According to Apple's trademark catchphrase, there's an app for everything under the sun. Like many people, I use my smartphone throughout the day to stay organized, connected and entertained. Lately, I've even been using it to enhance my outdoor experiences. I've installed numerous apps, many of them free, that help me learn about and enjoy the natural world and facilitate my fieldwork for the CWC.
The first nature apps I discovered were the Audubon Guides. This series includes 23 different field-guide apps on birds, trees, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and mushrooms, just to name a few.
These field guides allow one to identify species by conducting a detailed search based on color, habitat, region, size and leaf shape or browsing by shape, family, common and scientific name.
Using a smartphone to enhance a natural experience can be fun and educational. The Compass and Leafsnap apps (shown above), as well as others, can be useful on a hike.
The apps have detailed descriptions, range maps, photos and sounds for each species. They also include reference materials and allow one to create and maintain sighting lists. The Audubon apps are available for various platforms including iPhone, iPad, Android, NOOK and Kindle, and they are often on sale for $0.99.
Leafsnap is another field guide app for identifying plants. This app allows one to take a photo of a leaf from a plant. The app then analyzes the leaf's shape and gives one a list of possible matches. One can also browse the database by leaf, fruit or flower to identify a plant. The app also includes quiz-type games that can hone one's plant-identification skills.
Map My Hike is an app which allows users to log their outdoor journeys using the GPS function on their device. With this app, users can plan and track a route and log their distance, time and calories burned. It also has a social component that allows one to share hikes with friends. The app syncs with an online account so users can see the maps of their hikes online, and it runs in the background so they can still talk, text, take photos and listen to music while logging a hike.
There are also various non-nature-specific apps that can be useful in the outdoors. The Flickr app for photo sharing allows one to use GPS information to geo-tag photos, so users can take a friend to see a beautiful wildflower they came across, knowing they will be able to find it again. There are also several flashlight, compass, map and even GIS apps available.
Using these apps while conducting a recent survey of one of the CWC preserves, I could identify plant species using Leafsnap and animal scat using Audubon Mammals. I could map out a proposed hiking trail with Map My Hike. I could take geo-tagged photos for my report using the Flickr app. And, perhaps most importantly, I could find my way back to the car using the compass app.
Don't get me wrong - there are still times when I want to disconnect, unplug and enjoy nature offline. But using these apps can be fun and educational, and they can enhance outdoor experiences. So don't hesitate to bring a device with you the next time you take a walk or hike in our watershed.
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a private nonprofit organization with a mission to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty, and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. To sign up for e-news updates, find out more information on watershed care or support CWC's conservation activities, visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166.