We, Andrew & Penny McKinlay of EcoFriendly West (formerly EcoFriendly Sask), launched the Nature Companion app two years ago. It combined a shared love of nature with Andrew’s skills in computer programming and photography and Penny’s research and writing experience.
Developed for curious observers, people who are just beginning to take an interest in nature, Nature Companion is a free app/website introducing many of the plants and animals found in Canada’s four western provinces. In just one app, you’ll find basic information about over 300 common plants, trees, birds, animals, insects, reptiles, and amphibians. It’s free (no ads, no sign up) and can be accessed either on or off line. It can be installed on your phone, your tablet, or your desktop computer.
But apps are just tools. It’s up to you how you use them. We’ve come up with 10 ways to turn Nature Companion into a game, a friendly family competition, or a craft project.
1. How many plants and trees have berries? How many are edible? Which berries could you use to make a necklace?
Tip: The search feature is a convenient way to find what you’re looking for, but you’ll probably find even more by scrolling through the options on the Plants and Trees menu screens.
2. Are you planning a trip to another of the western provinces? Why not look up some of the insects, plants, and trees you’re most likely to see and create a family bingo card?
Tip: Heading to the BC coast? Why not see how many shoreline animals and plants you can spot by searching on “ocean’’.
3. Both birds and insects create nests. How many different types of nests can you spot when you go for a walk?
Tip: Not all nests are in trees. Search on “nest” to find some other options.
Tip: Have you ever tried to build a nest? It’s not as easy as you’d think.
4. Make a checklist of birds you see frequently but struggle to identify (e.g. gulls or ducks). Use Nature Companion to help you out (e.g. ring-billed gulls are smaller than California gulls with thinner bills that don’t have a red dot).
Tip: Reward yourself when you can identify every entry on your list.
5. Take a close look at the spiders or bees in your garden. Can you identify them? Is there more than one kind?
6. Do you work with kids? Why not set up a quiz with the answers available in Nature Companion?
Tip: Here are some options: Identify the birds you spot on a hike, name 5 bats that can be found in Saskatchewan, name 3 birds that nest in cliffs.
7. What is your favourite plant, animal, bird, insect, or reptile? Nature Companion only provides a small amount of information. Why not do your own research and see what else you can find out?
Tip: Here are some websites with useful information to get you started:
Insect, Bugs and Spider Identification
Tree Book: Learning to Recognize the Trees of British Columbia
8. These apps will help you to identify plants and other wildlife:
Nature Apps for Kids, EcoFriendly Sask
9. We partnered with North Saskatchewan River Basin Council on their Notice Nature program. You can download a series of bingo cards based on information in Nature Companion from their website (both self- and teacher-directed).
10. Looking for more ideas? Why not check out our list of Nature Books for Kids by Canadian Authors.
Tip: We think it would be fun to go on a sound hike.
EcoFriendly West informs and encourages initiatives that support Western Canada’s natural environment through its online publication and the Nature Companion website/app. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe by email.