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In the past when we went on vacation to a national park or seashore, we always took along Little Golden Books or field guides to animals, birds, wildflowers, insects, and seashells. Now there are mobile apps and web searches that cover the same information but are more portable and easier to use.

Use Google’s reverse image search to identify what is in the picture you just took.

In a typical Google search, you input text and get all kinds of results – websites, articles, videos, and pictures. In a regular Google “image search” you put a text search phrase like “bald eagle”, and the search results show you pictures that match your search text. In a “reverse image” search, you upload a picture, and the search results are text descriptions and other matching pictures.

Here’s how to do it: 1) On a computer (PC or Mac), any browser will do, but if you’re on an iPhone, iPad, or Android phone or tablet you need to use the Google Chrome web browser (it comes already installed on Android devices, but you may need to install it on your iPhone or iPad); 2) Type to initiate an image search; 3) In the search bar you’ll see a camera icon, and a magnifying glass for searching; 4) Click on the camera icon to upload a picture from your photo library or directly from your camera to start a reverse image search.

Apps that work better than old-style field guides: Identifying birds

Both of the following apps identify birds by region and appearance, or bird call: “Merlin Bird ID” by Cornell Lab of Ornithology (Cornell University - free). To use Merlin Bird ID, you either answer a few simple questions, or take a photo and upload it to the app.

“Audubon Bird Guide” by National Audubon Society (free). This complete field guide will help identify the birds around you and keep track of the birds you’ve seen.

Identifying plants and wildlife

“Northern California Wildflowers” (free) – has a database of over 3,100 wildflowers of all types; “SmartIdentifier” – take a picture to automatically identify an insect, flower, plant or animal (free with ads); “Leps” by Fieldguide by Change Theory (free) – intended to catalog all 175,000-plus species of moths and butterflies around the world.

Geologic formations:

“Rockd” - University of Wisconsin-Madison Shared Apps (free) – Explore, learn about, and document your geologic surroundings.

The night sky

“Star Walk 2” – this is an augmented reality app, that shows a real-time map of the sky on your screen in whatever direction you are pointing the device (using THE device’s built-in gyroscope, GPS, date, and time). The sky map identifies the stars, planets and constellations, as seen from your location.

The app includes information about celestial bodies and sky events, alerting users of upcoming meteor showers, or when and where to look for planets visible in the night sky.

Have a tech question or want to see an archive of previous Tech Tips columns? Go to the Computer Club website, and click on the LINKS menu choice at the top right of the page.

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