One of our main tasks over the past two months has been to conduct point counts for Cape Sable seaside sparrows. A point count is a survey method used to count birds, where an observer stands at a single location and records all of the birds seen and heard in a given amount of time. Through the completion of our point counts, we hope to accurately determine the sparrow’s range and population density.
Specific point count methods can vary. For our surveys, we try to record all sparrows within a 300m radius area over a seven-minute period on the datasheet seen in the photos. We determine the distance and direction of the sparrows, which can be very challenging since they are often only heard and not seen. In addition to sparrow detections, we record environmental conditions such as wind, cloud coverage, and water depth and coverage at the location. Sparrows observed during the morning that were not part of the survey are also recorded, as well as any other notes about the survey sites that we think may be helpful in the future.
In order to conduct our point counts, we use several tools that can be seen in the photo below. Binoculars, maybe the most obvious item, are helpful in locating birds at a distance. Below the binoculars is a rangefinder. We use rangefinders to calibrate our own distance estimations, as well as to determine the exact distance of a bird if we are lucky enough to have a visual sighting. In the center of the photograph is our datasheet, ruler, and compass. The ruler is used to measure water depth, the compass is used to determine the direction of a detected sparrow, and the datasheet is where all of that information goes.
Finally, we have our handy-dandy GPS devices. The GPS contains all of the coordinates of our point counts and it also has a stopwatch function that is used during the surveys themselves. Not pictured here are our most important tools; our eyes and ears! The area of each point count is 282,743 sq meters and we have to do our best to detect every bird.
There are roughly 70 locations where we conduct point counts, and each point count is repeated three times throughout the course of the season. We conduct our surveys from sunrise until about 9:00 a.m. and because they are a good distance apart from one another, each person can only complete a few surveys per morning. During some surveys we can detect up to five birds, but for many others, we’ll detect none. Either way, its valuable data and it helps us to better understand the current state of the Cape Sable seaside sparrows.