Refreshing the List for 2016
This is an update of a post that initially appeared in 2014 highlighting iPhone apps for naturalists. Whether you’re a birder, stargazer, or mushroom fanatic (is there a nickname for mushroom enthusiasts?), there are numerous apps out there to help enrich your understanding of the natural world. A few things have changed since the original version of this post. For one, the Audobon apps related to trees, mushrooms, and herps of North America seem to have been pulled from iTunes. In fact, there seems to be a surprising lack of natural science apps outside of those related to birding. I suspect this may have something to do with updates to Apple’s iOS since 2014 which may have rendered certain apps inoperable. I’ll be keeping this post updated throughout the year as I come across other apps I find worthy of note.
Do you know of a great app that should be added to this list? This is by no means an exhaustive collection, so if you know of some great apps for naturalists that you think should be included (particularly apps for naturalists outside the USA), please don’t hesitate to get in touch! Thanks for reading!
The 2016 Apps List:
Dark Sky ($3.99) – Consistent, thorough weather information is critical to planning any excursion into the outdoors. While the free Yahoo Weather app has been a personal favorite in the past (after winning a 2013 Apple Design Award), Dark Sky is my new favorite. The simple and clean interface is easy to interpret and navigate; which is half the battle with weather apps. The level of detail in the weather data is extraordinary, with real-time weather data drill-down to the minute. Notifications keep users informed about incoming inclement weather, etc. Users even have the option of setting up custom alerts based on their own criteria. Never be surprised by the weather again.
Birdtunes ($9.99) – Birdtunes was a fantastic companion during my fieldwork in California. With a library of over 2400 tracks for 674 species (all in high fidelity recordings) and ‘an emphasis on the sound repertoire of each species—including not just the primary song or call for many species, but also lesser-known songs and calls‘, I can say from experience that this app is a must have for all levels of birder, natural science students, or the professional ornithologist.
Chirp! Bird Songs & Calls of Britain and Europe + ($3.99), Chirp! Bird Song USA ($3.99), and ChirpOMatic UK ($2.99) – While I haven’t used these apps in depth personally, I’ve heard loads of good things about them and look forward to continuing to explore their capabilities. Chirp! was developed as a tool to help bird enthusiasts learn birdsongs rather than strictly focusing on ‘after-the-fact’ identification and it has blossomed into what is probably the most comprehensive app available for birdsongs from the UK and Europe. The current version of Chirp! (Britain and Europe) features 208 songs and calls, including those of a whopping 153 British birds. Be sure to check out the Quiz features to help you hone your recognition capabilities.
For those in the United States, Chirp! also has a US-specific app featuring over 300 birds songs and calls from across the mainland USA based on high quality samples from the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The companion app, ChirpOMatic is designed to help identify birdsongs in a way similar to how the Shazam app identifies music. According to the app’s maker, “when you hear a bird, quickly hold up your phone and start recording. After 12 seconds, the app will start analyzing the sound, and will show you the top matches along with photos of the birds and notes to tell you how varied the sound can be. You can compare your recording with the reference samples to check the identification.”
iBird Pro Guide to Birds ($14.99) – This app provides an expansive guide to 940 bird species in North America. The app really takes advantage of the iPhone platform by incorporating technologies like factoring your location into your search results. In addition to visual identification aids, the app also features extensive audio material to help identify birds by call and song.
Peterson Birds ($14.99 USD) – Peterson Field Guides are among my favorite reference materials and are generally my “go to” titles when it comes to field guides. This app continues in the proud tradition of the Peterson guides by providing an exceptional digital reference for more than 800 species of North American bird. You’ll find nest photos, song clips, range maps, and beautiful illustrations neatly arranged in this outstanding app that has been garnering accolades since 2011.
Mushroom ID North America ($4.99) – With most of the other mushroom/fungi apps from apparently pulled from iTunes or not updated since 2014, Mushroom ID North America seems like a good bet if you’re looking for a well-developed North American mushroom guide. With an emphasis on anatomy and identification, the app is features modes like “Compare” that help the user confidently classify their finds. As always, its recommended that you don’t rely solely on these guides if you intend to consume the mushrooms you find. Always consult an expert before ingesting an unfamiliar mushroom.
iNaturalist (Free) – A naturalist’s notebook is an invaluable companion for any outdoor excursion and iNaturalist brings that resource into the 21st century with its app. “iNaturalist lets you keep a log of the plants and animals you’ve encountered. Record the cool things you see as you hike around the countryside, then look back at the biodiversity you’ve experienced! The simple act of recording will help you remember and learn about nature.” Did you record something you haven’t seen before? No problem! The app allows to you tap into the knowledge of the iNaturalist Community for real-time nature ID assistance.
Star Walk and Star Walk 2 ($2.99 USD) – Enter the world of ‘augmented stargazing’ with this addicting app. Just power up the app, ensure you have a working wireless or other suitable data connection, point it at the sky, and explore more than 200,000 celestial bodies alongside extensive information about the stars and constellations that you find. In case you run out of things to look at skyward, just point the app toward the ground to see the celestial bodies on the hemisphere opposite your position.
Theodolite HD ($3.99 USD) – Being a naturalist often means navigating remote places or collecting detailed data for your observations. Theodolite HD is the perfect companion for backpacking, fieldwork, surveying, and more. Think of it as an all-in-one viewfinder that combines a compass, two-axis inclinometer, rangefinder, GPS, map, navigation calculator, tracker, and geo-tag photo/movie camera into one remarkable tool.
iTrack Wildlife ($14.99 USD) – How often do you stumble across a set of mammal tracks and want to learn more about what type of animal created them? iTrack Wildlife has you covered. Boasting a collection of more than 700 track, sign, and full animal photographs spanning 66 common North American mammals, this is a great frontline reference for both amateurs and professionals.
Leafsnap UK (Free) – Terrestrial life as we know it depends extensively on our planet’s trees and these three apps shine some much appreciated light on these often under-appreciated members of the biosphere. Naturalists in the UK can benefit from Leafsnap UK, a free reference brought to you by the experts at the Natural History Museum, London.
Plant-o-Matic (Free) – Developed by botanists for botanists, this great app is a worthy addition to any North or South American naturalist’s iPhone. Using data from 3,585,449 standardized plant observations and geographic range models, this app uses your location to generate a list of plants that may occur in your area. Though it may not be the quickest means of identifying a particular botanical curiosity, it is certainly a fantastic and reliable way of exploring the plant biodiversity in your area.
RockHound ($1.99 USD) – I get the impression that Geology is often treated like the neglected runt of the litter when it comes to Natural History, yet I’ve always been impressed by the dynamic role that geologic forces and phenomena exert on the biosphere. It’s only fitting that aficionados of the earth sciences have a nice all-around app targeting the subject of their enthusiasm. RockHound’s current form contains reference material on over 60 rocks and gems and 160 sites. You can also add your own sites by plotting the GPS coordinates on the map and using your own site icon created from the Photo Library.
mySoil (Free)– For iPhone users in the UK and Europe, MySoil is a great reference for all you ever wanted to know about the soil in your locality. Whether you need to know soil depth, texture, pH, soil temperature, or organic matter content and dominant habitats, this app has you covered. Great gardeners, allotment owners, farmers and agricultural specialists, schools and colleges, environmentalists and landuse planners, this app was developed using information from the British Geological Survey, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the EU Joint Research Centre (JRC), and the Met Office.
IveGot1 (Free) – Hat tip to the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (@ASIHCopeia) for bringing this one to my attention. Citizen science and the everyday observations of naturalists are playing an increasingly important role in maintaining the health of our ecosystems and this app allows users to submit reports of invasive wildlife to the agencies that need the information. “Powered by EDDMapS – The University of Georgia Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health’s Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System. EDDMapS allows for real time tracking of invasive species occurrences using local and national distribution maps and electronic early detection reporting tools.” This app is certainly very geo-specific, but I wanted to highlight it nonetheless in support of the initiative.