American Birding Podcast



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!