Holding a smartphone with nature apps installed

Go Play…and Bring Your Phone

Spring is in the air. Although, after the snow this week, I think winter is still holding on. I’m starting to believe the saying “snow falls on a robin three times”. We had beautiful weather this past weekend though, and I was able to get out in the woods for a good tromp. I immediately saw a little green, only to realize that it was the dreaded honeysuckle starting to leaf out. Then on Monday, a colleague shared a resource with me related to that honeysuckle… which makes the perfect segue into this month’s blog post: using your phone in the woods.

When it comes to invasive plants, we don’t know how to fight them if we don’t know where they are. One way to help resource professionals track and control invasives is by reporting their location. There is an app called Great Lakes Early Detection Network (GLEDN). Whether you are on your own woods, or out somewhere else, you can pull out your phone, snap a picture, and upload it to the app. Professionals will then verify the plant, and add it to the large database. You can also use their maps to see where others have reported various plants. This app may be more complicated than some of the next ones covered here, but no problem, there is a training video to help you. If you aren’t sure that your plant or tree is invasive? The app also included a photo list of plants and insects.

If you are interested in tree identification in general, there are lots of options to choose from. One of my favorites is VTree (Virginia Tech Tree ID). There are over 600 woody plants in the database, and it uses your location (GPS or you input a zip code) to narrow down the potential list of trees. This app uses a dichotomous key to help you identify your potential tree. It asks you a series of questions that will help to narrow down the choices. If you are not sure about the answers, you can skip some of the questions and use fact sheets and pictures of the trees to help you identify them and learn more about them.  Leafsnap is an app available in the iTunes store. The app has been designed for Northeastern US, but most of the trees you’d find here in Wisconsin are in their database. The photos of leaves, fruit and branches are beautiful and crisp. They have a function to take a photo, and the app will list options of what it could be… however, that part of the app has been really buggy lately. I wish I could recommend that part more highly.

One of my favorite signs of spring are spring peepers. I’ve found a number of frog apps, and currently am using Frog Calls. Although somewhat limited, with only 17 frog and toad calls, it can help you narrow down what you might be hearing. When you click on one of the frogs or toads, you can play its call and read a few facts about where it is found.

There are a few bird identification apps out there as well. Merlin Bird ID comes from Cornell, which has an amazing bird lab. You can either answer 3 questions to help narrow your bird options or snap a photo, and it will try to narrow choices that look similar. I haven’t played with this one a lot, but intend to do so this summer. Audubon Birds of North America is also a beautiful app. You can browse birds, and similar to the tree key, you can narrow down your search. Once you choose a bird, there are pictures, facts, songs/calls, and links to other similar birds. If you are interested in recording your bird sightings, both of these apps are integrated with eBird, where you can record the location, time, and species of your sighting.

I have to admit I haven’t found a wildlife tracks or signs app that I really like yet. This is where I turn to our followers, and ask for suggestions. Please consider commenting on our Facebook Page if you have a recommendation for me. Even if it is just something you’ve heard about, we don’t mind testing a few as well. I’ll try to come back and update this blog post if I find anything good.

One other app I wanted to mention is iNaturalist. This app is more broad to help identify and track both plants and animals. It is more of a one-stop-shop for apps, and leans towards the citizen science end of data collection. You can keep your own list of observations, and you can ask others for help (crowdsource) identification. There are specific guides that have been uploaded by users, for plants and animals, but none specific to Wisconsin at this point.

These are just a few apps to get you started. These will be a good help in learning more about what is in or using your woods. If you aren’t comfortable with this type of technology yet, this is an even better way to bring the next generation (or the next-next generation) into the fold. Now, get out there and enjoy your own good tromp in the woods.