An Evolution: Bird Survey Data Collection Using iPads

Spring Creek and Rowe Audubon Nature Center director, staff, and volunteers train on using the iPads for bird surveys in Nebraska this week.

You may recall surveying for birds using a compass, map, pencil, and write-in-the-rain pads. Well, this has changed…

Infield data collection screen displaying survey area and a sample
of shapefile layers we can work with in the iGIS app.

In 2012 we were using our trusty Garmin Etrex Legend GPS devices and spot mapping bird locations on printed data sheets with aerial imagery. You can imagine how we cringed at printing 800 data sheets. The cost of paper…ink, and the time. There is also the havoc moisture can bring in the field when writing on paper or the slight errors that may result from small amounts of inaccuracy magnified through data collection and data entry processes.

This year we did a little R&D and found a solution that saves us time and money, while increasing efficiency and accuracy.

The device… an iPad (must have 3G -GPS capability). We were pretty excited to pull the iPads out of their boxes and find them displaying our exact location even without WIFI or a cellular plan. As we collect data on survey there is what we refer to affectionately as “the little blue dot” (I know… I know… very geeky) that shows our exact location.

Swank iGIS dropdown menu for detection attributes.

 The App… I’m forever thankful for those Australian folks at who develop the iGIS app. It works quite seamlessly with ArcGIS shapefiles as the backbone. They use google imagery as a base layer of arial imagery, but can host your own tiled base maps. I’ve been tinkering with tiling schemes, but find that the iPads can cache imagery when wifi enabled and it can be used remotely in the field for a couple days (preloaded). The iGIS folks even provide a help file to get you started, if you want to create your own dropdown menu for adding points, lines, or polygons. This makes grassland bird surveys a breeze. You simply click a point where you see a bird and select your species from a list, add attribute info, and your done. These shapefiles can be exported to dropbox for cloud backup, iCloud backup, emailed, or sent in a message as a nicely zipped file. From there we enter them into ArcGIS and do all the statistical magic.

We’ve already deployed this for grassland and marsh bird surveys, MAPS station spot mapping, tested it on nest box checks, and have found a few other uses. It is so fun and easy to use, that it makes field work even more enjoyable and allows more time focussing on collecting data rather than navigating. We are surprised this hasn’t yet caught on like wildfire in the science world.

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