A plethora of apps are available that will help you ‘see’ nature better

Geoff CarpentierIn the past, I have discussed how computers, online resources and social media – and how reliable and trustworthy they are – affect our ability to be better naturalists.

I have also advised how we must strive to learn and not just rely on others to tell us what we are seeing if we hope to be better students of nature.

Now I want to focus a bit on other apps I have found and mention a few Facebook pages I find particularly helpful (and reliable).

One free app I like is Seek, a general identification app that relies on photos being submitted with geographic tags so the species’ options can be narrowed down. It is very similar to iNaturalist, but I find it faster and more accurate.

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For birdwatchers, eBird is an amazing worldwide free app that allows you to enter sightings and track places you’ve been and what you’ve seen. When you start a list on eBird, it automatically knows your location and generates a list of likely species you could encounter on your walk. When reporting a rare bird sighting, it asks you to confirm your sighting and to provide details as to why you believe it to be that species. While challenging, it forces you to substantiate and confirm the sighting. Don’t be offended if challenged – the app is run by experts who understand that while people can make mistakes, they can also find great things.

Many of the better bird guides have their own apps as well that come in ‘lite’ or ‘full’ formats. The lite formats are usually free but have little value, in my opinion. I recommend spending the money and buying the full app if it suits your fancy.

Perhaps my favourite app is Merlin – a free bird app put out by Cornell University. It has range maps, descriptions, calls and songs and photos of all North American birds and many, many more from birds around the world. Its creators are striving eventually to publish information on all the world’s birds! Try it: you will like it!

If you are into plants, try PlantSnap, a free app that, as the name implies, helps you identify your plants. Other good apps I have found are the Tree Identification Field Guide app, the Audubon Bird Guide app, Audubon Society Native Plants Database and Picture Insect: Bug Identifier.

A few of my favourite Facebook pages that I use in Ontario, where I live, include Ontario Birds, Advanced Birding in Ontario, Ontario Bird Education and Conservation, Ontario Butterflies, Dragonflies and Moths, Mammals of Canada, Wildflowers of North Durham, Insects and Arachnids of Ontario and Field Botanists of Ontario. I’m sure there are more, but these will keep you busy! And wherever you live, you can easily find many more local ones that suit your locale to a tee.

I have several friends who are retired or soon will be, and the study and enjoyment of nature at whatever level is gratifying and fulfilling. Whether you study birds, plants, mammals or insects or just want to enjoy them, this pastime will carry you through life. Imagine the joy you bring to your grandkids when they ask Granny or Grandpa what that bird is and what it is doing. And you know the answer!

So as you can see, there are lots of resources available to you.

But while social Media and online resources are great sources of information, use them with caution and make sure they are proven resources. Individuals (including some bloggers) are not experts simply because they say they are. Constantly challenge the information provided until you know it’s correct. Don’t be lazy! No one can think for you – that’s your job.

Use these resources to guide and teach you, but remember to be your own teacher through research and effort. You may find that soon you become the resource that others will look to. 

It takes a lifetime to learn about nature. You don’t have to know everything, but the more you know, the more complete your life will become.

Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook.

For interview requests, click here.


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