ASIAN WATERBIRD CENSUS BASICS

Last January 7, Arne Jensen gave a lecture about the basics of doing an asian waterbird census (AWC). This included a short introduction about what the awc is as well as guidelines, tips and reminders to all those participating in the counts. Paula Peralejo shares her notes.

AWC PRIMER AND GUIDELINES                                                                     compiled by Paula Peralejo

The Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) is an annual event held every January conducted by volunteers and government agencies at various sites around Asia. It is a series of bird counting and listing for statistics of annual waterbird population. The data collected is used mainly for two things: to serve as a population tracker, which will determine if conservation efforts are needed; and to monitor the status of specific species and habitats.

In 1970, the first wetland convention was held in Ramsar, Iran, making way for conservation of critical areas all over the world. Today, these critical areas serve as home to thousands of birds, including some globally endangered species; and they are observed and monitored every year by volunteers and government agencies during the waterbird census.

Ornithologist Arne Jansen shares some tips on how to survive fieldwork during the census:

  1. Bring the right equipment: a notebook, pen, and a pair of binoculars will do, but having a spotting scope is better.
  2. If possible, bring a partner so one can take notes while the other does the counting. It is also helpful that the note taker repeats the number given by the counter to avoid any miscommunication.
  3. Conduct an ocular visit prior to the count so you can choose the best areas for counting birds. Find out where the congregations are and choose the best vantage points for optimum results.
  4. Clearly define your area and borders to avoid confusion and miscalculation with other counters.
  5. Learn and understand the behavior of waterbirds. It is best to count them when they are not in flight although sometimes this cannot be avoided.
  6. Find out the time for low tide and high tide. It is best to observe birds when it is almost high tide because it forces the birds to gather in big concentrations on one area. During low tide, they are all spread out which makes the counting more challenging.
  7. Handle 6-10 bird species at any given time. If you’re a newbie, handle one bird species at a time.
  8. With birds crossing and flying and constantly moving, errors are inevitable in each census. It is best to do the counting three times and get the average number to minimize possible errors.
  9. If you have a camera, take a photo and count from the screen. You can compare your original count to your count in the photo to see if there is a big discrepancy in numbers.
  10. Every year, it is best to do the census on the exact date and time as the previous years. It is also preferable to do it under the same or similar environmental conditions (tide, weather, etc.)
  11. Be as quiet as possible and never approach a bird by walking directly towards it. Also, do not look at the bird in the eye so as not to flush it as you approach it.
  12. It is much easier to get closer to a bird by  boat than on foot.
  13. Last but not the least, balance your twitcher’s need versus the bird’s need. Always put the birds ahead of you. If your twitcher’s need would possibly cause the birds to fly away with no place nearby to land on, it’s best to keep your distance and put their needs ahead of you.
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