Field data protocol for winter tracking surveys
Salisbury’s method of collecting tracking data is a two stage process; observations are collected in the field on data sheets and then later translated into files compatible with GIS programs. Consequently the field method is simple and requires no more equipment than a clipboard. Later, someone has to determine the latitude and longitude of each observation and do keyboard entry of each observation. Although all of the field work in Salisbury has been done by volunteers, we have paid a technician to do all the digitizing and data entry. Analyzing, visualizing, and mapping the results is a third step which requires expertise with data manipulation and mapping software.
Field data collection
Each tracking volunteer is assigned one or more mile-long road sections to survey. We think that surveying each section at least five times throughout the winter can provide a good picture of wildlife use. Field observations are written onto two data sheets: a tabular list and a map. Click the images below to enlarge.
Tabular data sheet: Three pieces of information are required for each group of tracks observed: location, number of animals, and species.
Location: The first column on the data sheet is “Site number” which refers to a mark made on the map sheet. Additional information about location can be added in the “Landmarks” column.
Number of animals: In the second column record the number of sets of tracks. Deer, coyote, and turkey often travel in groups, and multiple tracks of any species could be made over time.
Species: Record what type of animal made the tracks.
If more than one set of tracks is found within about 25 paces along the road, they can be combined under one “Site number” even if more than one species is present. List the number of tracks made by each species in the “Details/Description” column. Combining tracks under one “Site number” is just a mapping convenience; these short road sections are optional and apply only to the current survey. Because of this aggregation, the resolution of the mapped location will be no more than about 50 feet, which is more than adequate because the resolution of the final maps is typically about 300 feet.
Field map sheet: Map sheets are copies of parts of USGS topographic maps. These can be copied or scanned from the paper originals or downloaded for free from the USGS Store. The designated section of road can be marked on the map (red circles in example at left).
Each “Site number” from the data sheet should be marked with a dot on the map. These dots should be labeled with the site number and the number of tracks recorded at that site. We use the format “Site-Number,” so in the example at left, “1-2″ is Site one where two sets of tracks were observed.
Additional information: Make sure the data sheet and map are labeled and dated so they can be matched up later. It is important to know how many days of animal activity are recorded in the snow so animal numbers can be standardized — we want to know how many animals crossed the road per day. So include notes about when the last snow fell, and how old the oldest tracks recorded were. It helps to be aware of the recent chronology of snowfall and thawing.
Here is a description of some experiments with winter wildlife tracking using GPS. These techniques require equipment that has not been available for the Salisbury tracking project.