Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=185212
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WildObs Screen Shot

Photo courtesy of iTunes App Store

The WildObs apps allow users to document wildlife encounters in nature. Track what's been seen nearby and when it was last observed - all on your iPhone. 


iPhone app for wildlife observations creates a nature buff network

by Janelle Schroeder
April 21, 2011


You’re biking along the lakeshore path when you spot a tall, lean bird with gray-blue feathers. Excited to find that a great blue heron has returned for the summer, you take out your iPhone, take a photograph and upload your encounter for your network to see. Then you track down facts about the bird on your iPhone.

Wildlife observation has gone high-tech with the creation of an iPhone application that allows even the most novice naturalist to track encounters and learn more about wildlife.

Adam Jack, the Colorado creator of WildObs, said that he launched the app after it dawned on him that people who love wildlife may not have the most social personalities. After all, wildlife observation requires an appreciation for isolation. But with the help of technology, nature buffs can now communicate with other nature observers through the help of the iPhone.

“It’s such a serendipitous thing. When people see things they share it with their neighbors or friends, but it doesn’t go very far,” said Jack.

People will tell their neighbors or friends, but the app allows its users to share with a network of people who share the same interests, according to Jack.

Currently there are three apps, all free from the App Store on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad that nature lovers can download. All three products allow observers to record wildlife encounters along with the time and location where they occurred. Take a photo, and it uploads to your wilderness portfolio.

Jack started with the WildObs Observer app that allows users to record what they see and take a photograph. It works offline, which is good for people who live or observe outside a mobile service area. The app does record a GPS location and the information uploads to a website. Jack said that this is the “lightweight” version, for people who are recording for their own use.

“I use WildObs Observer as a quick way to remember my chance encounters with wildlife, mainly around my neighborhood,” said Doug Hays, who downloaded the app for his iPhone.

The related WildObs Lookout 2.0 is for people who want to know about wildlife, but aren’t building a database, said Jack. He considers this more of a social application that allows users to find recent wildlife encounters around them and see what observation locations are available in their area.

“Some people like to post, but a larger percentage just want to consume,” said Jack. He estimated that over 10,000 people have downloaded at least one of the apps since their creation.

The last of the three apps, WildObs Naturalist 2.0, is for the most serious nature observers. Users who report a lot of encounters can use the app to re-explore their lists of what they would like to see, and what they have seen in the past.

Jack also teamed with the National Wildlife Federation and its Wildlife Watch program. The program is designed to help “citizen naturalists jumpstart their nature-watching experience,” according to the National Wildlife Federation’s website.

The app provides its users with a monthly list of the most popular species observed and the top 10 places where observations were reported. In early spring, the most popular species was the white-tailed deer and the top reporting location was Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Reviews on the iTunes App Store are generally favorable. “Easily allows you to record your wildlife encounters with details for a wonderful keepsake,” wrote Jeanne P. Another reviewer wrote “the best thing for me is that I am now so much more aware of the wildlife around me.”

To learn more about the WildObs app, go to wildobs.com.