Field-Based Survey Protocol

Time of Day                                                                                                                                                                                                    Surveys should only be conducted in the morning.  Surveys may begin as early as 30 minutes before sunrise and all surveys for the morning should be completed by 4 hours after sunrise.  Care should taken to avoid sampling locations at the same time of day during the 2 sampling periods (if point #1 is surveyed early during the first sampling period, it should be sampled later in the morning during the second sampling period).  One common way of doing this is to record the order that points are sampled during the first sampling period and then reverse this order for the second period.

Suitable Weather Conditions                                                                                                                                                                  Surveys should not be conducted if wind speeds are consistently in excess of 10 mph or if there is sustained rain or heavy fog.  Additionally, surveyors should postpone surveys if they feel that climatic conditions are affecting the probability of grassland birds calling or affecting their ability to detect calling birds.  If climatic conditions become adverse (wind speeds increase or rain starts) during the period of a point count survey, that point count should be cancelled and the data discarded.  The point should be resurveyed at a later time (either later that morning if conditions improve or on another morning).

Species of Interest                 

  1. Eastern Meadowlark [EAME]
  2. Henslow’s Sparrow [HESP]  
  3. Grasshopper Sparrow [GRSP]
  4. Upland Sandpiper [UPSA]
  5. Bobolink [BOBO]
  6. Field Sparrow [FISP]
  7. Red-Headed Woodpecker [RHWO]
  8. Brown Thrasher [BRTH]

These 8 species are the primary focus of this study.  As such, it is of vital importance that surveyors concentrate their efforts on detecting and recording these species.  Although it may be tempting to record other species as they are detected, doing so may limit the surveyor ability to detect and track the 8 focal species and will have negative consequences for the quality of the data collected.  In some cases, surveyors will be working in teams of two.  When 2 surveyors are present, 1 person will serve as the primary surveyor and will be solely responsible for surveying for the 8 primary species of interest.  The second person will be responsible for documenting the presence of all other species at the site.  It is vital that the 2 surveyors work independently and not exchange data during or after the point count survey.

Field Methods                                                                                                                                                                                                Many habitat-based points are located on private land.  As such, surveyors must carefully follow the landowner’s instructions for how to access fields (this will be noted on the map for the point).  Additionally, surveyors must be mindful to close gates behind them, not create ruts in fields, etc.  These points will likely be surveyed in the future years and the conservation efforts that we are evaluating depend upon good landowner relations.  

Survey points will not be marked in any way so surveyors must rely on the GPS and map to locate the point.  [Note: GPS units are not perfect so surveyors should not spend an excessive amount of time trying to find the exact location (within a few meters is good enough).]  Surveyors should approach survey points cautiously to avoid unnecessarily disturbing birds.  Surveys consist of 2 parts: a 2-minute ‘rest’ period followed by a 10-minute 100-m radius point count.  The 2-minute rest period allows birds to return to the area and commence their normal activities following the disturbance of the surveyor arriving at the site.  During this time, the surveyor should limit their movements to minimize further disrupting birds.  This time may be used to prepare data sheets and to estimate the distance to easily visible objects within the 100m radius point count circle using a laser rangefinder (e.g., signs, fence posts, trees, etc) and mark the distances on the map for reference.  This time must not be used to begin locating birds and birds detected during this period cannot be recorded unless they are also detected during the following 5-minute point count (it is preferable for surveyor to actively avoid hearing/seeing birds during the rest period).  

The 10-minute point count should begin immediately following the end of the 2-minute rest period.  During the point count, observers should spend time facing various directions to improve the odds that all birds will be detected.  The 10-minute survey period should be treated as 5 consecutive 2-minute survey periods.  During each 2-minute period, record the total number of individuals detected within 100 meters for each of the 8 focal species.  The 2 exceptions to this protocol are Upland Sandpipers and Red-Headed Woodpeckers.  These 2 species are rare across all study areas and therefore we will record all individuals detected regardless of distance.