Team Up With Technology When You Head Outdoors

We may not like to admit it, but our smartphones are a huge part of our lives. If you look around, people are scrolling and checking all their updates in lines, restaurants, waiting rooms, even on outdoor hikes. Our phones hold our checklists, alarm clocks, flashlights and photo albums. One might even say we are addicted to our technology.

Photo via Shutterstock

The best thing to battle our digital addiction is to unplug, get outdoors and let nature, rather than the screen, challenge our senses. However, it can be hard to cut out technology cold turkey.


Here are some apps that help bridge the gap between technology and nature. These are great ideas for both nature nerds and those who need a little help falling in love with the outdoors. They provide the security blanket of our devices plus challenge you to learn a little bit more about the world around you.


Seek by iNaturalist

Fuel your curiosity by discovering new species through the lens of the Seek app. This app transforms your camera into an identification guide. All you need to do is hover over an organism and watch Seek go through the different levels of class, order, family, genus and species before identifying what you are looking at.


Sometimes Seek can’t identify the exact species, but it will give you a starting point for further research. Each new species also earns you badges and raises your exploration level. Another great feature are the challenges you can take part in. Each month begins a new challenge. Can you get outside and find 10 new species or 10 different kinds of insects?


Merlin Bird ID by the Cornell Lab

This is a great app for both beginning birders and experts. Have you tried hanging a bird feeder out in your back yard and noticed any new visitors? Merlin Bird ID will help you figure out which birds are eating at your feeder by answering a few key questions: where, when, what size, what colors and what it was doing. Then it will show you a list of the most likely suspects. You can also submit photos of birds and get a list of matching species as well.


Once you get to know your birds better, Merlin Bird ID is a great tool to learn the songs and calls of different birds. For each species, pictures, different sounds and a range map are included.


Night Sky

Enjoy a nice night outside and take a virtual tour of the stars! With augmented reality technology, all you have to do is point your phone up and watch the stars come alive.


With Night Sky, the constellations will take form before your eyes. Tap the constellation name once to read more information about the stars and the history. Tap the constellation name twice to get a 3D view to see the star depth and order. Flip to AR mode and view it in real time to match it with your view of the sky.


Get creative with the astrophotography features, learning how to take pictures of the stars and the moon. Tap into your neighborhood sky by viewing the “Night Sky for You” tab.

Night Sky is available in the Apple App Store, but there are plenty of sky apps out there to fit everyone’s devices.


Dig Deeper


If you like these apps, keep digging! Tons of field guides are available for everything from butterflies and animal tracks to trees and more. Want to discover your next favorite hiking trail? There are apps out there to help you find parks and trails near you.


The biggest thing to remember is to get outside! Use these apps to help connect you and your family to the natural world. Need some motivation? Check out the Forest Preserve District of Will County’s Woods Walk program to find new trails and new opportunities to seek out nature.