Sunday, March 3, 2013

Review: Larkwire - Water Birds of North America iPhone App

We've already reviewed Larkwire products on two previous occasions, but as long as they keep approaching us about new releases, we'll keep trying them out and sharing our thoughts. Our most recent review was in regard to their native iPhone app for learning birdsong, "Land Birds of North America", which was the first native app they ever produced. This time they're back with a companion app, "Water Birds of North America", covering a huge number of birds that were missing from the other. "Water Birds" is used here as a catch-all term, which in this case includes waterfowl, loons, grebes, wading birds, rails, cranes, shorebirds, gulls, and terns… Tricky groups for which voice is particularly useful, and sometimes necessary for making an identification.

The underlying app is essentially the same as for "Land Birds", so I won't go into nearly as much detail as in the last review, or retread ground I've already covered. The only real difference is in the species covered, and I'm super glad to have this app in addition to the other.

Living along the southern coast, winter means shorebirds and waterfowl are EVERYWHERE. We're both pretty decent with shorebird identification, but the problem is that, finding them on expansive mudflats, we can't always get close enough to see them in as much detail as we'd like. Ducks we can usually see well enough in our scope, but when they appear in overwhelming numbers it's not always feasible to examine every individual. In these cases, voice is a nifty tool for helping parse what's out there.

Some species pairs are just tricky, though. For instance, I've always wanted to learn how to differentiate between short- and long-billed dowitchers. (I know that sounds a little like when Woody Allen's character in Small Time Crooks says that he always wanted to learn how to spell Connecticut). Well, now I have no excuse. I can dial them up in Larkwire and have the app quiz me repeatedly until they're drilled so deeply in my brain that I'll dream in dowitcher.

Like in "Land Birds", "Water Birds" provides handy mnemonics and sound descriptions for each species. My favorite is the excellently evocative description for Wilson's Snipe: "Contact call is a tearing skaip; resembles the sound of a boot being withdrawn from a muddy path." And sure enough, it does. If/when I hear a Wilson's Snipe someday, I'll have no problem placing it because I've made an association between sound and bird that I'm not likely to forget. 

A sample of the rails the user can be tested on

The same group of rails after clicking the info button at the bottom of the screen, allowing you to view
descriptions of each bird's vocalizations

I also appreciate the breadth of sounds provided for each species. Shorebirds, which I'm unlikely to see on their breeding grounds in the arctic anytime soon, have contact calls included, in addition to their songs. And ducks, like Mallard, Gadwall, and Wood Duck have separate calls for males and females, and the app tests users on each sex separately. This really helps you appreciate the diversity in sounds and helps you make more specific identifications, letting you judge the context in which the vocalizations are made.

Available vocalizations for Solitary Sandpiper. Note that the app includes both songs and calls, with some
geographic distribution thrown in for good measure

Many duck species include male and female vocalizations separately
The bottom line is, if you're interested in learning to identify water birds by voice, I strongly recommend giving this app a shot. For more information visit the Larkwire website, or check out our previous, more comprehensive reviews of their products (here and here). Its super fun and easy to use, and since I've been using it, I've definitely made identifications that I wouldn't have been able to make before.

No comments:

Post a Comment