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Use of radar for monitoring colonial burrow-nesting seabirds



Use of radar for monitoring colonial burrow-nesting seabirds



Journal of Field Ornithology 70(2): 145-157



We used high-frequency surveillance radar as a non-intrusive method to census nocturnal burrow-nesting Cassin's Auklet (Ptychoramphus aleuticus) on the world's largest colony, Triangle Island, British Columbia. In the largest subcolony, West Bay, the radar unit was operated 2200-0510 h nightly from 30 Apr.-11 May 1996 during the onset of hatching. Radar images were stored on video cassette for subsequent image analysis. We report total nightly activity based upon cumulative samples from the tapes at 30-s intervals to determine the percent of bird activity within a fixed area. Estimates of the average image size of an individual bird were used to develop conservative counts of birds in the sample area. Activity at the colony began approximately 1.5 h after sunset and ended at least 15 min before sunrise. Activity levels increased over the study period and showed considerably nightly variation. Nightly activity was continuous at low levels through the sampling period from 30 Apr. to 3May. Late evening peaks of activity around 2300 h were evident and tended to increase in intensity from 3 May onward. Nightly activity at the colony was correlated with the number of chicks hatched the following day. The maximum estimate of individual birds detected was 156,327 on 10 May. Radar has great potential to elucidate patterns of seasonal activity. We contrast and evaluate the use of radar and traditional methods based on burrow counts and identify several major advantages for radar in long-term population monitoring and seabird research programs.

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