Marine bird surveys at Stanley Park (1995-present)
Stanley Park is a beautiful and important urban park in Vancouver, BC. It is the traditional territory of different coastal Indigenous people, is recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada - and it is also part of an Important Bird Area (IBA BC020). This park is the habitat and stopover of many coastal and marine bird species characteristics of the Pacific Northwest, including Goldeneyes, Scoters, Herons, Cormorants and couple dozen species of waterbirds - some of them in globally significant numbers.
In 1995, a project was first executed along the Stanley Park seawall to survey the occurrence, abundance and distribution of a marine bird species (Barrow’s goldeneye). Fortunately, this project was then expanded to study all marine bird species annually in Stanley Park through a co-operative effort between the British Columbia Institute of Technology, the Canadian Wildlife Service (part of Environment and Climate Change Canada), and the Stanley Park Ecology Society. “The Stanley Park Winter Waterbird Survey”, fueled by weekly visits by BCIT students, has now been in operation for 23 years and has resulted in a large amount of data on marine bird species in Stanley Park. This data is critical in establishing baselines for environmental change, including oil spills and climate change, as well as documenting population trends in waterbirds.
The challenge of The Living Data Project was to assemble this data collected in multiple years into a single dataset and make it understandable for the long term. Multiple years of data collection requires multiple observers (51 in total) collecting and entering the data, and consequently multiple formats and naming conventions. It was surprising how different the formats of data collection were among years, weeks or even among days. The files (>80) usually comprised several data worksheets, including data in vertical and horizontal format, nested tables, files for individual sampling dates and uninformative files names (e.g. “best Data.xls”). The number of different column names surpassed 60, and the levels in a given environmental variable (e.g. cloud_cover) surpassed 70. Another important challenge was to ensure that all the data collected was included in the dataset, that meant tracking data that was not in files by contacting people who had previously worked in the project or have collected the data. Fun fact: some data was storage in CDs and kept in offices for more than a decade. This dataset was a big challenge since day one, but it was easy to be motivated to assemble it by remembering that the data was the result of the effort of many students and researchers going to count birds early in the morning, every week, every winter, over more than two decades.
The Living Data Project focused on tracking back, standardizing and assembling the data collected during these 23 years in a comprehensive dataset. We generated metadata to ensure data will be easy to understand and analyzed in the future as the dataset keeps growing. To accomplish this, PhD student Jenny Munoz worked along Research Scientist Megan Willie (ECCC) and received continuous support from Research Scientist Sean Boyd (ECCC) and BCIT instructors Danny Catt and Lauri Stoot, as well as many students.
The Stanley Park Winter Waterbird dataset is now a compilation of species-level occurrence, abundance and distribution data of marine birds collected systematically from 1995-2019, on roughly a weekly basis between September and April along the Stanley Park seawall. It includes 29,544 detections of bird species, associated with 22 georeferenced zones. Each detection is supplemented with 38 columns of standardized taxonomic and environmental variables. This dataset is accompanied by descriptive metadata, which documents the changes and inconsistencies in the methods during the study period and other essential information about the dataset. This data set will be important for analyzing spatiotemporal trends in marine birds and will be shortly available in a repository of the Government of Canada (Open Government portal).