Under the Open Sky: There’s an App For That

By Kim Mason
For The Chronicle
If Santa put a new smart phone or tablet under your Christmas tree this year, you may be so spellbound with the colorful screen that you won’t even pick up an old fashioned newspaper to read my column this week.
Heck, if you’ve got one of those new-fangled things I’d be surprised if you even knew what the weather was outside — that is unless you just looked it up on a weather app.
How do I know? Because I’m a fellow addict.

In fact, last week I spent so much time posting my fish photos to Facebook while fishing, guide Scott Gibson had to ask, “Are you Facebooking or fishing?”
Before I had my own smart phone, I used to make fun of fishermen with phones stuck to their ears while they were on the river — actually, I still make fun of them. Talk to your wife at home, for heaven’s sake. Besides, don’t you think she hears the background noise of roaring motors and shouts of “Fish on!?” Who do you think you’re fooling?

A Northern Shrike perches above the bird feeders at Chronicle outdoors writer Kimberly Mason's house. This bird is usually a tough bird to spot, because he remains in stealth mode as he seeks his songbird prey. But if you know what a Shrike sounds like (such as through an iBird application on your smart phone), you may be able to narrow down your search and find one. The Northern Shrike sounds much like a Nuthatch at times, at other times another innocent tweeteldy songbird.

But whenever I see an angler holding his phone in the palm of his hand, peering into the screen, I know what he’s doing. He’s checking the water levels, or sending a photo of his latest catch to his buddies or texting his wife that he stopped to visit with a sick friend and will be late getting home (texting doesn’t have background noise to get you in trouble).
Those are guys that have learned to use their wireless devices to enhance their outdoors experiences, as I have with mine.
Don’t leave your phone at home, take it with you.
I have a few favorite applications (aka apps) that I use while I’m in the great outdoors.

Song Sparrow or Fox Sparrow? It's hard to tell the difference between the two unless you are an expert birder. The experts will often use not just their eyes, but their ears to tell the difference between similar species. The iBird app for smart phones and tablets will play the songs for both birds to help you decide which one is which.

iBird West
The iBird app is hands down the best birding app on the market.
I’ve tried three or four others, but none of them have the full range of features and ease of use that this app has.
There are drawings and photos included — sometimes up to a dozen or more different views of each bird — fun facts, similar species and (my favorite use) recorded songs.
Did you hear an owl hooting in the far off woods and don’t know what kind it might be? You can listen to the whole list of owl sounds to narrow it down.
I have the iBird West guide, which retails at $9.99 and worth every penny. It’s on sale right now for $4.99 at the iBird.com website.

FishTales Log Book
I have been disappointed with most fishing journals until I came across this one: FishTales.
This app may be limited to iOS devices only at the moment, but it’s worth waiting for if you have a Windows or Android device. Surely they’ll come out with your version soon.
Log in the day, the place on Google maps, the lure, a picture of the fish, size and weight and any other notes you want to make. You can search through your fishing trips by location, fish, lure or the fisherman that caught it (yes, you can log in your buddies catch too).
It also links in to Facebook, which will save time on the water as you log the catch and post it at the same time.
It retails for $2.99. Find it at http://appfinder.lisisoft.com/app/fishtales-fishing-log-book.html.

Bring Outdoors Indoors
Maybe it’s too cold or wet to head outdoors right now, or maybe you’re missing the springtime sounds of singing birds and babbling brooks. Take a five minute vacation with the Naturespace app.
You can listen to a crackling campfire, soft rain, waves pounding the beaches or any one of the six sounds that come with this free application.
There is even a sleep timer to allow you to fall asleep under the influence of the sounds of nature, a great way to help you dream yourself into your next outdoor adventure.

More Outdoors Out There
Whatever your interest — hiking, biking, climbing, skiing, hunting, birding or fishing — there’s an app for that.
Read reviews before you spend your money, and make sure to note when the application was debuted and when it was last updated — the best apps are tested over time and improved with each update.
If you have an outdoors app that you have found useful, drop me a line via email or text and let me know. I’m always looking for a new app to increase my knowledge or enjoyment of the great outdoors.
Happy new year, everyone. Stay safe, keep everything dry except your fishing lines and don’t forget to write.

Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer and photojournalist. Visit her website at almostdailynews.com, find her on Facebook (Kimberly Mason – The Chronicle), call 269-5017 or email kim@almostdailynews.com.