The data rescue intern:
The Piping Plover (PIPL) project focuses on surveying and recording data related to the incredibly cute and sadly endangered Piping Plover. These little birds are summer visitors to the coastal regions of the Atlantic seaboard where they breed along the shoreline, nesting above the high water mark in soft sandy areas with sparse vegetation. Piping plovers are sensitive to beach disturbances and one of the big aims of the PIPL project is to monitor not only the population status of the birds but also the effect of different disturbances on the population. This is achieved through beach surveys.
Surveys are conducted by a team of surveyors who go out and repeatedly visit a collection of beaches during the summer months. During these visits they collect data pertaining to the beach conditions and look for signs of possible disturbances both natural (such as signs of predators) and more closely related to people (such as vehicle tracks). Of course they are also on the lookout for actual Piping Plovers as well as potential nests. When a nest is found it is then 'followed' until the chicks fledge (or the eggs/chicks are lost). Nest data includes the number of eggs, chicks and fledglings, nests are also linked to adults if possible (if they are banded).
The specific goal of this LDP data rescue internship was to wrangle all the beach and nest surveys into a viable database product that could be uploaded and archived on the Nature Counts database. Which meant making sure that the variable names and codes used match the structure of the data on Nature Counts. This was done for surveys conducted in Nova Scotia from 2006 to 2016 (data from 2017 onwards were already archived on Nature Counts). The biggest challenge was that the data for the different years were in different files and always seemed to have a slightly different structure, as the surveys were modified over the years. This meant matching variables that recorded the same property but might have used a different name or slightly different scoring system, or identifying which variables were not recorded in previous years but are currently recorded.
In total we were able to 'rescue' survey data for 11 years which consists of 4,230 beach surveys and 1,120 nest observations across 77 different beaches in Nova Scotia. These data points can now be archived Nature Counts, as they follow the same structure of the data already archived there. This means that others can easily access and use this long term data to help us better understand the adorable little birds!