Today is Earth Day, a day for awareness of the environmental issues that surround our planet. A recent study has shown a growing apathy among youth towards environmental issues. This is coupled with declining usage rates at U.S. National Parks. The only cure, it would seem, is to get kids outside to develop an appreciation for nature.
If you’ve found your kids would rather spend time with digital media than head into the great outdoors, we have some great ways to combine technology and nature.
First, check your local listings for Earth Day activities happening in your neighbourhood. Next, let’s get outside!
Here are some great apps that can enrich your outdoor adventures.
If you haven’t heard of geocaching, the best definition comes from the hobby’s international website. “Geocaching is a real-world outdoor treasure hunting game. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using GPS-enabled devices and then share their experiences online.” Once you’ve found a geocache, enter your name in the logbook, replace the geocache in it’s exact location and share your story online. Difficulties range from easy to advanced. You can seek geocaches for free, just by plugging the GPS coordinate into your phone (with a free online membership.)
The basics of geocaching can be found in this video: There are even regional associations.
Geocashing Intro – The App (Free)
For beginners, the Geocashing Intro app is available to walk you through your very first experience. It will automatically show you three geocashes closet to your location and give you a step-by-step intro to the hobby. You can then graduate to a paid app, and there are plenty to choose from.
Encounters of the Animal Kind
Project Noah (Free)
Project Noah is crowd sourcing for nature. Basically, take photos of the nature you see while hiking and upload the images to the community database. You can see other posts from around the world via maps or by kind – plant, animal, insect etc. Go on missions, such as tracking the monarch butterfly migration and earn badges. The more people who use the app, the more diverse and useful it becomes. You don’t need to setup an account, it uses any social media account you already have such as Facebook, Twitter etc. The Project Noah website describes the app as “a tool to explore and document wildlife and a platform to harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere.”
Scats and Tracks ($3.99 or $6.99)
Ever been on a hike and discover wild animals have been there first, but you don’t know what kind? There’s an app for that! Scats and Tracks can help identify over 150 wildlife species. The app contains 150 of North America’s most common mammals, birds and reptiles. Available by region ($3.99) or for all of North America ($6.99) these apps have many way to help identify animals including scats, tracks, gait patterns, organized by species, track types and scat types. And it’s all illustrated.
If you think to yourself, “I couldn’t identify a bird if it landed on me,” fear not, and welcome to the age of mobile devices. Instead of carrying a heavy birdwatching book around, now you can download an app. The great ones come with photos, bird sounds and additional information on the birds you find. While these apps range in price, they are well worth the educational value – and in the winter, can be used from warmth of your front window to watch a bird feeder. Two of the best are:
Audubon Field Guides
This set of guides for birdwatching, butterfly spotting, mammals, wildflowers, insects and spiders, owls and more, come from the century old National Audubon Society, dedicated to conserving and restoring natural ecosystems. While on the more expensive side ($14.99), the birdwatching app, A Field Guide to North American Birds, features 771 species, with beautiful images, maps, and the ability to share your own spottings. This 2011 Appy Award finalist is sure to please.
iBird Explorer Plus & Pro
The iBird Explorer series are award winners from all around. Built with different audiences in mind, the Plus version ($9.99*) is for the “serious birder” while, the Pro version ($14.99*) is designed, as one reviewer states, with a tool set for “the professional guide, teacher, mentor, citizen, scientist, ornithologist or field biologist” in mind. You can also purchase regional versions for less ($4.99*).
The Plus version contains 924 species from across North America, 36 search attributes, both photos and illustrations, lots of facts, and sounds. To check it out before purchase, try the Lite version for free!
*Note: This is the sale price of 50% off the regular price.
Out After Dark
There are a number of cool apps to help decipher the night sky.
Star Walk ($2.99)
This app is one of the coolest. It uses realtime motion tracking to show you the heavens, exactly where the device is pointed. Looking south? It shows you what’s in the sky to the south. As you scan through the sky, the constellations are highlighted and “ghost drawn” on the screen. If you’re interested in a particular constellation or star, tap the screen and click the info button in the corner. Star Walk includes information on constellations, planets, satellite tracking and more.
This cool little app shows where the planets are in the sky, when they rise and set. Like Star Walk, it also uses realtime motion tracking. As it’s free, it doesn’t contain all the interactivity if Star Walk, but does have great information about the planets, visible times, size, type and includes links to Wikipedia for additional information.
Satellite Watcher (Free)
Can you see a very slow airplane or a satellite flying overhead? Satellite Watcher can answer that question for you. In Real-Time mode it shows you what’s in the sky right now. If you tap on a satellite, it gives information including country of origin, launch date, magnitude and more. This app also includes constellations, but doesn’t have the more advanced interface of the other two. Still, a neat app to have.
Tools for the Adventurer
What Knot To Do (Free)
Sometimes in the great outdoors, knowing a knot or two comes in handy. This little app contains 70 knots, with step by step tying instructions, a glossary of rope parts and rope terms. It’s easy to use and a fun bit of knowledge.
National Park Field Guide (USA) (Free)
This app is great for two reasons. First, it can help locate the closest of the 50 National Parks in the United States. From the overview map, you can browse all of the National Parks and get basic information about each one. Next, once you’ve chosen a park, the guide has information on all the plants and animals in the park, plus it’s broken down for handy reference into Poisonous and Dangerous, and Threatened and Endangered Species.
Main image Source: At Your Service Blog,