June 12, 2011

Kid Tracks: Nudging tech-heads outside: There are apps for that


I know that outdoor adventures should not include cellphones, because the whole point is to focus on nature, not on the latest technology.

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Star Walk

Courtesy photos

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MyNature Animal Tracks

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But for those parents who have not done much hiking with their tween/teen (or even if you have), this might be just the ticket to get them (more) excited about an outdoor adventure with the family.

Here are a few outdoor-oriented smart-phone applications that I have used with my kids and found to be fun and/or educational for all of us. 

• Star Walk from Vito Technology: This app is a family favorite that allows us to identify stars, planets and constellations in the night sky. This real-time application uses a digital compass that is activated when the phone is tilted skyward.

The compass tracks movement so that when you change direction it re-orients to show on the phone's screen exactly what you are looking at in the sky.

It has a serious awe factor for both kids and adults. And the bonus is that everyone will learn something while using it. This app is dependent on a cell tower connection.

Currently available only on iPhone. Cost: $2.99. 

• Geocache Navigator from Groundspeak Inc.: Geocache Navigator makes geocaching easier than ever.

For those unfamiliar, geocaching is a game that uses GPS coordinates to find a hidden box filled with inexpensive trinkets and a log book. Players, called geocachers, download the coordinates to their GPS units -- in this case to their mobile phone -- and then navigate their way to the hidden box.

The downside to using this app is that it requires a cell tower connection, which isn't so great in dense tree cover. It's best used on more urban/suburban hiking trails.

Available on iPhone and Android. Cost: $9.99; intro version with limited capabilities available for free on iPhone only. 

MyNature Animal Tracks from MyNature Inc.: You can identify tracks you see in the woods with this very user-friendly app.

There is a searchable database that helps narrow down track ID options. For instance, if you find a track with four toes, choose that category. Then you'll be prompted to determine if the toes are rounded or oblong, until the app narrows things down to a couple of species.

From that point, you can view a track image to identify gait as well as a real-life example to confirm your ID.

The app works on the process of elimination and is very easy to use. You'll feel confident you made the right identification.

Also included are scat ID options, animal sounds, the ability to keep a "life list" and a social networking component to share your discoveries.

This app is self-contained, so no cell tower connection is needed unless you choose to post your find online.

Currently available on iPhone and Android. Cost: $6.99; a less comprehensive version called Mammal Tracks is available for 99 cents. 

• Wildflower Guide from Audubon: Audubon has turned several of its field guides into apps and this particular guide has been an enjoyable one for my kids. It allows novice wildflower admirers to identify a variety of species with Audubon's comprehensive resource list.

Users can search by flower shape, color, parts, size, leaf arrangement and several other factors to narrow down the ID search.

Once you choose a species you can zoom the photo for details, see the range map of where it typically grows and get an in-depth description. Users with a basic understanding of wildflowers can do more advanced searches based on species family or name.

There is also a built-in photo option so you can store an image in the app's "life list" folder. This app is self-contained, so no cell tower connection is needed.

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WildLab Bird


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