For this blog, we’ve picked out a few unusual nature apps to explore how they might benefit your next adventure outdoors. With these tools in hand, you can identify bird songs, recognise plant species and expand your navigational capabilities.
The way in which we experience the outdoors will always fluctuate and evolve. We don’t want to encourage you to venture outside with your eyes buried in a screen. However, these apps offer interesting insights and innovation that might actually enhance your next foray into nature.
Smartphone apps are filled with unique resources that can help you get more from the playground beyond your front door. When you find the right outdoor app you discover a wealth of information at your fingertips.
Some help you to plan your next hike. Others enable you to identify strange creatures you’ve stumbled upon. Mysteries abound when you step into a new environment and these tools act as solutions when your head starts to ache.
Many of these apps are used by naturalists and scientists who vouch for the practical assistance they provide. We’ve tried to include something for everyone, from birders to hikers.
Tools To Engage And Connect
Of course, there are many different options to choose from. So, we’ve compiled a list of seven of our favourite outdoor apps for aspiring naturalists. There’s always more you can learn about your neighbouring forests, flowers and insects.
Step out into the wilds, armed with the ability to discern strange animal tracks, or identify the curious trill of nearby birdsong. You will be all the richer for having this information at hand when you need it.
Just remember that you should never allow your devices to distract you from your physical environment. We are blessed to live on a planet that is still so rich in life – even though this biodiversity is under threat every day.
This one finds its way to the top of many nature lovers’ lists. iNaturalist is an indispensable app for hikers, campers and pretty much anyone who gets a kick out of the outdoors.
For the inquisitive explorers out there, you can use this tool to identify bugs, plants and so much more. In fact, this app was developed by the National Geographic Society and California Academy of Sciences, so you know it’s reliable.
This is a bona fide source of trusted nature information – users can also also submit their own wildlife photos and an AI algorithm helps to identify the organism. Sightings can even be shared with other users for collaborative identification as well.
The great thing about this app is the sense of community it inspires. To date, 2.5 million users have identified 344,000 species and shared 90 million sightings around the world. This assists conservation scientists in knowing which areas to focus on and is essential to our protection of the natural world.
Next up, this one is for the hikers out there who are looking for new ways to orient themselves. AllTrails is a hiking app with both a free and paid ‘pro’ version. Again, this app relies on community-sourced information and curates a helpful database of nature trails around the world.
Join a community of fellow explorers and share your discoveries about trailheads, locations and conditions. Trails are also reviewed by individual hikers and a searchable list serves as a primary function with nearby findings sorted by location.
The community includes mountain bikers, naturalists, trail-runners, backpackers and, of course, hikers. Filters can assist you in finding an adventure tailored to your needs – these vary from difficulty and length to elevation gain and more.
Every heard some dawn birdsong and wondered which little creature is up so early? Now you can identify the musical contributions of all kinds of birds with the intelligent ChirpOMatic.
Soon you’ll know all the characters in the dawn chorus and be able to note the difference between a bunting and a blackbird. The app was design by scientists and is available in several different versions across western Europe, North America, the Caribbean and Australia.
Birders also love the ‘bird-safe mode’ on this app (available on iPhones), which allows you to hold your phone to your ear and play recordings like a phone call. That means you don’t disturb any nesting or breeding birds.
Now that you can tell the birds apart, why not expand your skills to distinguishing different plant species? Identify anything unusual that sprouts in your flowerbeds or local woodland, focusing on one plant at a time.
To use this app effectively you zoom in each plant and click either leaf, flower, fruit or bark. This enables to app to categorise your find. Then LeafSnap scans your image and sifts through its database to pick out the nearest match.
Sometimes you will need to hunt for more options and compare the list of plants. There are also pop-up ads if you don’t opt for the paid version. Extra features for paid subscribers include tips and plant care regimes.
3. Seagrass Spotter
Now you’re a master of the birds and plants it’s time to take you below the waves with the Seagrass Spotter app. Swimmers, coasteering enthusiasts, divers and kayakers are all catered for when it comes to this ingenious little app.
Explore your nearest coastal shallows and marvel at the grassy meadows just beneath the surface. Then simply use this app – hosted by a marine conservation charity called Project Seagrass – to log your sightings of these seawater plants.
You can also insist in conservation efforts by recording the absence of seagrass, which helps to keep a record of place where they’re vulnerable. This data is used by marine scientists to observe seagrass distribution and protect it from clumsy human impact.
2. Night Sky
Who doesn’t love sitting out under a sky filled with stars? Night Sky is one of our favourite app recommendations and a very handy tool if you live outside urban areas, where there’s less light pollution.
Peer up at the little celestial bodies that spin in our universe and beyond. Then make your observations as you identify planets, stars, comets and nebulae, using a smartphone’s GPS, time of day and phone orientation to map their locations.
It doesn’t matter where you aim your device, you can gain a projection of these objects in space. The 3D map helps to illustrate constellations, as well as highlighting planets and satellites as well. You can even pick out the International Space Station!
1. Animal Tracker
Finally, we’ve given you the tools to unlock the mysteries of birdsong and the locations of luminaries beyond the ether. It’s time to follow the adventures of wild animals, tracking them in real time as they move through the wilds with Animal Tracker.
Whether you’re looking for kittiwakes on Devon’s coast, or on the prowl for lion prides in Namibia, you can follow migrations, recent movements and record your own sightings.
Everything you see can be stored in the Movebank Research Database, which is a free interactive mapping tool, hosted by the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour.
All of the apps we’ve mentioned offer dynamic ways to learn online and even help conservation projects in different parts of the world. These citizen science resources are valuable and widely trusted by conservationists, rangers and researchers.