Raptors are one of the most sensitive indicators of ecosystem health. They are the first to decline or be lost from our skies when something is amiss lower down in the food chain. ‘African Raptor Observations’ is a free mobile application which will enable enthusiasts and novices alike to submit their records of these vital species from across Africa. The data is collected in the field without the need for a cellular network or source of WiFi. When a connection becomes available, the observations can be uploaded to a live data observatory housed on a server in an unassuming barn nestled on the coast of Pembrokeshire, West Wales. From here the data will be analysed to model the abundance of each species and to help identify and monitor the health of their habitats across one of the most biologically rich yet vulnerable continents on Earth.
There is a long history of ornithological observation on raptors or birds of prey which has followed the traditional methods of field notebooks which are either painstakingly mobilised onto computer later or they may be forgotten altogether. Habitat INFO has teamed up with The Peregrine Fund, Kurt Eckerstrom, Convention on Migratory Species (Raptors MOU) and ESRI software providers to change how we do our observation. Armed with ‘African Raptor Observations’ members of the public are invited to easily record sightings of raptors anywhere on the continent on their phones. The app has been designed to use the GPS and other advances in phone technologies to obtain precise locations of these sightings even when out of cellular network range, and then these can be uploaded to the live data observatory when a connection becomes available again.
A crucial advance is the ability of this app to log the efforts of the observers. A common problem with the majority of biological records is that they often reflect the movements of the observers more than the locations of the target species. However, by recording where the observer has been as well as what they’ve seen it’s possible to assess observer effort and calculate observations per kilometre or hour. This means we will be able to compare what is happening to these birds and their environments across regions and across time.
Much of what makes up a biological record: who recorded it, when and where, is handled automatically by the device leaving the observer to focus just on what they have seen or witnessed. Raptors are a challenge to identify that birdwatchers seem to relish. Novices can assign confidence to their identifications and photos can be uploaded to enlist help from experts. There are future plans to couple the recording app with an e-guide for African raptors. The application is designed to make recording as simple and intuitive as possible. Extensive testing has been carried out and the development process has been a very dynamic and iterative one with a strong focus on the small details which can often be overlooked. Voice recording permits the user to enter detailed information when there is a lot going on and when a user may be unable to type.
These additional dimensions really set African Raptor Observations apart from other mobile applications and will make it the default go-to application for recording raptors across Africa. To find out more about the project and application please navigate to www.habitatinfo.com/ardb where it is also possible to register and begin submitting records from your desktop.
This project has been designed to empower globally-concerned citizens to play an active role in monitoring the state of the environment. ARDB partners include The Peregrine Fund, CMS (Raptors MoU), ESRI, EWT Bird of Prey Programme, Birdlife Tunisia (AAO), NiBDaB (Niger Bird DataBase), Tanzanian Bird Atlas, and other representatives in West Africa & Namibia.