Smartphone apps put Bay within finger's reach

Explorers and naturalists once had to find their way though the wilderness with maps and compasses, as well as carry voluminous field guides to identify flora and fauna. Today, smartphones can direct users to local trails; provide real-time conditions on the water; and help to identify species with the tap of a finger. Here's a look at smartphone apps that can enhance Chesapeake region explorations:

  • Chesapeake Explorer, from the National Park Service, aggregates information about national parks, state parks, Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network sites, and three national historic and scenic trails, including locations, hours, activities and fees. The app's geo-location feature identifies nearby parks and trails that suit particular interests, and allows explorers to tag favorites and log sites visited. The device also sorts locations by activity so someone can easily identify places to see waterfowl, go bicycling or launch a kayak, then plan trips accordingly. The app can suggest thematic tours to explore, whether by bike, car or on foot, and can build customized tours. It also includes historical information and helps travelers plan their visit along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail and the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. The free app is available now for iPhones and will soon be available for Android devices.
  • National Wildlife Refuges Chesapeake Bay includes locations, maps, operating hours and guides for 11 of the national wildlife refuges in the Bay region. App users can also post photos of plants and animals they find in the refuges and tap into a global network of experts for information about the species. As the postings accumulate, scientists and refuge managers will be able to view the data to see where and when species inhabit specific sites. The app incorporates the Project Noah wildlife photo-sharing service, which allows users to create "missions" to pursue, including a one for the featured national wildlife refuges in the Chesapeake region. Users who visit the refuges and post photos can earn a virtual "patch" for each refuge. The app, available for the iPhone, was developed through a partnership between the Chesapeake Conservancy and National Geographic Society with support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, provides users with real-time information collected at 10 buoy sites throughout the Chesapeake. It includes meteorological information such as temperature, wind direction and speed; water-quality information such as dissolved oxygen, salinity and turbidity; and wave information. It even estimates the likelihood of encountering sea nettles at each site. The app is available for iPhones and Android devices.
  • Chesapeake Bay Field Guide from the Chesapeake Bay Trust is a comprehensive guide to the flora and fauna in the Bay's watershed. Intended primarily for a lay audience of nature-enthusiasts, the guide's design and content selection emphasize accessibility and ease-of-use so that users can quickly find the wildlife they are most likely to encounter. It provides bird calls, pinchable photos, range maps and identifiable characteristics of animals, as well as advanced search functions. The field guide was developed for the Trust by It is available for the iPhone.

First Day Hikes

All Virginia State Parks, as well as many other state parks in the region, will be participating in First Day Hikes on Jan. 1. It's part of a nationwide program of state park systems to encourage a healthy lifestyle by sponsoring family-friendly hikes on the first day of the year. Details about hike locations, difficulty, length, terrain and tips regarding proper clothing are listed on the America's State Parks website. Visit and click on any state to find a First Day Hike.

Endangered species tours

The Virginia Living Museum is featuring a special tour that highlights threatened or endangered species found in the Chesapeake watershed, from sturgeon and the loggerhead sea turtle to the red wolf or the comeback story of the majestic bald eagle. The tour explores the status of these species and the outlook for their survival. Led by Curatorial Director George Mathews, visitors tour the museum and behind its scenes to see how these at-risk animals live, why they are protected and what factors contribute to a species being listed as threatened or endangered. Other species on the tour include the wood turtle; blackbanded sunfish; paddlefish; Roanoke logperch, barking treefrog; eastern tiger salamander; eastern glass lizard; and the eastern chicken turtle. For information, visit

Women's Wellness Weekend

Virginia State Parks is offering a Women's Wellness Weekend at First Landing State park in Virginia Beach April 19$#151;21. The weekend, which is offered at various state parks during the year, is designed for women looking to reduce stress, learn about nature and enjoy the great outdoors. The weekends give women a chance to get outside and take part in workshops about nature, programs that empower women to take better care of themselves and other sessions, all set in a state park environment. Programs vary because the parks draw on each location's unique services and presenters. Outdoor sessions focus on activities available in state parks … or in one's backyard. For details, check out the Women's Wellness Weekends page at

Winter Wildlife Festival

While some parts of Virginia slumber under the snow, Virginia Beach wildlife is out and about. Its annual Winter Wildlife Festival, which runs from Jan. 27$#151;29, offers participants a chance to witness winter wildlife all around the area; whether it's following bird activity, exploring the local natural areas, or looking for harbor seals near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Presented by Virginia Beach Parks & Recreation in partnership with Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the 2013 festival features educational workshops on wildlife and wildlife-related activities such as birding and photography, as well as hikes, boat trips and excursions to view wildlife around the region. There is no cost to attend the festival, but some sessions and excursions do have a fee. Many workshops and excursions require advance registration by Jan. 18. Everyone is invited to stop by the Exhibit Hall at Princess Anne Recreation Center on Jan. 26 to speak with Winter Wildlife Festival partners and local groups, watch decoy carvers, attend walk-up workshops, or visit neighboring Princess Anne Library for children's activities. For information, a full schedule of events, or to register, visit