Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Agency Creek and Google

My latest bird survey requires survey points to be at least 200 meters apart. Yes, I'm doing yet another survey. This one I actually get paid for, although Johnny figured out I'll be getting about $3/hour after all the extra time I put in setting up my data points and filling out the paper work. After last Monday's first expedition to select points, I think that estimate is down to more like $2/hour.

After identifying, photographing, and finding the GPS coordinates for, plus notating all the trees/shrubs/herbs I could identify on, 16 sites (as many as I got to in 4 hours of struggling through the underbrush last Monday), I wondered if my sites were each really 200 meters apart. However, I had no clue how to figure that out. A search through the GPS instructions was no help. So I turned to Google.

"finding distances between GPS points" is what I entered in the search box. Immediately, Google gave me this site: Oh happy days! All I need do is write in the coordinates for two sites and presto! I am given the distance in kilometers between them (.2 km being the 200 meters I need).

What I am finding is that I am a lousy judge of distances.

I know that our driveway is about 200 meters long. But transferring that visual image to the woods alongside Agency Creek, where the survey takes place, is problematic. I need enough points along the creek, before it heads uphill into montane habitat, rather than strictly riparian habitat, to fill four and a half hours (from 5 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.) on two mornings. Ten days or more later, I do the same survey in reverse. I count all the birds I hear or see within 5 minutes at each site, then make my way as quickly as possible to the next point, 200 plus meters away.

There are about 6 miles worth of proper riparian habitat along Agency Creek, starting with our farm, so it would seem fairly simple to get enough data points, 200 meters apart, in that distance, to use up 9 hours. However, the creek is not easily accessible for much of its length. Believe me, I know, having tried to access it last Monday. It's a jungle out there. I've been nettled, tripped, and bushwhacked, so I am sticking to trails made by some human before me or by deer.

The sites I walk into, rather than drive to, seem much longer between points than that wonderful website that Google found seems to think they are. My five sites on our farm are now down to three. Altogether, I've had to reduce the 16 sites I found on Monday to 12. And there are only 2 more miles of Agency Creek left for sites.

I may have to do more bushwhacking through this Northwest Rain Forest to create more data points. Here are photos of the vegetation looking upstream and downstream from one rather typical data point. Scrambling 200 meters through that without a path is a daunting proposition. And, since the line I take is anything but straight, I have no clue how far I've really gone, until I check into the Google-identified website after I return home. Then it's back to the site to add another 50 or 100 meters... As I said, my distance judgment is lousy. (Yes, I know there's supposed to be a way to have the GPS tell me when I'm a certain distance from my last data point, but for this near-Luddite, that is way too difficult to figure out.)

My hourly wage keeps getting lower. But there are benefits. The cute little Black-throated Gray Warbler at the top of the page was spotted on Monday's excursion. And Agency Creek really is a beautiful stream... which I occasionally get close enough to to see.


  1. I'm a bad judge of distances too, but that allows me to say that I have run farther than I have.
    Hey, we have those warblers outside our window! Those are "the grey ones". (I did get the bird book and it is super cute to hear Zephyr say, "Wow! An American robin! And I just saw a chestnut backed chickadee!")

  2. Wonderful that the kids and their mom are learning birds! Now to see what they might become if they continue their interest, visit Noah Stryker's blog...
    The kids will love it! Noah, a young man who grew up in Oregon, is in Australia doing bird research... while dodging 3 foot fruit bats, cranky crocodiles and poisonous snakes.