The Warbler Guide, published last year, was an incredible work of writing on the identification of North American wood-warblers. One of its stand-out features was how well integrated it was with online and digital content. Consequently, I was not terribly surprised when it was announced that they were going to be developing an app. However, I was still very much looking forward to seeing what such an app would look like and what new and innovative features they would include.
I was happy to find that the producers of The Warbler Guide had not failed to deliver. The Warbler Guide App is one of the most creative and exciting birding tools I have seen in a long time.
The layout is fairly ordinary as far as field guide apps are concerned. The main screen displays images of every ABA Area warbler. You can scroll through the different species.
One great thing about the app is the same as what was great about the book: huge numbers of photos. Making use of the extensive collection of photographs taken for the book, the app allows you to scroll through and view all the warblers from a number of different angles. Better yet, it also allows you to view the drawings of warbler undertails that appear in the original book.
If you select a particular warbler, you can view a general overview about the bird, as well as more photos, aging and sexing information, and range maps. Additionally, you can select similar species and the app will present you with side by side photos of confusing pairs.
One of the more interesting features of the app is the ability to sort through the warblers based on of range, season, and plumage. This, in essence, allows one to search for an unknown warbler by filling in plumage patterns, your location, and time of year. This isn’t entirely new, however, and actually reminds me a good deal of the Collins Guide app (for British and European birds) released not too long before the The Warbler Guide app.
While that particular feature may not be new, there is one which, at least to my knowledge, has never before appeared in a birding app: 3D models. One of the views of the warblers you can select is the 3D view, which, as the name suggests, allows you to view a three-dimensional model of a particular warbler. You can even rotate it to see it from all possible angles. This component to the app is really quite amazing and is something which I had never even considered before this. The uses of the 3D models are plentiful. For beginner birders, it is very useful as you can select a warbler that you think you saw and then rotate the model to the angle that you viewed it in. By doing this, you can be certain that you have identified the bird correctly. For advanced birders, the tool lets you study a warbler species from every angle allowing you to really become familiar with the bird.
Besides being able to view birds individually, you can also compare two warbler species in this view. Even better, if you rotate one of the comparison models, the app automatically rotates the second, meaning that you always view them from the same angles.
But the brilliance of the app is not restricted to allowing you to view physical field marks of warblers. Using the large library of warbler songs and calls that was created for the guide, the app allows you to listen to a huge selection of vocalizations (including, it is worth noting, nocturnal flight calls) for every warbler in the book. The book was also well known for its use of sonograms as a visual representation of song and was one of the first field guides to really utilize sonograms to their full potential. This was not lost in the app and the sonograms for each vocalization appear alongside the recording. This use of audio adds versatility to the app and truly makes it a great compliment to the guide.
The app is on the expensive side ($12.99, which is on the higher end of the price range for apps) but well worth it. The book did a great job of incorporating technology and the app made this even better. It complements the book perfectly and with the inclusion of the 3D models, innovates something of its own. Both the app and the book are fine examples of birding keeping abreast with advances of technology. The story of The Warbler Guide should be an example to other current and future field guides on how to modernize to fit a changing and increasingly technological world.