Since becoming a parent I have definitely noticed I am paying more attention to nature. Having someone to share it all with, to watch as their eyes light up at some tiny thing I have been taking for granted is like rediscovering the natural world all over again. The there are the questions…oh, how many questions a three-and-a-half year old can ask!
Noticing the gaps time wears away in our knowledge is a common trait of parenthood. When a child asks you ‘why’ ten times in a row, there is little room for bluffing your way through. I covered an almost identical technique in a management training course once. Instead of calling it the ‘why game’, they call it Root Cause Analysis. It’s used for identifying weaknesses. For this reason, children can be both a wonderful catalyst for adult learning as well as making you wish you had really paid more attention back in school.
Roo is constantly showing up my knowledge of nature. Having sparked her curiosity, she now bombards me with constant questions.
‘What’s that bird singing Mummy?’, ‘Why are roots white?’, ‘Why do some squirrels not wash their tail?’ ‘What’s this bug’s name called?’ .
I do not know the answer to all her nature questions. I challenge the nature expert cast of Springwatch itself to get them all right without reference! What I do know though is that as Roo’s nature questions get more complex I find myself reading more, researching more and learning more along with her about the natural world I thought I had a passable knowledge of. Since starting the #30DaysWild challenge this has never been more true.
So yesterday, when Roo was at nursery I set off into the fields with her baby sister on a bit of a personal wild time nature challenge. Part of my trip was in preparation for another nature activity lined up for later in the week but I was also out putting to the test some of the apps that I use when out and about to help answer any of the questions that arise on our walk or to inspire our adventures. I should point out that we use ID books too a lot, both adult and child versions but we don’t always have these with us on a walk.
Here are a few of the nature apps I use most often for wildlife as well as some more that are good for finding places to enjoy nature and ideas for what to do when you’re outside. There are loads more nature apps to try (moths, dragonflies, bees…) – hopefully I can add some more in time. I hope you will find them handy too for the next time your child asks ‘why’ or ‘what’ during outdoor time!
Have I missed a really good nature app? I’d love to hear your favourites too.
Top Apps on iTunes and Android for Nature Loving Families
Bugs, beasties & butterflies
- iRecord Ladybird: Free app on iTunes & Android. Think ladybirds only come in red and black? Think again! Intended for recording your ladybird sightings, this nature app also contains tips on where to look, geographic distribution maps and an all-important ID guide to the surprisingly large amount of ladybirds out there.
- iRecord Butterfly: Free app on iTunes & Android: As per the Ladybird app, the iRecord Butterfly app is designed to record your butterfly sightings and is run in association with the Butterfly Conservation Trust and the Biological Records Centre. Use the app to identify butterflies using the basic filters for wing colours and markings to help narrow your search. Better still, give your older kids some outdoor screen time by getting them to record their sightings and take part in their own science survey! Has a good gallery for most butterflies, making it easier to identify those with their wings closed.
- Opal Bugs Count Pocket ID Guide: Free app on iTunes & Android: This is a good app if you want to record your sightings in the Bugs Count Survey and has a fun ‘quest’ section for kids to look out for insects of particular scientific interest at the moment. It only really allows you to identify an insect’s group though, with just a few select species in the gallery. I failed to find my cardinal beetle on here. Field Studies Council also offer a paid bug app for iPhone which is much simpler for quick identifiction but again, it only has a few species on it – no cardinal beetle there either! For bugs it seems, you are still better with a book or more thorough website.
Places to go and things to do
- Nature Finder: Free app on iTunes & Android from the Wildlife Trust. This is a lovely app for quickly finding your local nature reserve and handy for finding some beautiful local walks. Wouldn’t it be great if they could team up with the Visit Woods, RSPB and similar organisations too though to give us a countrywide map of where we can go to find a really wild space.
- Wild Time: Free app on iTunes & Android: Got five minutes free? Prefer to send the kids outside rather than switch on the TV but not sure what to do? This is the app for you. Linking in with the brilliant Project Wild Thing movement you can search for outdoor activities in nature by the time you have available. Simple, fast, fun.
- Pocket Explorers: Free app on iTunes: A lovely comprehensive nature app for finding things to do with your kids in nature. Choose from an activity with full instructions, follow a trail or search for an attraction or place to visit. Kids can also earn points and complete missions. The only downside to the app is the need to register an account – not really a great hardship for most people!
- National Trust: Free app on iTunes & Android: So I know you need to pay entry or buy membership for most National Trust places but they also own loads of gorgeous countryside that you can visit for free. Plus, biased as I am being a big NT fan, if you do splash out on membership you will have a great service station alternative for travel as well as somewhere totally geared up to re-wilding your child in nature. This app gives you a simple map or name search for both houses and main estates where you can wander although would be nice if they had the option to filter between these.
Plants, trees and leaves
- Leafsnap UK: Free pp on iTunes. This app originates from a US version, with the UK app developed in conjunction with the Natural History Museum, London. As well as allowing you browse through leaf photos of 156 UK tree species, it also lets you take a photo of a leaf and provides suggestions to help identify it. This is pretty cool and from my field tests it does normally get the right tree ID within the top 3-4 records. Letting it down though is the fact it’s not 100% accurate and you need to put one leaf on a white background to get an ID on it. This means carrying about a piece of white paper (or wear a white t-shirt) and picking a leaf each time. Lots of good detail though to help confirm your tree such as photos of bark, fruits, flowers etc.
- Field Studies Council Hedges: Free app on iTunes: If all you’re after is a super-fast, super-simple way to ID the most common hedgerow trees and bushes then look no further. Browse by flower, fruit, leaf or twig to help you get the answer no matter what season it is. Field Studies Council also have some more good nature apps available but these are paid apps.
- Wild Flower ID: £2.99 on iTunes & Android. Although a paid nature app this is a bargain given the quality of what you get. Identify wild flowers by browsing flower families or use a whole host of different filters to narrow down your search with as many or few as you like. It’s quick and simple with nice quality photos. Results will give you a percentage marking on how close a fit their suggestion is to your filter criteria. You can also record your sightings, test your knowledge with a quiz or search for a flower by name. A really nice app and worth the money.
There is a lot of choice on bird apps but sadly I haven’t found any good basic ones for free on iPhone. If you’re willing to spend money though there are a few nice ones to consider. I’m an Apple user so not sure on Android only apps (though have heard good things about Bird Sounds). If you know a good one, please leave a comment below! Below are a few that I have used and like. Ones I’ve tried but don’t rate are Birds By Colour (great concept but too wide a results list) & UK Birds Dictionary (fiddly, ads are annoying, not a great range of photos):
- Chirp! + form ISpiny (Bird Song ID Europe bundle including both Chirp! & Chirpomatic): £3.99 on iTunes. This is a great little pair of nature apps for both learning to recognise bird song and identifying a bird by its call. Chirp! lets you listen to the bird songs of UK birds whilst the Chirpomatic app is entirely for recording and identifying an unknown bird you have heard. You can even turn it onto Bird Friendly Mode to avoid disturbing birds during the nesting season. I tried it out in the garden and it was pretty good, identifying not only the great tits but also specifically their alarm call. The apps are intuitive and simple and they include quizzes for all levels of birder to help you learn. Don’t expect to use these apps as a more general bird ID app – they are not set out to be used that way. Better to have a separate app too.
- Bird Song from Isoperla: £2.99 on iTunes & Android: This is a lovely little nature app. As well as recording and identifying birds, if you have a vague idea of bird groups then you can also use it as a fairly good physical ID guide too, with the bird songs available to play with each description. I have used this extensively when out and would say you cannot rely on it to correctly identify a bird but it does narrow it down a bit! If conditions are perfect i.e. no wind, bird sings loudly at right moment, not too much background noise then it is pretty good on accuracy. Works offline too which is handy out on a walk. Don’t rely on it as a definitive guide but definitely handy to help focus your ears and eyes. Not so good for the absolute beginner birder in need of a simple visual ID.
- Birds of Britain (iSpiny): £2.29 on iTunes: Another great nature app from iSpiny, this time with a more traditional visual guide to help identify birds in the UK. Dead simple to track down your bird – browse by image, name or use the bird finder, which allows you to filter by as little or much as you like on features such as colour, size, habitat and when you saw it. Information on each bird contains some really nice level of detail including lifespans, nesting habits and diet. Also shows different sexes and juvenile birds. Space to record you sightings too though if you are going to need lots of these you may want to upgrade to the Pro version. There is also a free Lite version you can try out first but don’t be fooled into thinking you can get away with just that for basic birding- they only include a handful of birds and some of the most common, such as blue tits, are missing.
- Birds of Britain from CleverMatrix: £0.79 on iTunes: A good little nature app offering a combined bird ID visual ID and bird songs too, as well as giving you a really nice log to record birds you have seen. If you’re one for getting involved in a community then there is ample scope for recording and uploading your sightings and joining in with the forums. Only gripe is that whilst there is a reasonably good bird finder function on this app (sort by colour, size, beak etc) it is hidden in the extra features menu. Also not clear whether free access to forums is a permanent feature of the app or if it may charge again at some point as talks about in-app purchases.
- Let’s Go Pond Dipping: Free app on iTunes & Android: Aimed primarily at schools there is nothing to stop you using this educational nature app for home use too. Covers most basic aquatic life such as newts, frogs, worms larvae and underwater beasties as well as having some fun activities to do as well. Lots of nice information though the app could be more intuitive to find what you want.