Volunteer Training

March 2006

by Sam Crowe

If Arthur Allen could see us now…

Just as in the days of Arthur Allen and James Tanner, who studied ivory-bills in the 1930s, the people on the ground are still the most important element of the search. These days, however, a new level of technology and sophistication augments the endeavor. The mule-pulled carts, giant microphones, and recording equipment of Allen’s day have been replaced with hand-held digital video cameras and GPS systems.  Solid science is an important component of the search and the ability to quickly and accurately utilize the equipment is an important part of the training of each volunteer.

Organization, thy name is Beth
At the Cache River location, Beth Wright is the person responsible for ensuring everything runs smoothly. She holds a masters degree from the Warren School of Forest Resources at the University of Georgia and has a significant ornithological field research experience.

Beth will be training a new group of volunteers every two weeks throughout the search season. Volunteers bring enthusiasm and expert birding skills to the job while Beth ensures each person has a clear understanding of their responsibilities plus knowledge of the equipment they will use.  She is also responsible for the logistics of scheduling search locations for her group of volunteers, scheduling large equipment such as canoes, and ensuring the data collected by the volunteers each day are properly recorded.

Testing, Testing 1, 2

In addition to a pair of their own binoculars, each volunteer is assigned several pieces of equipment for use during their stay.

Cell Phones:  
Each volunteer is issued a cell phone programmed with Beth’s phone number. If searcher locate an ivory-bill, they are required to contact Beth as soon as they stop shaking from excitement. There is a set protocol should anyone see the woodpecker, and a phone call to Beth can spark a multifaceted response.

The cell phones also provide the volunteers with communication to Beth and others should a health-related or other emergency occur.

GPS (Global Positioning System): 
Volunteers use GPS units during transect searches. While walking or canoeing a prescribed path (track), the GPS unit tracks their movements. These data are then uploaded to a computer and superimposed on a map of the area (using ArcMap software). Search leaders can see which areas have been surveyed and where any gaps in coverage may have occurred.

GPS units are also utilized to establish a waypoint. A waypoint is a specific location that an observer believes may have significant geographical value. It can be programmed into the GPS system for future reference and the information is often transferred to the master database. Waypoints may mark a location of a roosting cavity, feeding scrape or observation.  In simple terms it is an electronic “x marks the spot.”

Video cameras:
Each searcher is equipped with a video camera and each camera is equipped with a shotgun microphone that collects and amplifies sound from a specific direction, to increase the odds of capturing ivory-bill sounds. 

Audio recorders:
Some searchers are equipped with high quality Marantz tape decks and shotgun microphones to improve chances of capturing ivory-billed related audio recordings.

All of the volunteers have exceptional birding skills. The use of technology expands their capabilities and, we hope, lead to increased documentation of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker’s presence in the Big Woods of Arkansas.