Picked Up Our Backseat Observer

Written by Steve Earsom
Monday, June 23, 2014

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.As I mentioned in my first posting, we have now added a third crew member. Bill Harvey of the Maryland DNR has joined the survey. He is helping us complete transects on the western side of the Ungava peninsula. Bill is a great asset, and I've enjoyed hearing his stories of how this survey was conducted "way back" in the 1990s. And that, as always, is one of the strengths of these annual waterfowl surveys—their longevity.

As long-time waterfowlers and scientists, Bill and Jean understand the need for accuracy in a long-term dataset. One of the variables we hope to control is the change in observers. Since the beginning of this survey, there has always been an observer in the front right seat of the plane, and the other in the left rear seat, with the pilot in the left front seat. Because we are transitioning to a two-person crew, with the pilot also serving as an observer, we are actually collecting data from all three seats for the next couple of days. This allows us to determine how much more or less the pilot/observer is able to see from his seat as compared with the observer behind him. This will help us keep the data as comparable as possible through the years. There are lots of other questions that may be addressed with this approach, given enough data. For example, Bill will be surveying with us in areas with some of the most dense concentrations of Canada geese. How will the pilot/observer's numbers compare in these areas as opposed to areas of low density? Will we see that the pilot consistently observes some fraction of what the observers see, or will we see that the pilot sees a lower percentage only when we get into areas with high densities of waterfowl? As is always the case in science, the answer to one question simply spawns many others. Of course, that journey of discovery is what draws us here to begin with!

The 2014 Ungava crew: (left to right) Steve Earsom, Bill Harvey, and Jean Rodrique.

The 2014 Ungava crew: (left to right) Steve Earsom, Bill Harvey, and Jean Rodrique. Photo by Steve Earsom, USFWS