Every year GaLTT does regular monitoring for the covenants it holds or manages. Monitoring involves walking the land and looking for any changes, positive or negative; we follow standardized routes, compare the state of the land to that recorded in a baseline ecological survey made when the land is first covenanted, and watch for human-caused trespass and/or damage or natural incursions such as invasive species that may need to be addressed or controlled.

As part of the process we note any birds or other animals seen during the monitoring process. For most of us this is pretty rudimentary—a banana slug! A robin! And… a little brown bird! Sometimes we hear lots bird calls but often those aren’t terribly helpful to people like me who aren’t serious birders and good at IDing species by sound only.

But while monitoring one of the covenants in a previous year, I tried out the Merlin smartphone app from Cornell University. As I’d recently discovered, it has a function allowing you to record audio—in realtime it gives you a list of the birds you’re hearing, highlighting individual birds when they are singing so you know which song matches which bird. It’s not always accurate, but I’ve found it to be pretty good based on songs I actually recognize, and you can play the recording back to compare with Cornell’s sample audio files of songs and calls (if you click a recorded bird it will take you to the first instance in the audio file).

The app made an amazing difference to what we were able to record during the covenant monitoring; previously the lists generally included a couple of bird sightings, but that time the list of birds seen or heard shot up to ten species. And I’ve recorded 15 species at a time in my own back yard. Who knew we had so many neighbours enjoying our property?

There are of course other apps that do similar things—one I’m looking forward to testing is called Song Sleuth, which lets you record and then gives you the three most likely species for the song.

Why not give Merlin or one of these other apps a try for International Dawn Chorus Day on May 7th? Apart from being useful monitoring tools, these apps are just plain fun to use, and I’m (finally!) beginning to tie the songs I’m hearing to specific birds. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll be able to recognize them without the app, and you will too.

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