A Naturalist in Your Pocket!

A Naturalist in Your Pocket!

Posted May 23, 2022

Ever wonder what bird species are the source of the beautiful nature songs in your backyard?  Have you admired the diversity of trees and flowers during a hike on one of the many wooded trails around our town wishing you could identify and learn more about the nature around you?  If you have the time, you could attend one of the many guided walks sponsored by the Wareham Land Trust.  Another option is to reach into your pocket and grab your smartphone for some answers!  There are an ever-growing number of apps available that can provide you with a naturalist on demand whether you are on a trail or sitting on your backyard deck. 

Most of the apps are free and many can be enhanced with in-app add-ons available for purchase.  The apps use your phone’s camera for identification (either live or from photos) and some of the birding apps can use your phone’s microphone to identify species by sound.  A journey through your phone’s App store will reveal many apps to explore and consider.  This article highlights a few that I enjoy and use regularly.

iNaturalist, a joint initiative between the National Geographic Society and the California Academy of Sciences, can be used to identify plants and animals using your phone’s camera.  It can be used to simply identify and log your observations in seconds.  You can even share your observations with other naturalists. In fact, any observation logged on a WLT property will help us build our biological inventory of our lands and will automatically be added to an umbrella WLT iNaturalist project. Within the app, clicking on “Projects” and searching for “Wareham Land Trust” will allow you to see observations from individual WLT associated properties, or from all of our properties combined, that were contributed by other people. As an added incentive to get out exploring with this app, our Executive Director, Elise Leduc-Fleming, has issued the following challenge: Anyone who can log more observations than Elise by August 31st will receive a free 20th Anniversary pint glass as a prize.

Seek (also created by the iNaturalist team) works in the same way but is simplified and designed for folks that simply want a quick identification or prefer not to make an account.  You can earn badges and participate in challenges so it great for kids of all ages.  You can also upload your observations to iNaturalist.


For those of us who appreciate our feathered neighbors, the traditional printed bird guides have transformed into interactive guides that we often have with us wherever we go.  iBird Pro has a format that will be familiar to many, providing information on characteristics, ecology and range, but also enhanced with bird songs and photos.  Its companion app iBird Journal allows you to build personal observation lists and uses your phone’s location for the log. The National Audubon Society also has as a wonderful interactive field guide for identifying and learning more about local birds.

Similar to iNaturalist, eBird is yet another birding app that works very similar to iNaturalist, allowing you to record your observations and link them to a global database created by hundreds of thousands of users around the world. eBird can be used to keep “list lists”, explore birding hotspots, and see which bird species other eBird users have documented in a particular location. This latter feature can be useful in giving you a preview of what you might seen when out on the trail. Interested in learning more about how to use eBird? The Wareham Land Trust, in partnership with Mass Audubon, will be hosting a series of eBird workshops later this September; the programs will be made possible through an eBird Mini-Grant from the Cornell Lab or Ornithology awarded to the Massachusetts Coastal Pine Barrens Partnership, of which WLT and Mass Audubon are members.

Interested in discovering the feathered faces behind the chorus in the trees?  The Merlin Bird ID app created by Cornell University not only identifies birds by features or photos, but also can listen and identify the birds’ songs and calls it hears from your phone’s microphone generating an interactive list.  Similar to iNaturalist’s Seek, Cornell University also has the simplified BirdNET app that uses advanced AI as it listens to the songs producing a real-time list of all of the members of the avian symphony.

Learning more about the plants and animals enriching our community strengthens our respect for nature, as well as our sense of pride for the unique natural treasures right here in our neighborhood backyard.  So, grab your phone, head outside and have fun exploring and learning!

Written by JC Weber, WLT Board Member

(C) Wareham Land Trust ~ provided by New Bedford Internet