Thanks to COVID-19, my outings have been limited to walks around my neighbourhood for months.

I have a dog, so this isn’t exactly unusual. But it’s forced me to pay attention to my surroundings and realize that I have very limited knowledge about nature. Sure, I can tell the difference between a maple tree and an oak, but so can most fifth graders.

This is where the iNaturalist app comes in. Rather than wondering “what is that ugly weed?” I can snap a photo of it with the app and find out immediately. I’ve learned that there are a lot of invasive species in my local woods, by the way. I’m not sure if I should be worried, but it seems ominous.

The app is also good for when I come home late at night and notice a giant bug on my front step guarding the door like a sentry. What could THAT be? No need to wonder. I just creep up slowly with my phone and take aim. Instantly, I’m told it’s a cicada. Whew! Nothing to worry about.

I was FaceTiming with my daughter who mentioned an alien bug, which she had never seen before and by whom she was quite alarmed. “Send me a picture!” I told her. I uploaded her photo into the iNaturalist app and voila! It determined that what she had seen was a Pelecinid wasp. I can say with confidence that is even creepier than the cicada.

My neighbours have gardens. Their flowers and vegetables like to make their way on to our side of the fence. I have no problem with this since it adds some greenery to our relatively stark backyard. I have a pool surrounded by concrete. This is a great app to figure out what your neighbours are growing and unintentionally sharing with you. It looks like I have some beans and a few broad-leaved sweet peas to enjoy.

Buckthorn | Kim MacDonald,

Recently, someone tweeted to me a picture of an insect and they asked me if I knew what it was. Why they asked me, I can’t tell you. I suppose since I talk about the weather for a living, they figure I know a thing or two about nature as a whole. Now that I have iNaturalist, I feel as though I am an expert! Turns out that B.C. bug was a Western Conifer Seed Bug and the person on Twitter was, from what I could tell, duly impressed.

This is a pretty fun app. It educates and gives you instant gratification. It’s also used for collecting information. The kind of data conservationists can really use to determine how species are doing and where they are showing up. Now, I’m not only helping myself but in a very real way, I’m helping the planet.

If you find yourself sticking to your neighbourhood like I am these days, do yourself a favour and download iNaturalist. You can document all the flora and fauna around your home, knowing that you are an unofficial scientist and playing an important role in conservation. You’ll also have a better answer to the question, “What did you do during the pandemic?” than binge watched Tiger King and Too Hot To Handle.

Learn more about influencer Kim MacDonald or download app.