What Information to Collect? | Carolinian Canada

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What Information to Collect?

Armed with tips on where and when to search, you head out into the field to spot species.  Common or rare, all species are worth taking note of.  Never leave your home without a notebook and pen (and/or smartphone), as you never know when you might observe something interesting!  A camera, especially one with a macro setting, is also particularly useful.  Precise and accurate record-keeping is an important skill, and especially crucial for observations of rare species. There are two main ways to collect information:

  1. Single Observations of Species:  A Rare Species Reporting Form has been created for this project which covers all of the required data collection needs for reporting significant species; this form is found in Appendix 7.  Why not tuck a few copies into your notebook!  For non-rare species, you can use the Reporting Form as template, or jot down required details in your notebook. 
  2. Multiple Observations and Species Lists: you may wish to develop species lists for small sites (less than 10 ha) or for a particular habitat type within a larger site.  Such species lists, as long as they include accurate site location, date of survey, and surveyor contact information, may be submitted to the inventory.  This list can be compiled in your notebook, or you can use the template General Field Data Form provided in Appendix 7Please note:  for every rare species observed, a separate Rare Species Reporting Form must still be completed.

Required Information          

There are several essential elements of any species report.  Ensuring your record includes this information means that it can be validated and used for research, recovery, and long-term conservation planning. 

  1. The species observed.  See Appendix 1 for a list of resources to help you identify species; more novice naturalists will likely want to have a few of these in the field with them to ensure they can detect key characteristics and make a positive identification.  For mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles, the standard common name is acceptable.  For all other groups, the scientific name is required.  In most cases you will not know the scientific name, however this can easily be looked up.  Scientific names for Elgin’s Species At Risk can be found in Appendix 3.  Scientific names for other species can be found in Field Guides or by using the Nature Serve Explorer.
  2. The number of individuals of the same species observed, during the SAME observation period (i.e. same date, time, and location).
  3. The location the species was observed. Good location information allows reports to be verified.  It is critically important to provide accurate, precise information on the locations of rare species, in the form of UTM coordinates or Latitude/Longitude which can be acquired from a handheld GPS or the Maps function on a smartphone.  Alternatively, you can find the coordinates of your location here or from a topographic map.  Jot down how you got your coordinates, as most programs determine accuracy based on the tool used.  For non-rare species, a brief location description is enough (e.g. nearest road intersection and your distance and direction from it, street address, lot and concession, etc.), but the more precise the better.  For species lists, an accurate UTM for the site is ideal.
  4. The date of the observation.  This should be the calendar date the observation was made, including the Year, Month, and Day. It is also useful to record the time of the observation.
  5. The name of the observer and contact information. This is the name of the person who observed the species.  If the species was observed by a group, this should be the person who wishes to be the primary contact for the observation.  Contact information (email, phone number) allows for follow-up if there are additional questions about the observation.  Note any additional observers, as there is usually space to include them.
  6. Details of the observation. This is a brief description of your observation, e.g. “nest, 4 young”, “21 flowering stems”, etc.
  7. Search Result.  If you set out to do a targeted search for a particular species in appropriate habitat, and that species is not found, then your search result is Negative.  In all other circumstances, including incidental observations, it will be Positive.

Additional Information

Mandatory information only represents the bare minimum of what should be reported.  As a rule, the more details you can provide, the better!  There are many additional observations which can really increase the usefulness of your report, and can usually be easily documented at the time of your sighting.  These include:

  1. Photographs and Recordings.  While not required, submitting photos with your reports whenever possible allows your entry to be easily verified.  Ensure that you keep a record of the name of the photo file so that you can easily match it to the appropriate record.  Recorded Calls can also be particularly useful, especially for reports of birds, frogs and toads.  Most smartphones can record both audio and video.
  2. Additional location information, such as municipality, township, or directions to the site. Weather variables, such as temperature, rain, and cloud cover.
  3. Habitat Description.  Describe the habitat type in which the species was observed, in as much detail as possible, e.g. deciduous forest, marsh, native grassland, agricultural field. What was the quality of the habitat? Appendix 5 provides a list of common habitat descriptors.
  4. Behaviour. Describe what the individual was doing when you found it, e.g. foraging, basking, singing. 
  5. Possible threats. Are you aware of any possible threats, or are any potential threats apparent?  E.g. the site is going to be developed, or is beside a busy road.
  6. If an animal is found on a road, it is important to indicate whether it was alive, injured, or dead.
  7. What type of property was this observation made on? For example: Private or Crown Land, Provincial Park, or private nature reserve such as a Thames Talbot Land Trust property.

Additional types of information are extremely valuable for specific groups of species.

  1. If you are reporting Frogs/Toads, it is important to determine the Call Code that corresponds to the number of calls (of a particular species) you heard at the location.These are: 0 = no calls, 1 = Species seen but not heard, 2 = calls that you can count with no overlap, 3 = calls with some overlap, 4 = a full chorus where individual calls cannot be counted.
  2. For observation of birds, standardized codes exist to describe breeding behavior.  A list of Breeding Evidence Codes can be found in Appendix 6.

Species-Specific Needs

Certain types of information are additionally helpful for particular species.  In many cases, targeted programs or specific protocols and forms exist to thoroughly gather important information.  For example, Butternut Trees across North America are being threatened by a deadly fungus which causes Butternut canker; for this species, proper documentation of tree health is critical for recovery efforts.  If you are interested in providing additional species-specific information, or joining a specialized species monitoring program, please see details provided in Appendix 3.   

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