Whether heading outdoors for a weekend adventure, midday stroll, or unplanned backyard break, many people make the choice to leave their phones off or behind to fully immerse themselves in their natural surroundings. It makes sense, having the temptation of checking the newest Instagram post, knowing whether your boss finally got back to you, or figuring out who’s around for dinner next Saturday night can certainly take away from being present, but what about all the ways our phones can help facilitate our relationship with the natural world around us?
I know, it sounds counterintuitive, go grab your phone so that you can connect more with nature. To be perfectly honest, I was skeptical about taking my phone with me on walks but the more I began to think of my phone less as a phone and more like an extremely convenient pocket guide, the more comfortable I became using it while I was hiking. Now, it helps me with identifying new plants and animals, finding cool new trails to explore, and keeping an eye out for unusual sightings. Not everyone will enjoy having their phones with them while they are out exploring, and not everyone will love the same apps, but if you are someone who finds yourself wanting to keep track of the things you are seeing, explore new areas, and know what you can find nearby, here are some pretty cool apps to consider downloading for your next outdoor adventure.
Merlin Bird ID and eBird
Merlin Bird ID is an app designed to help with all things related to bird identification. Developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this app will help you determine the bird you are trying to identify based on the sounds it makes, its physical features, and the area where you are seeing it! You can download specific bird lists depending on what part of the country you are in, which means that the list is accessible even while you are disconnected from other features on your phone. Recently, there has been an update to the app that allows you to take a photo of the bird you are trying to identify so that Merlin can suggest possible species that your image could be by using a database of other bird photos and birds found in your area. Merlin is able to make such specific suggestions by tapping into another program called eBird.
I like to think of eBird as the iNaturalist for birds. It’s a tool that allows you to record observations and see what birds other eBird community members have been seeing near you. You can share your lists with friends through the app and keep track of who is seeing what, where. You can upload photos if you want, but the majority of bird sightings do not require photos. Sometimes the app requires photos if you make an unusual sighting. If you are planning a birding trip ahead of time, there is an option to print out checklists based on observations from people who have already been birding at the location you are visiting.
eBird is a great way to keep track of the birds that you’ve seen throughout your life and helps keep scientist on top of tracking bird populations at different times throughout the year!
All of the trails offered via this app are uploaded by community members and often have suggestions on routes to take and how strenuous the walk or hike is. There are also options for application members to rate the walks on a scale from 0 to 5 stars and leave comments to help others determine whether or not these hikes are a good match for them. Similarly to eBird and iNaturalist, All Trails allows you to document the places you visit and keep a running list of your walks. Not only can you keep a list, but you can even record your walks to keep track of the miles you traveled and what pace. You can also create lists of walks that you would like to do and check them off as you explore them!
Between learning about the flora and fauna of an area through iNaturalist, Merlin Bird ID, and eBird and keeping track of your hikes with All Trails, your phone can be a valuable resource to connect you with the natural world and help you to record your findings. There is certainly a benefit from completely cutting off, but if you are wanting to learn more and explore new areas, these apps can be really helpful. Not only are you learning more about the natural world, but with each observation, you add to a pool of data that can be used by community members, scientists and researchers to learn more about our planet and all that it has to offer!
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