Help the Ark from your home!

Citizen Science- Bird studies in the Third Age

Perhaps you have had an interest in studying birds, have even been an active bird watcher. Now you may be less involved, perhaps less physically able. Perhaps you have taken up computers to widen your communications; to expand your knowledge. Are you ready to consider how you might bring your long held interest in birds and your more recent interest in computer use together?

In the Waitakere ranges west of Auckland over the past 11 years volunteers have steadily established a sanctuary for native species. The sanctuary, The Ark in the Park, involves many people collectively volunteering many thousands of hours each year so that the existing native wild life: tuis, pigeons, tomtits, long-tailed bats, Hochstetter’s frog, geckoes etc can thrive by the continuing efforts of the volunteers to control predators. Using trapping and placing small quantities of a blood thinning bait in bait stations the volunteers control rats, stoats weasels ferrets possums and feral cats over an area that now totals 2,500 hectares [that’s almost 6000 acres!]. Over the years species that once were in these forests have been returned, first whiteheads, then North Island robins and most recently, kokako.

Kokako have been described as one of the ten best singers in the avian world, their vocal range is extraordinary and the territorial calls and pair bonding calls are truly amazing. Kokako are also a bird that most often inhabits the sub canopy and canopy so can be extremely difficult to see in our dense forest. Monitoring the released birds, finding pair territories and watching for breeding success is a necessary part of determining how the translocation is proceeding and a vital part of that is by the use of the analysis of sound recordings. Volunteer Eric Wilson has established sound recorders that are placed in likely sites with many recorders spaced out in an array. The recorders come on at dawn and cease after 3-5 hours as the first part of the day is when they are most vocal. Recovering the cards after a week or two and analysing the spectrograms Eric can see if his test site has had any kokako present during the test time. Sites with activity are then investigated by searchers on foot again using technology to try and pick up the birds that had announced their presence before. Calls recorded via the fixed recorders can be down loaded onto hand held amplified MP3 players which the ground crew can use to try and draw in the birds allowing positive identification.

Analysing each week's recording session for each recorder takes about 2-3 hours, but now that up to sixteen recorders are deployed in the forest the total time required is building up. From Invercargill to Kaitaia, if you have a computer, access to broadband and able to download 500Mbytes per week, able to download and install some specific software, you could add your analysis of the kokako calls. Other birds of interest eg kaka, whitehead, robins, fernbirds can also be recognized with experience.

Requirements for Analysis:

1. Have access to a desktop or laptop computer. Software is available for Windows, Mac and Linux computers. A Netbook, Tablet etc may work but it is likely to be slow and the screen may be too small, although you are welcome to try the system.

2. Have Broadband - be willing to download at least 500MBytes of files each week.

3. Be able to spend 2 to 3 hours on the project each week (or more if you are enthusiastic enough). This may be relaxed if we get enough supporters. Initially, for the first few weeks, you may need to spend a few more hoursto become familiar with the software and to recognise the spectrogram display of the birds.

4. Be prepared to install several free software packages to:

a. transfer files between computers, using the Dropbox application.

b. provide a spectrogram display. The use of the Audacity application, see audacity.sourceforge.net, is recommended. Other spectrogram capable applications e.g. RavenPro (NOT free) may be suitable if you already have them.

Minimum requirements to run Audacity:

a. Windows: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/windows#sysreq

b. Mac: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/mac

c. Linux: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/linux

5. Each week a set of files will be transferred to your Dropbox folder. Each file is of 30 minutes duration. Each file is displayed in 30 second steps for analysis using the spectrogram software.

6. Details of kokako calls are noted in a special format on a form provided and the details e-mailed back to Eric. Other birds of interest e.g. robins, whiteheads, kaka, fernbirds could also be noted depending on your experience.

7. More detailed instructions will be available to help with the analysis in a Dropbox folder.

Making Contact:

If you would like more information and/or to get started, you can contact Eric Wilson at eric.wilson@xtra.co.nz.

Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand Inc. Ark in the Park Project Website. All rights reserved.