana Doyle

        And more: Depending on how long it is between when you re-open the app, it may or may not load your new location. We try to cache the hotspots for a short period of time so it is somewhat usable offline.

        • Derek

          Thank you Diana.

  • Eric

    The NOAA Buoy Data Reader App has low and high tide times for NOAA buoys on the east and west coast.

  • Here’s a couple I use routinely. All are Android, but there may be iOS versions available.

    Field Recorder – Another good audio recording app. It has some power features such as allowing you to choose which mic you want to use to record (did you know phones have multiple microphones), add boost, etc. The user interface is kind of crappy though.

    Back Country Navigator Pro – A hiking companion app that allows you to download data to use offline. It will also track your hike and will give you nice stats like miles traveled, altitude change, etc. Topographic maps will often show trails, dirt roads, etc. that do not show up on standard GPS maps. It won’t guide you (No, “Turn left on FSR 2099”), but it can be quite useful. Topographic maps typically have county lines on them as well.

    Boating HD – A marine navigation app that has some use even if you never leave land. This app allows you to see the underwater topography of large bodies of water as well as showing areas that areas that are mud flats at low tides. It also has a measuring tool that allows you to do things like check your distance from known objects.

    Marine Traffic – Similar to the above. It will tell you what large boats are around you. You can click on a boat and it will tell you how far away it is from your current location. I seawatch at a place that’s near several county lines and I’ve used this to train my eyes to know where a bird has to be before it crosses a county line.

    It may also be worth noting that there are decent prepaid Android phones that can be purchased and used without any plan (so basically like a small tablet) for very cheap. $50 or less. Many birding and non-birding apps can be used offline in some form. You can create offline eBird checklists and submit them when you have wifi, etc.

  • -Bill

    Please provide the specific author for each app. It is very difficult to identify the specific app being recommended when there are so many with similar titles. Even better, include the app’s website URL, as was done in the original article.

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