While we travel and hike, we have come across some amazing and free programs that we use regularly. The first is called Seek, put out by iNaturalist. It is available for free at the Apple App Store.
Seek has many uses, but we primarily use it to identify plants. We merely hold the iPhone camera over the plant, whether leaf or flower. It quickly identifies it, giving us the common name, though on occasion it offers only the Latin name.
It does not matter whether you live in a large city or rural area, or as we have discovered if you are in a foreign country. Its database is so massive that if knows every plant and every subspecies. It is truly a wonder to behold. When stumped, it offers “dicot” or “monocot”.
The second program we use is called Merlin, put out by Cornell Lab, home of one of the world’s leading ornithology departments.
That reminds me … my wife and I were in a nearby city park a few years back, early in the year. We ran into another birder, and made conversation as is normal. He was trying to gently entice some secretive birds into view from some nearby bushes. I asked him perchance if he had seen a large bird that had flown his way that I could not ID, he said no. As we spoke it flew across the trail maybe a hundred feet down. He glanced at it and said “Oh yeah. Red tail hawk, immature.” “Wow, I said, you’re pretty good at this stuff! “I should be,” he said, and told us his name, Chris Wood. “I am the head of eBird at Cornell University.” Turns out he was in Morrison, Colorado visiting his parents over the holidays.
Merlin is a bird ID program, not available then. All we need do is turn it on and let it listen, and it tells us the birds in the area. We still have to do sight ID to make a valid siting, but at least we have an idea what we are looking for. A while back, we were sitting on our back deck and had Merlin running, and it told us that great-tailed grackles were in the area. I laughed at the notion, as Merlin is not always right and that bird never comes around our place. But the following day with a birding group at Chatfield reservoir, great-tailed grackles were all about, passing through on their annual migration.
It is simply a great program. If you download it, you then have to download a database for your area. For us we downloaded Western US and Alaska. Prior to leaving on this trip, we downloaded Western Europe. Here is a sampling from a hike near Ferney Voltaire, where we are staying:
We would have ID’d none of those without an assist from Merlin. We can now identify most of them by sound ID. It is a great program, as is Seek. If you are into this sort of thing, there is no cost and no risk.
One thought on “A couple of useful outdoor programs”
My recommendation, a way to bring open street maps on an Android phone. Offline, all on your phone, no connection needed. Maps are detailed, world wide, show most trails anywhere. Maps can be downloaded for free from openandromaps.org. There are others, I still use the (red) Orux app. It can be configured, so it ‘ll only show info and buttons you want. It too can be used for free and offline. Note this is a map app, not a navigation. It shows the map, and several directions. North, direction moving, direction looking. Distances can be measured, tracks recorded. I crawled the bushes with that app, and walked countless cities, even Tokyo. It even works on a plane, displaying speed and altitude.
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