BCN Survey

Monitoring Protocol

The Bird Conservation Network has created a set of standardized methods for studying the birds of the Chicago Wilderness region. These methods can serve a variety of research purposes while also allowing birders to participate at three different levels of intensity.

 

BCN Survey Goals

 

The goals of this study are to generate a general picture of bird distribution in the region, to collect data to assist land managers and conservation planners in decision making, and to create a database compatible with other types of habitat data being gathered in the region which can be used by researchers investigating specific ecosystem questions.

 

Ways to Monitor

Site Monitoring

If you have a special interest in a particular site, we encourage you to become a regular monitor at that site and keep a year-round watch on the birds that winter or migrate through that site in addition to being a Point Count Monitor

 

Point Count Monitoring

You may help track changes in nesting populations, by conducting point count surveys during the breeding season.

 

Casual Monitoring

You may visit a site, or sites, during the nesting season and record numbers and species of birds just as you would on a Christmas Count. Much of the information below will not apply to casual monitors, but you may still want to look it over.

 

 

What's Involved in Monitoring

Bird monitors participate in the management of natural areas by providing information to land managers and site stewards about how birds use the site. Having a bird monitor for individual sites ensures that consideration of the possible effects of management activities on birds will be made a part of the planning and management process.

 

Bird monitors with responsibility for a particular site should:

 

  • Make two visits during June (required) and try to make five or more visits total each year.
    At least two visits during the breeding season (June) are required for point count monitors and site monitors. The other visits are recommended for site monitors and should be spread out to provide a look at the migration seasons and wintering populations. We also encourage monitors to visit more than twice during the breeding season to get a more accurate picture of the breeding birds at the site.
  • Recognize Illinois birds by sight and sound.
    By general rule, a birder should have about at least three years of experience with field identification of birds in the Illinois area. The BCN Survey is not a good way for beginning birders to sharpen their skills. Birders who are not confident of their identification skills, but still wish to contribute, can apprentice with a more experienced birder by contacting the Bird Conservation Network (See Below)
  • Start Surveying as close as possible to sunrise.
    During the month of June, sunrise ranges from 5:15 a.m. to 5:19 a.m. Surveys should be completed by 9:00 a.m. at the latest.  Bird activity will drop off considerable after about 7:00 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. on a warm day. Early start times are less important during the winter and migration seasons, but are very important during the warm summer months when birds are only active near sunrise. Additional evening visits to detect woodcock, whip-poor-wills, nighthawks, snipe, owls, etc., are encouraged at appropriate times of year. 
  • Meet with site stewards and do on-site walkthroughs.
    Bird monitors at Volunteer Stewardship Network (VSN) sites are encouraged to meet with the site stewards and do on-site walkthroughs with them once per year. Additionally, restoration site monitors need to familiarize themselves with the plant communities occurring on the site, the goals of the restoration activities, and the management schedules.
  • Work with any Land Management Agency in the area.
    You may need a permit from the land management agency to conduct point count surveys or other surveys, depending upon the site. If you are unsure, contact BCN (see below) to check with the appropriate land management agency before beginning. County volunteers and staff members of forest preserve and conservation districts are coordinating the bird monitoring efforts for many of the counties in our area.

 

Monitoring Instructions

Conducting Point Counts

The main innovation of this study is that surveyors can use point counts along a transect, rather than on a grid, during nesting season, although a grid can be used by any who prefer this method. Surveyors conduct point counts with points located at 150-meter intervals along a transect(s). You may determine the length of your stride in advance and pace off the points, or use a measured string or tape measure. We can also help you mark off your points on a satelite map to aid in locating or relocating them. In some counties, the landmanagers will provide these maps for you.

 

 

Setting up and preparing for your points:

 

  • Points should be placed at 150-meter intervals along a path / transect.
    We can help you set up your points. You may determine the length of your stride in advance and pace off the points, or use a measured string or tape measure. We can also help you mark off your points on a satelite map to aid in locating or relocating them. In some counties, the landmanagers will provide these maps for you. You will need detailed latitude and longitude coordinates for each point. Points should also be placed in a continuous piece of habitat when available (not half woodland and half grassland). Points for surveying water and marsh birds may be placed at intervals designed to get the best views of the areas being surveyed. They can be more or less than 150 meters apart, but monitors must still ensure that no birds are getting double-counted. Each point also needs to be given a unique number that will help identify it (typically P1, P2, and so on). The point number stays within the point (if you visit points in a different order you may start at P8 and work down for example).
  • Start Surveying as close as possible to sunrise.
    During the month of June, sunrise ranges from 5:15 a.m. to 5:19 a.m. Surveys should be completed by 9:00 a.m. at the very latest, but no later than 8:00 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. is recommended.  Bird activity will drop off considerable after about 7:00 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. on a warm day. Early start times are less important during the winter and migration seasons, but are very important during the warm summer months when birds are only active near sunrise.
  • Work with any Land Management Agency in the area.
    You may need a permit from the land management agency to conduct point count surveys or other surveys, depending upon the site. If you are unsure, contact BCN (see below) to check with the appropriate land management agency before beginning. County volunteers and staff members of forest preserve and conservation districts are coordinating the bird monitoring efforts for many of the counties in our area.

 

Instructions once you are at your point:

 

  • Spend five minutes at each point recording all birds seen or heard.
    Only count birds detected within a 75 meter radius of your point (your "point count area"). Birds detected outside this radius, or while you are moving between the points (even if they are within the point count area), should be recorded separately as incidental observations for that date.
  • Flyover birds should also be separately recorded on your incidental observations list.
    Any birds flying over (i.e., not actually using the site) should also be reported on the incidental observations list. Birds flying locally (from spot to spot within the point count area) should still be recorded with your point count observations. Some birds like swallows that are flying over may still be counted if they appear to be nesting within your point count area (ie. there is a nest box or other nesting site within the area).

 

Spend five minutes at each point recording all birds seen or heard. Only count birds detected within a 75 meter radius of your point. Birds detected outside this radius, or while you are moving between the points, will be noted in a separate column on the form and entered as incidental observations for that date, so no observations will be discarded. Birds observed flying over (i.e., not actually using the site) should also be reported on the incidental observations list. Begin at the first point on one day, and the last one on the next, to maximize the number of birds detected during the hours when birds are most active.

Points for surveying water and marsh birds may be placed at intervals designed to get the best views of the areas being surveyed. They can be more or less than 150 meters apart.

 

Conducting Transect Counts

The easiest way to create transects is to follow existing trails. To minimize edge effects, these trails should tend toward footpaths where possible, as opposed to bike trails or bridle paths. If no trails are available, a transect can be a straight line created by following a compass heading.

 

Where practical, consult with the agency that owns or manages their site about how to lay out permanent transects. Transects should sample all the habitat types on the site, and it should be possible to cover each transect in three hours at most. Shorter times are preferable, especially during nesting season.

 

Walk the transect in approximately the same amount of time during each visit. This would normally be approximately one mile per hour. Record species and numbers of all birds seen and heard. Visits are scattered throughout the year but should be more frequent during height of migration. If your transect loops around or draws back close to itself, try your best not to double-count birds that you have already seen. Transects are useful during the non-nesting season at those sites that use point counts during the nesting season.

Reporting Your Results

You can keep field notes in any fashion that is comfortable for you. Forms for conducting surveys are available on the BCN Survey page, but you may use whatever method works best for you. Enter data directly at the BCN eBird Website. For more information about entering your data, see the BCN eBird help page.  For those without Internet access, send your reports, on BCN Survey forms, to the Bird Conservation Network office at the address below.  If you have web access, it would be helpful if you volunteer to enter the data of one person who does not. We hope to avoid backlogs of unpublished and therefore unusable data through use of the BCN eBird Website.

 

Send lat-long coordinates or a copy of your map with the points and transect clearly marked to:

Bird Conservation Network
c/o Bird Division
1400 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605

 

 

Contacting Us

To volunteer to monitor/collect data or for more information contact the BCN Survey at or phone Judy Pollock (847-962-7868).

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