Using Technology to Get Closer to Nature
There are a variety of applications and websites available that can help you to identify plants, animals and more. Several of these apps contribute to citizen science projects that allow scientists and students alike to analyze and learn from your observations. Here are some of our favorite electronic resources in hopes that you will find them as fun and educational as we do.
iNaturalist– By CAS & NGS- iNaturalist can help you identify almost anything you can find in nature. It includes birds, plants, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects etc. It is part social media, part science tool. Users submit observations to a community of scientists and naturalists who can assist with identification. iNaturalist itself will generate suggestions of your observations which can then be verified by the community. You can include as little or as much information as you have making it very user friendly. If all you know is that you are seeing a plant that is what you can say. If you know the plant is a tree you can include that and if you know the tree is an evergreen you can include that as well. iNaturalist is designed to meet users where they are and builds a sense of community sharing. The Dyken Pond Center has an iNaturalist project which helps visitors find plants and animals when they visit the park. When you add your observations it helps others find what they are looking for by knowing where and when to look.
Merlin Bird ID– By Cornell Lab of Ornithology- This is our all-time favorite bird app. Answer 5 short easy questions about what you saw and Merlin will offer suggestions on identification including detailed pictures, sounds and range maps. Merlin cannot be beat for bird identification!
eBird– By Cornell Lab of Ornithology- eBird can be run on a phone or computer. Users document all of their bird sightings and submit their observations to one of the largest citizen science databases in the world. These observations can then be used to track migration and to find “hotspots” for viewing the species of your choice. If you want to know where and when birds will be in your neighborhood eBird is the tool for you!
BirdNET-By Cornell Lab of Ornithology- Sometimes you can hear birds but never get to actually see them making identification frustratingly difficult. Cornell’s new prototype app records bird sounds and provides suggestions of what you are hearing eliminating frustrations in the field. We have found this app to be exceptionally accurate and helpful!
PlantNet– By plantnet-project.org- This free app allows users to submit photos or take a picture of a plant for a list of suggestions. PlantNet can help you identify most plants found in the Northeast.
LeafSnap– By Appixi- This app works just like PlantNet but includes additional species at the cost of additional advertisements. Using multiple sources to confirm identifications leads to increased accuracy and LeafSnap cannot be ignored as a valuable resource.
Frog Calls– By Nielson Family Creations- This free and simple app has pictures and can play the sounds of all frogs found in New York.
Star Walk 2– By Vito Tech.- Shows users constellations in the night sky with animated graphics which kids enjoy. Free and paid versions available.
Geocaching– By Groundspeak Inc.- This app provides users with everything they need to participate in the world’s largest scavenger hunt. Use a phone or GPS to guide you to hidden treasures. Kids love this activity in part due to the exploration and in part due to the prizes found at each location. This is a great way to ease youth into spending time exploring outdoors.
onX Hunt– By onXmaps- The best GPS navigation for your phone on the market. Whether you hunt, fish or just like exploring this app is unmatched in features and accuracy. Free and paid versions are available. This is one of the few apps that we feel is well worth the annual fee for the extra features but the free version still offers great functionality for many users.
iMapInvasives-By SUNY-ESF- Use your phone or computer to report the presence and locations of any invasive species. Data is used to assist citizen scientists and natural resource managers working to protect natural resources from the threat of invasive species. This app also informs potential do-gooders where their labors are the most needed in the combat against invasives.
We hope that you found something in this list that makes your next outing more enjoyable and educational! Please consider recording your observations at the Center and beyond through iNaturalist and/or eBird. Not only does using these apps provide you with a walking field journal of your sightings but it helps others to explore and learn from nature. It is a great way to give back while also doing something for yourself!