Mobile Mashup

Birders and naturalists have a plethora of options to enter their observation in the field on mobile devices. Having switched over from paper to mobile a few years ago, I have extensively used eBird in the past three years, but also I worked with other apps such as Bird Journal, ObsMapp and iGoTerra and recently Birder’s Diary Mobile. eBird was my main go to app for birds and iNaturalist for other nature observations. In addition to these apps several other apps are available from Google Play and iTunes that enable users to record observations in the field. This review will focus on six, free apps that birders (and naturalists) may want to try out. These applications are:

  1. Bird Journal
  2. Birder’s Diary Mobile
  3. eBird
  4. iGoTerra
  5. iNaturalist
  6. ObsMapp (ties in with Observation.org)

iNaturalist is included in this review, although many birders are not likely to use it to store their avian observations. iNaturalist requires (or prefers) its users to attached photos with each observation. Many birders do take photos, but no to the extent that iNatrualist wants us to.

Approaches to entering observations

When using these apps, users will notice quickly two distinct approaches on how observations can be entered. One approach is focused on the location and the second approach the focus is on the species. In the focus on “location”, users first select the location with an associated checklist and taxonomy. Once this is setup, you can start entering observations via a location specific checklist. Apps following this general approach are:

  • Bird Journal
  • Birder’s Diary
  • eBird

In focus on “species” users basically type in species name, count and associate a location with the observation. The location can be a GPS coordinate or a birding location such as a park,  nature preserve or other area. Apps following this general approach are:

  • iGoTerra
  • iNaturalist
  • ObsMapp

Feature comparison

The table below provides an overview of the main features of all the six reviewed apps. Most apps support more than just birds and support different bird taxonomies and frequently provide life lists, access to species sightings and maps. Interesting features include:

  • Bird Journal: All observations whether entered on the desktop or via the mobile app, will always be synced between both platforms
  • Birder’s Diary mobile: A vertical alphabetical index-scroll bar for quick jump to a species makes data entry very easy, especially for very long checklists
  • eBird: With version 2.0 users must download “bird packs” for a region
  • iNaturalist: In the field ID of all species (assuming you have an internet connection)
  • iGoTerra: Search by banding code
  • ObsMapp: On the fly, find interesting observations nearby

Several of these apps have been around for a few years and feature wise it shows. Bird Journal, iGoTerra and ObsMapp all provide ample advanced functions and allow users to record more than just a count or a comment. Sex, behavior, photos, photo comments, multimedia, etc. Obviously, this is not something all users would use for each observation, but the possibilities are there.

Mobile Bird Journal Birder’s Diary eBird iGoTerra Pocket Observation.org iNaturalist
Version 5.1.51 1.12 2.0.6 1.5.2.1 7.26.5 1.14.7
Year Released 29-May-18 21-Dec-19 12-Nov-19 23-Nov-19 7-Nov-19 6-Dec-19

Taxonomy Lists

Birds Clements 2018 Clements 2019 Clements 2019 Clements 2019 IOC 2019 Catalogue of life iBio
IOC 10/2019 IOC 2019
AOU 2018
SACC 2018
Other Taxonomic Lists Many others mostly focused on UK and former British colonies Many other mostly focused on the America’s N/A Worldwide coverage of all living things Worldwide coverage of all living things. Worldwide coverage of all living things

Checklists

Taxonomic order sort yes yes yes n/a n/a n/a
Alphabetical sort yes yes no n/a yes n/a
Alphabetical scroll bar no yes no no no n/a
Smart Search by Name yes yes yes yes yes yes

Locations

Offline / User Defined Locations yes yes yes yes yes yes
eBird Hot spots after initial setup yes yes yes yes special projects

Data Entry

Tap to increase count no yes yes no yes n/a
Ease of adding count not easy very easy easy easy very easy not possible
Lat/long per sighting yes no no yes yes yes
Specific protocols no no yes

traveling & stationary

no yes

route & point count

no
Attached & Upload Photos no no no no yes yes
Map no no yes yes yes yes
Comments yes yes yes yes yes yes
Other observation information such a sex, breeding code, etc. yes

user defined fields

no yes yes yes yes

Reporting

Life lists yes no yes no yes no
List per period no no yes no yes no

Miscellaneous

Sync with cloud yes no yes yes yes yes
Sync with desktop application yes via email n/a n/a n/a n/a
Species information no no yes yes no yes

Field Usage

After having worked with the apps indoors for a while, they were tested in the field. Running multiple apps at the same time (iNaturalist was omitted), the differences and ease of data entry were quickly noticeable. Doing basic data entry, just species and count, was easiest with Birder’s Diary mobile, eBird and ObsMapp. Particularly Birder’s Dairy Mobile alphabetical scroll bar made data entry easy, I think it saved time in the long run as it is handy to jump to a species with a single tap. Both eBird and ObsMapp worked well too as all pertinent information (species and count) are on the same screen. Bird Journal and iGoTerra both required more time to enter the observations and count as this information is on different screen.

Once in the field the number of new species seen often decreases quickly. Both eBird and Birder Diary have the option to collapse your checklist to just species seen. This feature is very handy if new species are far and few in between. Having a short list of species to add new counts (just tap the screen) was very easy. eBird’s slight disadvantage is that you must tap the + sign on the left column to increase the count. With Birder’ Diary mobile, just click on the name. Having a larger area to increase the count is advantageous.

Bird Journal, iGoTerra and ObsMapp all have the capability to record the exact latitude/longitude for each observation. For the casual birder this may not be important, but when doing surveys of any kind this info will be of great value. However, it is fun to see where you saw, for example all Carolina Chickadees during a walk on a map. These apps also allow you to link observations to a single location such as a park. In addition, these three apps allow the user to enter more specific information regarding each sighting of a species. It sets them apart from the other reviewed applications.

Both Bird Journal and eBird “filter” the checklists to a species location. With eBird this is done automatically, but you will need to set it manually in Bird Journal. The latter has the disadvantage that if you have not birded at a specific location, you will use a much longer checklist. Over time, this list will become be more specific for the location you bird.

After the birding trip was completed, all apps, except Birder’s Diary allow the user to upload data to a central database in the cloud for storage ans syncing. With Birder’s Diary you will email yourself and import the checklist into the desktop application.

Taping the screen

After various field tests, I was curious to know how many times I need to tap the screen to enter a count. In this test I determine how many times a user needs to interact with the screen on a mobile device to enter a species (Bald Eagle) for which 2 birds were observed. For all apps I start a checklist for the location you are birding; in other words, the taxonomies have been downloaded, GPS is on and has acquired satellites, lists have been filtered to the location and we are ready to enter observed birds.  The table below shows that Birder’s Diary mobile and eBird required the fewest taps and iGoTerra the most.

App

Bald Eagle Tap Test

Typical Range for number of taps for other species

Notes
Bird Journal

6

5-7

This app uses a dial to increase the count. This is a bit cumbersome to use.

Also, included are 2 extra steps to close the observation window to return to the checklist.

Birder’s Diary Mobile

3

2-5

Click B and the app jumps to all species starting with B.  Depending on the font size you are 8 – 20 species are shown on the screen. These species require only 2 taps.
eBird

4

2-5

Type in BA and app lists BAEA as first species. In version two 8 species are shown on top of the lists so those would require only 2 taps
iGoTerra

9

8-9

Includes a step to close the observation window. Using banding code cuts down on the interactions
iNaturalist

n/a

n/a

ObsMapp

6

3-6

Keeps track of your latest observations in a short pick list cutting down on the screen interactions

If the pick list on the screen get too long, users need to scroll down, thus increasing the number of taps on the screen.

In Summary

Given all the options for mobile data entry in the file, users have their pick of apps. The available apps are either location of species focused. In the field both the location checklist and the species approach work well. Testing showed that Birder’s Diary mobile, eBird and ObsMapp are among the easier applications to use. Birder’s Diary mobile, the new kid on the block, makes a strong case for basic and speedy data entry in the field for birds and other species. For the more advanced globe trotting users wanting go beyond birds and add more details, iGoTerrra and ObsMapp are the leaders. Bird Journal’s user defined fields and seamless syncing with your desktop are a plus for this application.

PS eBird’s mobile app V2, reviewed here, is in some ways a step backwards from version 1.9. The need for bird packs, slow start up and required use of GPS haven’t done this app a favor.

Last Update 01/01/2020