Thursday, August 20, 2015

Real-time Data from the Cape May Bird Observatory

New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory (CMBO) was born on the premise that someone needed to be monitoring the massive spectacle of migration happening in and around Cape May each year. More precisely, it was the hawk movement as witnessed by those who were banding hawks here at the time that inspired the initiative to establish a bird observatory on the southern tip of New Jersey. Bill Clark was the bander, and New Jersey Audubon was the organization that would provide the nonprofit status to make it happen. That year was 1976, and the first official counter of the Cape May Hawkwatch was my predecessor, Pete Dunne. 

Pete Dunne atop the "platform" in 1976. Rosalind Holt stands by as one of the first official visitors.

It’s safe to say that migration monitoring is hardcoded into the DNA of this organization. 

Since then, the Monarch Monitoring Project (26 years old), the Avalon Seawatch (23 years old) and the Morning Flight Songbird Count (13 years old) have all been established to do the same thing: keep our finger on the pulse of migration through Cape May so that the long-term record may support necessary conservation efforts, and provide compelling information to engage the public, for true conservation is impossible without public support. All of this, of course, fits squarely within the mission of New Jersey Audubon: Connecting people to nature and stewarding the nature of today for the people of tomorrow.

One year ago the VP of Research for New Jersey Audubon, David Mizrahi, and myself, set out to bring these datasets into the modern era of “big data”. That meant rethinking the way we store and interact with the migration information to come up with a solution that would allow for wide collaboration with research partners, and the ability for public exploration and interaction with the data. It’s really quite simple in theory: create a cross-platform database system that is standardized across projects and provide an interface for both data entry as well as public interaction. Since we began this effort we have developed a database schema and, with the help of some wonderful volunteers, have begun normalizing the data to bring it into the database. We plan to have some of this historic data available to the public via our website this fall, although full implementation will take another year. 

This brings me to our big announcement: Last fall I was visited by a young entrepreneur and birder, Russell Conard. Russell founded a company called Ornicept, which makes a product called Specteo designed specifically to collect observational data in the field. To make a long story short, last spring we tested Specteo for collecting large amounts of waterbird data, and our experience proved to us that it was both stable and efficient at collecting the data we need, reduced the chance of data errors associated with transferring from paper to digital, and has the capability of transmitting this data in real-time time to servers in the cloud. As part of the Specteo Ambassador program, Specteo engineers have constructed several web portals for CMBO to display the data we are collecting this year. On these sites you will be able to view count data as it comes in, as well as explore data from the 2015 field season. During the season I will continue to reach out to you and let you know about the historical data on our website. In the meantime, enjoy the first ever live-streaming of migration data from our Morning Flight Songbird Count (live NOW!), Cape May Hawkwatch (begins Sept. 1) and Avalon Seawatch (begins Sept. 22). Thanks to Carol, Russell and K.C. at Specteo for helping us bring our data to the forefront of modern technology. 

Example of the daily and seasonal data on species composition produced by Specteo. 2015 Morning Flight Songbird Count.

If you are interested in supporting CMBO’s continuing efforts to collect, analyze, and disseminate these data, please consider both becoming a member of CMBO, and making a tax-deductible donation. You may do both on our new website, and following the Member or Donate items in the top menu.

Thank you in advance for your support!

More Links:

Background information on all four of our Migration Monitoring Projects

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