Birder's Guide

NOV 2016

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 39 of 43

38 Birder's Guide to Gear | November 2016 GPS For Better Birding Intro to GPS GPS was developed by the U.S. military and has been available for civilian use since the mid-1990s. This system utilizes a series of satellites and atomic clocks to accurately calculate the location of a re- ceiver based on the time required to send and receive signals. Many of us are familiar with using automotive GPS ("sat nav") to navigate through a city. But the applica- tions of GPS in birding go beyond provid- ing us with the fastest route to a nearby birding area. Two basic types of GPS tech- nology are readily available and effective for birding. As with all things in life, each type has its pros and cons, but both can record waypoints, tracks, and routes with relatively high accuracy. Handheld GPS Handheld GPS units are stand-alone devices that are lightweight, portable, and rugged. In-field transfer of waypoints and routes is more cumbersome and less user-friendly than with smartphone apps. The process requires Bluetooth, a hardwire connection between units, or a smartphone app with an available cell signal. Handheld GPS units come preloaded with basemaps that dis - play general land features, roads, and some trails. High-resolution U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) topographic maps, aerial imagery, and other map layers are available for download for most locations through- out the world, and provide even more detail and information for users on the ground. Battery life tends to be far superior with handheld GPS units over smartphones run in any mode other than airplane. Most units take no more than two AA batter- ies and will go for days on fresh batteries. Along the way, you can mark points and tracks, follow routes, and view maps. Most handheld GPS units also have a built-in compass and barometric altimeter. They can track your distance, speed, elevation gain/loss, and other travel metrics. Most ornithologists and scientists use handheld GPS in the field because they are powerful spatial data-collection tools. Data gathered with handheld GPS units can be viewed and processed using software that comes with the unit. Points, tracks, and routes can be easily uploaded into a geo- graphic information system (GIS) for more sophisticated manipulation and map gen- eration. The amount of analysis on the back end of data collection is limited only by the creativity of the user. Many GIS spe- cialists utilize ESRI's ArcMap for spatial data processing and analysis. This piece of high-powered software can be used to display, edit, manipulate, and explore geospatial data. I've used ArcMap to draw Black-throated Gray Warbler territories, to note nest locations within territories, and even to calculate minimum, maximum, and average distances between active nests to better understand how females in adja - cent territories interact. This type of data manipulation is much more difficult with smartphone apps because drawing the data out from the start is a lengthier process. The high cost of these types of geospatial processing programs, coupled with the The aerial imagery provided by the Google Maps app provides excellent detail on terrain and even habitat but falls short on displaying trails. The terrain maps in the MotionX app display accurate trail maps, rough topographic features, and roads. The user can toggle between terrain, satellite, road, and hybrid map base layers. Marking waypoints in MotionX is simple and easy. The app will store up to 2500 waypoints that can be viewed, edited, shared, or navigated to at any time.

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