This is a contributor-submitted Voices piece. Want to join the conversation? We invite you to write for us. Learn how to share your voice here. Barbara Johnson is a birder, gardener, grandmom, former elephant trainer + new-to-Chattanooga from Maryland.
So you’re looking to learn in your confinement?
Even a small yard can be a universe. Your neighborhood is home to a multitude of lives. It’s easier than ever to figure out what they are!
Try these free apps to teach yourself about the many common plants and critters that live in your own yard. And if you like, you can contribute your observations, joining a huge community of citizen scientists.
First up — iNaturalist and Seek, which were created by the California Academy of Sciences, and enable you to ID our fellow life forms by snapping a photo.
With iNaturalist, you’ll join nearly half a million nature lovers in sharing your observations.
Download the app, create a login, and watch the tutorial for simple instructions in using your phone to photograph your “prey.” Then identify and share your sighting using the app’s intelligence. iNaturalist logs your observations links to detailed info on the species. You can even investigate the activity around you to see what your neighbors have been finding — you’ll be amazed!
Seek allows you to ID in real-time with your phone’s camera. It’s more user-friendly than iNaturalist because it was designed especially for kids. When you scan a plant or spider or snail with your camera, the app searches around and (most of the time!) pops up with a name. So fun! Seek doesn’t share information, because of location privacy concerns for underage naturalists.
Are all Chattanooga porches swarming with giant mosquito-looking things lately? Southside’s sure are and Seek identified them as the European Crane Fly — harmless to people if not to lawns (the larvae eat grass).
All those little weeds that are blooming in your lawn and garden right now? They each have a name and a story. When Seek gives you an ID, an online search can take you even further into their worlds.
○ Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird is another vast crowd-sourced database. Just about every smart phone-owning birdwatcher in the world now contributes their sightings on the eBird app, with over 100 million bird sightings every year.
You simply log on at the start of your birdwatching and record the birds you see. The app logs your time and location. This helps conservation efforts to build migration maps, track population changes and monitor the effects of climate change. Even your backyard birds deserve to be recorded! Browse ebird.org to get up-to-the-minute info on what’s been seen right here and abroad.
○ Not quite sure what bird you’re looking at? Merlin is a terrific app for birding beginners, using eBird data to narrow down your bird. Tell Merlin what you see. It’ll ask the size, colors, what the bird is doing, and then give you photos of likely birds to choose from. Couldn’t be easier!
This is a perfect time to look for birds in your grass, shrubs, trees, and sky because they’re busy either nesting or migrating south to their breeding grounds.
They’re most active in morning and dusk (except for those crazy mockingbirds who are singing all night right now!)
There are many other apps (most require purchase) for bird study and recording. “Shazam for birds” apps such as BirdGenie even help you identify birds’ songs.
An upside to this troubling time is the opportunity to appreciate what’s right here at home, and to find beauty in the ordinary. Nature heals, so go discover!